All sixteen sessions in Amazing Grace follow the same structure. Between an opening and a closing ritual, participants engage in several core activities. Every session revolves thematically around a central story that participants hear and explore in one of the activities.
Every session offers a Faith in Action activity. While these activities are optional and are not included within the sixty minutes session, Faith in Action is an important element of the overall Tapestry of Faith curriculum series. Some Faith in Action activities can be completed in one meeting; others are longer-term and require the involvement of congregants or community members outside your group.
Every session offers alternate activities. Depending on your time and interests, you may choose to replace one or more of the session's core activities with an alternate activity, or to add an alternate activity to your session. You may also want to use the alternate activities outside of the program for gatherings such as family retreats, intergenerational dinners, or other events involving youth.
As you design your program, decide whether the group needs extra meetings to incorporate additional activities or to complete a long-term Faith in Action project. Long-term Faith in Action projects usually involve meetings outside your regular meeting time and/or are at another location. Before you commit to an extended program, make sure you obtain the support of both your congregational leadership and the children's families.
The sixteen sessions are organized in four sequential groups, with each group giving special but not exclusive attention to one of the four basic Tapestry of Faith strands. Sessions 1-4 focus on faith development, Sessions 5-8 on Unitarian Universalist identity, Sessions 9-12 on spiritual development, and Sessions 13-16 on ethical development.
Notes about recurring elements in all the sessions follow:
A quote introduces each session. Quotes are provided for the leaders; however, a few sessions may suggest sharing the quote with participants.
Co-leaders may wish to discuss the quote as part of preparation for a session. This can help you each feel grounded in the ideas and activities you will present, and can help leaders "get on the same page." The quotes are also included in Taking It Home sections.
The Introduction gives an overview of the session's concepts, explains and offers suggestions about activities, and describes the session's thematic purpose in the program.
The Goals section provides general outcomes for the session. Reviewing the goals will help you connect the session's content and methodologies with the four strands of the Tapestry of Faith religious education programs. As you plan a session, consider your youth, the time and space you have available, and your own strengths and interests as a leader to determine the most important and achievable goals for the session and the activities that will best serve those goals.
The Learning Objectives section describes specific participant outcomes that session activities facilitate. They describe what a participant will learn, become, or be able to do as a result of the activity. Think of learning objectives as the building blocks you use to achieve the larger "big-picture" goals of Amazing Grace.
This table lists session activities in a suggested order, and provides an estimated time for completing each to conduct a 60-minute session. The table includes all core activities from the Opening through Closing, shows Faith in Action activities, and lists alternate activities. Note that you will need to adjust or extend your schedule to fit in either Faith in Action or alternate activities.
Session-at-a-Glance is merely a guide to use in your own planning. Keep in mind that many variables inform the time required for an activity. A large-group discussion takes more time than small-group discussions. Small teams can do some activities more rapidly than large teams, but they may then require more time to share with others what they have done. Remember to consider the time you will need to move participants around from one space to another. If an activity involves cleanup, designate a portion of time to allow for it.
The time estimates for various activities include only the work the group will do when you meet. Leader planning and preparation are not included. For some activities, especially Faith in Action activities, you may need to make special arrangements to involve participant families, other congregants, and members of the wider community.
Each session offers a spiritual exercise that leaders may use to prepare themselves. Taking time in the days before the session to reflect on its content and in the moments before the session to center yourself will support and free you in your work with youth. The process will guide you to call forth your own life experiences, beliefs, and spiritually. It can help you enjoy and provide the best possible learning experience at each and every session. Take advantage of these exercises as a way to grow spiritually as a leader of youth.
The Session Plan presents every session element in detail and in the sequence shown by the Session-at-a-Glance table. It also includes Faith in Action, Leader Reflection and Planning, Taking It Home, Alternate Activities, and Resources.
If you are reading Amazing Grace online, you can move as you wish among a session's elements: Opening, Closing, Faith in Action, Activity 4, Resources, etc. Each element occupies its own web page. You can click on "Print This Page" at any time. However, if you click on "Download Entire Program" or "Download Workshop" you will have a user-friendly document on your computer that you can customize as you wish, using your own word processing program. Once you decide which activities you will use, format and print only the materials you need.
A description and discussion of various Session Plan elements follow:
Opening: The Opening is a time for centering, both for individuals and the group. Both the Opening and Closing are ritual elements and should not be skipped. Ritual is important for group cohesion and identification. Including rituals in our lives is important to children, youth, and adults. The Opening is a signal to the group that they are entering a special time and prepares the group for the shared experience. The Opening in every session includes several regular parts:
- Conundrum Corner: This is a spot in the room with a sign that says "Conundrum Corner" and possibly another sign containing just a question mark. You will place a "mystery item," as suggested in the materials list, in this corner before each session. Youth will grow accustomed to entering your meeting space, looking at the Conundrum Corner as they arrive for each session, and trying to guess how the mystery item it contains relates to the session. The item is explained later in the session during a given activity, often the story and discussion activity. Using the Conundrum Corner helps each youth to engage immediately with Amazing Grace as they arrive for each session.
- Theme Music: The curriculum suggests using the song "Amazing Grace" as theme music during the opening for early sessions and optionally for later sessions. This practice is another way to help youth connect immediately with your program as they enter the room. Many different recordings of the song are available, and some of the best are listed under Resources, below. Vary the versions you use each week. In the event that youth seem to tire of the song after several sessions, try a very different version, use some other music, or simply take a break for a few sessions. "Amazing Grace" is a wonderful song with a message closely related to this curriculum. Play it often, but not to the point of overuse.
- Chalice Lighting: Light or have a youth light the chalice each week while the group joins in the opening words you have posted. This ritual is important; it helps youth to settle into their time together. Follow it with a brief moment of silence to encourage further centering. If you have youth light the chalice, establish a regular rotation schedule so each youth gets a chance and so your opening is not spoiled by minor disagreements over whose turn it is. If open flames are not allowed in your meetinghouse or make you uncomfortable, use a battery-operated tea light commonly found in craft stores.
- Sharing: Each session suggests a question or topic for youth to discuss very briefly. Keep the talk short and focused, or you will find your hour leaking away before you really get going. Occasionally the suggested topic grows out of the Faith in Action segment of a previous session. If your group has not done that session, you will need to suggest a different topic.
- Session Introduction: Use a minute or two to let youth know what is coming next. Though many elements of the Opening are repeated in every session, unique elements may be incorporated to address specific session needs. Always read the Opening and Closing of every session, including materials lists and preparation suggestions.
Activities: Up to six core activities are suggested for each session. For each activity, you will find a materials list, preparation suggestions, a full description, and ideas for adaptations that may be required to meet youth special needs. All activities are self-explanatory, but two regular activities deserve special mention here:
- Story and Discussion: This is the activity in which leaders present the central story in every session. This activity includes discussion ideas that help convey the basic message of the session.
- Ethics Play: This experience involves youth in role-plays based on age-appropriate, contemporary ethics challenges. It is in every session as either a core or an alternate activity. How often you use it will depend on how well your youth handle it and on other time constraints. Try it early in your presentation of Amazing Grace, and include it in as many sessions after that as you can. It will help youth find practical applications for the ideas they are discussing, and it will be rewarding and fun. It might sound a bit complicated when you first read about it in Session 1, but once you grasp the essentials, it will be easy to do. Session 15, Saving the World includes an alternate activity in which participants design their own questions for the last round of Ethics Play in Session 16, Look at Me, World. All the materials you will need for the entire sixteen sessions of Amazing Grace: Exploring Right and Wrong, are included as Leader Resources in Session 1. Since you will be reusing these materials, consider laminating the Leader Resources or keeping them in a specially marked folder or binder.
The sequence of activities has been carefully planned. You certainly may make any changes and adjustments you like, but, in general, you should look through the full session before deciding on adjustments.
The activities for each session also provide a reasonable mix of both quiet and active time, and involve a variety of skills and learning styles. Try to keep this balance in mind as you adjust the session to meet your own group's needs.
Faith in Action: Many activities in this curriculum are designed to help youth apply spiritual and religious ideas to real situations in their own lives. Ethics Play is an example. The Faith in Action ideas also suggest specific and practical ways for youth to realize and apply their faith for the betterment of the world and their own communities.
Each session of Amazing Grace has a Faith in Action segment. Like the core activities, Faith in Action activities include lists of required supplies and preparations and suggest adaptations to meet the needs of youth with diverse abilities. These activities are not included in the core of the sixty-minute sessions, but your group may easily do them on a regular basis if you meet for more than an hour at a time. You may also substitute them for other activities, or use them outside the course, perhaps as the basis of youth group projects. You may also choose to replace them or supplement them with a long-term Faith in Action project.
The short-term Faith in Action ideas for each session offer an activity tied to the theme of that session. For a long-term Faith in Action project, the group would conceive and execute a plan to express the general theme of the full Amazing Grace program: Doing right and overcoming wrong. The possibilities for such a project are endless. Glancing through the Faith in Action segments of the sessions will offer some ideas. Your group could focus on the ethics of eating, as suggested in Session 4; on saving animals, as suggested in Session 7; on changing onerous rules, as suggested in Session 11; or on environmental action, as suggested in Session 13.
If you want your group to commit to a long-term Faith in Action project in connection with Amazing Grace, consider beginning with a brainstorming session within or close to Session 1.
However you adjust this Amazing Grace curriculum, try to include some form of Faith in Action. As the saying insists, actions do often speak louder than words, for both actor and observer.
Closing: Both the Opening and Closing are ritual elements and should not be skipped. Ritual is important for group cohesion and identification. Including rituals in our lives is important to children, youth, and adults. The Closing is a signal to the group that they are leaving their special time together. Each session's closing segment suggests summarizing the day's activities, extinguishing the chalice while the group speaks ritual closing words, offering Taking It Home suggestions as appropriate, and making any announcements needed to help facilitate future sessions. Though many elements of the Closing are repeated in every session, unique elements may be incorporated to address specific session needs. Always read the Opening and Closing of every session, including materials lists and preparation suggestions.
Leader Reflection and Planning: Many religious education leaders find it is helpful, at the end of their curriculum sessions, to spend a few minutes reviewing what they have done and planning what they will do next. This segment of each session suggests a few discussion ideas.
Taking It Home: The Taking It Home segment provides activities and suggestions for involving families in the ideas and projects of Amazing Grace. They include rituals; games; ideas for extending, exploring, and discussing session topics; and a Mystery and Me piece for independent youth reflection. In Tapestry of Faith programs for younger children, Taking It Home activities are reasonably addressed to parents. In programs for older youth, they are logically addressed to youth. In this program for sixth graders—the oldest of children and the youngest of youth—they might best be read and considered by both parents and youth. Consider suggesting this approach to families as you correspond with them about Amazing Grace.
Alternate Activities: The format for alternate activities is similar to that of core activities. Consider using the alternates instead of or in addition to the core activities, or possibly outside your regular session time. Some alternate activities are intentionally more active than most core activities. Consider them for high-energy youth or, again, for youth group programs.
Stories, Handouts, and Leader Resources: Stories provide the full text of the session's central story and any other stories you will need for that session's activities. Handouts are material that needs to be printed and photocopied for participants to use in the session. Leader Resources include additional components you need to lead the session activities, for example, a recipe; a puzzle for you to print out and cut into pieces; or an illustration to show the group, which you may print on paper or display on a computer.
Find Out More: Discover book and video titles, website URLs, and other selected resources to further explore session topics.