Good, Bad and Ugly of Object Lessons
Last summer I spoke at a Bible camp. I wanted chapel times to be Biblical, interesting, and interactive. So as I was preparing my talks I started looking for ideas to use as object lessons. Object lessons can be interesting and interactive and I wanted to find ones that fit the theme and helped to explain each day’s main point.
What is an Object Lesson?
I looked it up (for the official definition) and in the definitions I found there were certain words used over and over – practical, example, and principal.
Here are some of the definitions:
- A striking practical example of some principle.
- Something that serves as a practical example of a principal or abstract idea.
- Practical or concrete illustration of a principle.
An object lesson then is practical. It’s concrete. It’s down to earth and useful.
An object lesson is an example or illustration. It can be an object or a picture. Because it is a practical example, it uses something from everyday life.
An object lesson helps illustrate a principle. Finally, an object lesson has a point. It’s not just a chance to show off a cool thing you found. An object lesson helps to teach a lesson or explain something.
Any object lesson you use should help to clarify truth to your students or help them gain understanding.
An object lesson is a practical, concrete example from real life that explains something or teaches a lesson.
Good vs. Bad
I haven’t used a lot of object lessons in the past (if I have I don’t think I called them object lessons). As I was looking for ideas I started to wonder why I haven’t used them very much. I have a number of go-to sources for object lessons. I have a file folder of ideas and there are a couple of websites with lots of object lesson ideas.
There are a lot of object lessons available, but not all object lessons are created equal! Some are great and some are not so great.
What Makes a Good Object Lesson?
A good object lesson helps our understanding of a word or concept.
For example, the word separate is explained in a very concrete manner by using colored sand. The various colors are mixed together and then the leader tries to separate the colors. The verse for this lesson is Romans 8:39 “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
A good object lesson has a strong connection between the object and the lesson it represents. The link is obvious and focused.
For example, your lesson is on the feeding of the 5000 and your point is that Jesus is God’s Son. The object you use is a dinner roll. Begin tearing the roll into pieces as you tell the story. There is a strong connection here between the object and the lesson. You can’t tear the roll into enough pieces to fill up everyone in your class; but because Jesus is the perfect Son of God He can use 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5000 people until they were filled and still have leftovers!
A good object lesson is memorable. The object should serve as a clear reminder of the lesson truth.
For example, if the lesson is about how we are saved by trusting Jesus as our Savior, you could use a life preserver ring and life savers candy. The life preserver can save a person who is drowning, if they reach out and receive it. This is a memorable object lesson. The life preserver is a memorable object and the life saver candy is a great take-home reminder for the kids – Jesus is our life-saver!
A good object lesson will use a familiar object to get the students attention make a connection to the lesson.
For example, use a pez dispenser to talk about how we need to be like a pezdispenser and always dispense sweet things out of our mouths. Kids know what pez dispensers are and always love candy!
What Makes a Bad Object Lesson?
A bad object lesson stretches the point to fit the object.
This can happen when the leader finds a cool object they want to use and then they try too hard to make the connection between the object and the point.
A bad object lesson tries to make too many points and the lesson is not remembered.
For example, an object lesson that uses a ring to help explain the eternal nature of the Holy Spirit and then goes to also talk about the trinity, the fact that the Holy Spirit is invisible, the Holy Spirit transforms new believers, and the Holy Spirit teaches believers. Instead of one point, this object lesson had 5 points!
A bad object lesion is one where attention is distracted from the main point by tangents.
In this case, the tangent can be related to the main point or to the object used. For example, you start your object lesson by introducing kids to the object you have. You describe it and what it’s used for and then instead to transitioning right to the point of the lesson, you go on a tangent explaining in detail one cool aspect of the object, thereby causing the kids to lose their focus.
A bad object lesson is one where the object used overshadows the lesson. The object is remembered and the lesson is forgotten.
An example of this might be the diet coke and mentos object lesson. It is pretty amazing to watch and the kids are guaranteed to love it. But once the lesson is done, will the kids remember the point? In one case I read, the point was that the Holy Spirit brings explosive power into our lives. If I was a child watching this object lesson, I doubt I would remember that – I would remember the result of mixing diet coke and mentos!
A bad object lesson is one where the object doesn’t end up having a connection with the main point.
One reason a child might not remember the point of the above example is that the object has little to do with the point given. The object lesson focuses almost solely on the word “explosive” rather than on the power of the Holy Spirit to produce radical change in our lives.
A bad object lesson depends too much on symbolism that literal kids don’t understand. Be careful to make sure kids understand.
For example, I saw one object lesson explaining baptism to preschoolers! Baptism is a symbolic act and preschoolers are literal thinkers. They will not understand baptism. Unfortunately, the object used to explain baptism was symbolic itself. So, a symbol was used to explain another symbol!!
How to Put Together a Great Object Lesson:
- Start with Scripture – discover the main point. Remember, the focus is Scripture.
- As you read the Scripture passage you are teaching on, look for key phrases. Think about what might help you understand or remember this.
- Then find an object that will help you. The object is an aid to help remember the truth of the Bible story or lesson.
- Use a familiar object when you can. Don’t spend too long explaining what it is or what it does. But some explanation is necessary. Get the kids thinking about the purpose of the object or a unique aspect of it.
- Once you have the Scripture and the object you want to use, write down an order of how you will present the lesson. Make sure it is clear, concise, and focused.
- Then practice the object lesson. Make sure it works!
When Do You Use Object Lessons
An object lesson can be the lesson itself. This is best when you have a shorter amount of time. You may want to use an object lesson for a children’s feature during the main service or as part of an opening session for Sunday School.
One of the main reasons to use object lessons is that they engage multiple senses. The more senses engaged, the more kids will retain of what is taught. So, in choosing to use an object lesson, you are choosing an activity that will help kids retain what is taught.
You can also use object lessons as a way of grabbing kids’ attention. You may want to use one at the beginning of a Sunday School lesson. An object lesson can help get student’s attention and keep it. You can also get the kids focused on the main point of the Sunday School lesson through the use of an object lesson.
Tips for Using Object Lessons
- Always try it out first.
- Always start with Scripture and then find an object that will help kids understand a word or concept from that Scripture.
- Be clear and simple.
- Use one main point. Don’t try to teach multiple lessons with one object.
- Involve the kids. Ask questions or get volunteers.
- Stay on topic – avoid tangents. An effective object lesson is focused.
- Make sure you set up for the object lesson where everyone can see.
- Don’t get pulled into the trap of trying to be clever.
- Be careful not to overuse an object (especially when you use the same object to illustrate multiple points.)
If used correctly, object lessons can be a great way to get kids attention and explain a concept or principle.
If you are looking for object lesson ideas, there are a number of places to find them on the internet.
You can find a whole section dedicated to object lessons on kidology at www.kidology.org. Look for object lessons in Zones.
You can find an entire website dedicated to object lessons at www.objectlessoncentral.com