Example #52 Words as Gifts

What if a literacy lesson were about words as gifts?

Stephan was concerned that literacy lessons had become ‘a means to an end’ as a result of curriculum pressure. He thought the pupils were seeing words only as tools or skills rather than as something that can make gifts. He also wanted the children to see that words can influence us for good or ill, they can challenge and change us. We need wisdom to discern whether we accept what words are saying – not all gifts are wanted.

"I started with a series of quick role-plays: one of giving a gift someone wanted (a box of chocolates), another of giving something they would not want (a single sock). In each case the children imagined the gift and I just whispered what they had to role-play. We then discussed whether words could be gifts, how they could be good or bad and how we need to think about the gift that is made by words and whether we want to receive it or not.

"We read The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde as part of studying narrative. I placed a gift bag on the front table and asked pupils what ‘gifts’ the story gave to us. For example, it might provoke thoughts that challenge us to be less selfish. Children’s suggestions were written on cards and placed in the gift bag. We explored the narrative of the story in the usual way, keeping in mind the gifts the story might be making to us. At the end of the session we reviewed what we had learned from the story using the suggestions in the gift bag as prompts. Each child had a small gift template and wrote what gift the story had made to them. I added the following question to the display: 'We receive gifts from stories. How do we decide if we want them or not?' Later I went through the templates and typed up the pupils’ words and thoughts and added them to the display mounted on gift paper."

What’s going on here?

Stephan saw literacy as something that offered a gift that could be received with gratitude, and that could challenge and change us.

He engaged students in experiencing role-plays and story to engage their imagination and focus their awareness. He also asked them to respond reflectively in writing.

He reshaped his practice by using key words (gift), role-plays, a choice of story, questions, templates, and a display to consistently support the lesson's focus.

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Many words make gifts: gifts of information and emotion, thoughts and imagination. Those gifts can be good or bad and discernment is needed. Language is one of the ways we relate to each other and words also carry responsibility; how we use words is a moral choice. Words are not ‘just words’, they can become gifts of love or legacies of damage.

What difference does it make?

Changing the framework to ‘words as gifts’ did not change the content being taught but it offered a new framework within which to experience and think about the content and highlighted the need for discernment.

Where could we go from here?

The framework of ‘words as gifts’ could be used for different parts of literacy/English:

  • Words as gifts for delight, fun, etc. (e.g., playful poem)
  • Words as gifts for communication and to help in relationships (e.g., letter writing)
  • Words as gifts to gain understanding of self, others the world or God (e.g., traditional stories, Bible stories, other words that give insights)
  • Words as gifts to serve others (e.g., dialogue, advice)
  • Words as gifts to make a difference (e.g., famous speeches or biographies used to inspire and encourage)
  • Words as gifts to heal and restore (e.g., speaking comfort or speaking out against injustice)

Digging deeper

Christians often call the Bible ‘The Word of God’, a gift from God to his people, to be received with gratitude. The Holy Spirit speaks through words to challenge, change and inspire (2 Timothy 3:16). The words of Scripture also serve as a point of orientation from which other words that we encounter can be weighed.

When you read God's Word, you must constantly be saying to yourself, "It is talking to me, and about me." Soren Kierkegaard

The separation of word and deed is not part of biblical thinking, the two are seen as tightly bound. Faith, hope and love are not just words but a way of life. In the Bible' James talks of faith that must become deeds to be considered faith (James 2:17). This close connection between words and their deeds or consequences means that words are taken very seriously. Words can hurt or heal, encourage or destroy. The Bible likens untamed words to weapons that injure; it also likens words to a forest fire that destroys (James 3:5).

Wisdom is needed in making judgements about words. Wisdom is a deep level of understanding and discernment. It is not the same as knowledge or cleverness. It is possible to be clever and lack wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge that changes how we live in a God-wards direction. A wise person recognises their own limitations and trusts God, knowing that many things are deeper than they may seem and that not all words bring life.

Explore similar examples:

What if Book Week were about gratitude and giving?
What if a poem about ducks connected with God’s creativity?
What if poetry were delighting in sounds?

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1You can be certain that in the last days there will be some very hard times. 2People will love only themselves and money. They will be proud, stuck-up, rude, and disobedient to their parents. They will also be ungrateful, godless, 3heartless, and hateful. Their words will be cruel, and they will have no self-control or pity. These people will hate everything that is good. 4They will be sneaky, reckless, and puffed up with pride. Instead of loving God, they will love pleasure. 5Even though they will make a show of being religious, their religion won't be real. Don't have anything to do with such people. 6Some men fool whole families, just to get power over those women who are slaves of sin and are controlled by all sorts of desires. 7These women always want to learn something new, but they never can discover the truth. 8Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, these people are enemies of the truth. Their minds are sick, and their faith isn't real. 9But they won't get very far with their foolishness. Soon everyone will know the truth about them, just as Jannes and Jambres were found out. Paul's last instructions to Timothy 10Timothy, you know what I teach and how I live. You know what I want to do and what I believe. You have seen how patient and loving I am, and how in the past I put up with 11trouble and suffering in the cities of Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. Yet the Lord rescued me from all those terrible troubles. 12Anyone who belongs to Christ Jesus and wants to live right will have trouble from others. 13But evil people who pretend to be what they are not will become worse than ever, as they fool others and are fooled themselves. 14Keep on being faithful to what you were taught and to what you believed. After all, you know who taught you these things. 15Since childhood, you have known the Holy Scriptures that are able to make you wise enough to have faith in Christ Jesus and be saved. 16Everything in the Scriptures is God's Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. 17The Scriptures train God's servants to do all kinds of good deeds.
1My friends, if you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, you won't treat some people better than others. 2Suppose a rich person wearing fine clothes and a gold ring comes to one of your meetings. And suppose a poor person dressed in worn out clothes also comes. 3You must not give the best seat to the one in fine clothes and tell the one who is poor to stand at the side or sit on the floor. 4That is the same as saying that some people are better than others, and you would be acting like a crooked judge. 5My dear friends, pay attention. God has given a lot of faith to the poor people in this world. He has also promised them a share in his kingdom that he will give to everyone who loves him. 6You ill-treat the poor. But isn't it the rich who boss you around and drag you off to court? 7Aren't they the ones who make fun of your Lord? 8You will do well, if you obey the most important law in the Scriptures. It is the law that commands us to love others as much as we love ourselves. 9But if you treat some people better than others, you have done wrong, and the Scriptures teach that you have sinned. 10If you obey every law except one, you are still guilty of breaking them all. 11The same God who told us to be faithful in marriage also told us not to murder. So even if you are faithful in marriage, but murder someone, you have still broken God's Law. 12Speak and act like people who will be judged by the law that sets us free. 13Do this, because on the day of judgment there will be no pity for those who have not had pity on others. But even in judgment, God is merciful! 14My friends, what good is it to say you have faith, when you don't do anything to show that you really do have faith? Can that kind of faith save you? 15If you know someone who doesn't have any clothes or food, 16you shouldn't just say, I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat. What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help? 17Faith that doesn't lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead! 18Suppose someone disagrees and says, It is possible to have faith without doing kind deeds. I would answer, Prove that you have faith without doing kind deeds, and I will prove that I have faith by doing them. 19You believe there is only one God. That's fine. Even demons believe this, and it makes them shake with fear. 20Does some stupid person want proof that faith without deeds is useless? 21Well, our ancestor Abraham pleased God by putting his son Isaac on the altar to sacrifice him. 22Now you see how Abraham's faith and deeds worked together. He proved that his faith was real by what he did. 23This is what the Scriptures mean by saying, Abraham had faith in God, and God was pleased with him. That's how Abraham became God's friend. 24You can now see that we please God by what we do and not only by what we believe. 25For example, Rahab had been a prostitute. But she pleased God when she welcomed the spies and sent them home by another way. 26Anyone who doesn't breathe is dead, and faith that doesn't do anything is just as dead! The tongue
1My friends, we should not all try to become teachers. In fact, teachers will be judged more strictly than others. 2All of us do many wrong things. But if you can control your tongue, you are mature and able to control your whole body. 3By putting a bit into the mouth of a horse, we can turn the horse in different directions. 4It takes strong winds to move a large sailing ship, but the captain uses only a small rudder to make it go in any direction. 5Our tongues are small too, and yet they boast about big things. It takes only a spark to start a forest fire! 6The tongue is like a spark. It is an evil power that dirties the rest of the body and sets a person's entire life on fire with flames that come from hell itself. 7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures can be tamed and have been tamed. 8But our tongues get out of control. They are restless and evil, and always spreading deadly poison. 9My dear friends, with our tongues we speak both praises and curses. We praise our Lord and Father, and we curse people who were created to be 11Can clean water and dirty water both flow from the same spring? 12Can a fig tree produce olives or a grapevine produce figs? Does fresh water come from a well full of salt water? Wisdom from above 13Are any of you wise or sensible? Then show it by living right and by being humble and wise in everything you do. 14But if your heart is full of bitter jealousy and selfishness, don't boast or lie to cover-up the truth. 15That kind of wisdom doesn't come from above. It is earthly and selfish and comes from the devil himself. 16Whenever people are jealous or selfish, they cause trouble and do all sorts of cruel things. 17But the wisdom that comes from above leads us to be pure, friendly, gentle, sensible, kind, helpful, genuine, and sincere. 18When peacemakers plant seeds of peace, they will harvest justice.