How to Answer Student's Honest Questions in Catholic Education

How to Answer Student's Honest Questions in Catholic Education

Most Catholic educators would agree: we want our students to think deeply about their faith and why they believe in the tenants of Christianity. In order to do this, we must take a slightly different approach than the standardized Catholic curriculum and turn towards reason and science to fortify our students’ beliefs. Guiding students to becoming critical and intellectual Catholics requires educators to take a new (yet actually quite ancient) approach to faith formation: apologetics.

In this article, you’ll learn how to incorporate challenging, apologetics topics and conversations into your religious education lesson plans. This article will cover some specific strategies for tackling tough topics by helping you frame your lessons and discussions with defined objectives and an intentional structure, which will lead to positive outcomes. Plus, download the FREE Discourse in Apologetic Religious Education Kit to get resources that will assist you in promoting rich and meaningful discussion during your apologetics lesson plan!

Discourse in Catholic Apologetic Religious Education Kit

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Before you get started, it’s critical to understand that tackling lessons about tough topics requires a bit more planning, strategy, and effort than a traditional lesson. Oftentimes, talking about challenging topics can cause students to feel confused, upset, and/or emotional. Catholic apologetic educators need to ensure they have concrete strategies for teaching these issues and turning these challenging conversations into positive learning opportunities.

This article will provide you with the information and resources to get started introducing challenging apologetics into your classroom today, including…

  • Preparation and planning for an apologetics lesson.
  • Strategies to ensure you meet lesson objectives and stay on track.
  • Promoting classroom discourse and critical thinking.
  • Moderating confusion and strong emotions in your students and yourself.
  • How to reflect upon and refine your lessons after instruction.

Preparing and Planning an Apologetics Lesson

Before you dive into your apologetic instruction, you’ll want to ensure that your lesson is well-planned, clear, and purposeful. In order to do that, you’ll want to follow a few simple steps for planning the most effective lesson possible.

#1 Start with less complex topics
Creating an apologetics classroom culture doesn’t happen overnight. Helping your students become apologists is a continual effort. Starting with topics that are less complex will help students grasp an apologetics approach to faith formation.

#2 Defining clear lesson objectives
You need to be intentional about what exactly you want students to take away from your lesson. Start by asking yourself the following questions.

  • What are the content-specific objectives?
    • What do you want students to learn? What learning outcomes do you expect?
    • Why are you introducing this particular lesson?
    • Are there subtopics within this particular subject/lesson that may arise that you will need to address?
  • What are your student learning objectives?
    • For example:
      • Increase understanding and knowledge of the topic, including the ability to defend the Catholic perspective both verbally and in writing.
      • Use reason and faith to evaluate counter-arguments.
      • Apply different methods for analyzing multiple texts on the same topic, e.g. scripture, historical evidence, scientific studies, multimedia, expert opinions, etc.
  • How do you hope students will engage during this conversation?

#3 Personal planning and evaluation
You can’t teach what you don’t know! Therefore, before beginning direct instruction on a topic, educators need to use the lesson/discussion objectives to evaluate their personal knowledge on the lesson topic and partake in self-education if necessary.

  • If you find yourself lacking knowledge on a topic, sign up in advance for information on the Master Teacher Program in order to be equipped on topics of contemporary apologetics.
  • Collect and gather material and resources that will support your instruction, promote discussions, and increase you or your students’ knowledge on the topic.
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  • Look into how different conversations affect students and teachers. Mentally prepare yourself for students’ varying reactions, viewpoints, and questions.
  • Consider collecting questions from students prior to each lesson to aid in your planning. 

#4 Preparing students for upcoming lesson and conversation
Students need to have a clear understanding of why you are introducing this particular lesson and the learning outcomes you expect.

  • Share the goals of the discussion/lesson prior to the start of class.
  • Decide how you want to introduce the topic to students.
    • Do you want to give a pre-discussion assignment that helps students understand and articulate their current views or knowledge on the subject as well as other viewpoints they have heard?
    • Should parents be given a heads-up about the topic you will be discussing in an upcoming lesson?
    • In advance to the classroom discussion, is there an activity students could complete on the topic that practices logical thinking and warms them up to the idea of thinking critically about their beliefs?
  • Consider having students submit questions on the topic prior to the lesson, so you can research them and be ready to discuss them during your instruction.
  • Work with students to establish a set of guidelines for positive class discussions.
    • Reinforce to them that all students’ ideas and questions are important, since they are all part of the classroom community!

Strategies to Ensure You Meet Lesson Objectives and Stay On Track

Once you’ve prepared your lesson, it’s important to follow some guidelines to help you stick to your lesson and ensure your students understand and process the material. Here are some helpful strategies that will guide your direct instruction of your apologetics lesson.
✓ Clearly present the lesson topic in a way that students will understand and that will make it relevant to them.
  • Reiterate why the lesson/discussion is important and what outcomes you are hoping to achieve:
    • When topics like these challenge your faith, you need to be able to use logic, reason, history, and science to understand the issue and defend your beliefs to others.
    • You need to be ready for the secular world’s pressures and opinions; discussing challenging topics helps fortify your own faith against the secularism of the world.
    • Explain to students how the specific topic impacts their faith.
  • Provide the framework of the lesson, so students know what to expect.
  • Hook students! Present material that will get the conversation or lesson going.
    • Ask challenging and engaging questions to get students thinking.
    • Find a relevant video clip to watch.
    • Share a connecting piece of scripture.
✓  Don’t shy away from the topic’s controversy. Address why the topic is difficult for Christians to discuss.
  • Delve right in by asking and answering some tough questions:
    • Why is there hesitancy in conversation around this topic?
    • Why is it a difficult topic to discuss?
    • Why aren’t Catholics clear on the answer?
    • What are the secular arguments against this topic?
  • Explore and analyze evidence that supports faith:
    • History, science, philosophy, etc.
    • These fields of study should support your apologetics lessons.   
  • Actively manage the discussion:
    • Prompt students as needed for follow-up questions or comments, additional explanation, or evidence.
    • Remind students of discussion guidelines.
    • Steer the conversation back to the stated goals of the lesson.
✓ Structure opportunities within the lesson or discussion where everyone can stop, assess what they are learning, reflect, and get back on track.
  • Use this opportunity to engage students in critical thinking and collaborative discussion about the topic.
  • Ask students to…
    • Write for a moment.
    • Share a thought with a neighbor (“turn-and-talk” style).
    • Read a relevant study and take notes.
    • Compare and contrast evidence from various sources.


Promote Classroom Discourse and Critical Thinking

An effective apologetics lesson will be filled with deep, engaging conversations among students and teachers as well as moments of profound critical thinking. Fostering this type of collaborative discourse, deep thought, and metacognition requires teachers to implement a few key strategies. Download the Discourse in Apologetic Religious Education Kit to learn more about why discourse is important for students and educators in the religious education classroom.

Use prompts, questions, and sentence starters that…
Excite students about the topic and motivate them to contribute to discussion.
Help students learn how to study a challenging topic from an apologist approach, using evidence, critical thinking, reason, and faith.
Encourage students to develop a mindset of critical thinking.
Get students to access prior knowledge.
Allow students to think forward and keep them on track with lesson objectives.
Assist students in clearly externalize their thinking.
Welcome students to ask questions and share their concerns.

When you download our Discourse in Apologetic Religious Education Kit you’ll get a variety of prompts, questions, and sentence starters that can be used in the classroom for promoting discussion about challenging topics!

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Model open-mindedness and questioning:
When discussing topics that are not only controversial but that are traditionally seen as challenging to faith, it’s important that instructors model for students how to process these complex issues. Emphasize to students that it’s not only okay to have questions and concerns about these topics, but that it’s expected. Remind them that the goal of apologetics is to discuss the difficult topics that cause questioning of faith. It’s okay to wonder about how science and history fits into Catholicism and see the validity of opposing arguments. But you also want to have the tools to defend your faith with reason and evidence and in doing so, fortify your faith.
Respond the right way to student contributions and questions:
– Take all ideas seriously.
– Model open-mindedness and respect.
– Make sure you show the same level of interest in the questions and ideas of all students.

Reflect and Refine Approach

As catechists, you all know that learning is a process—so too is instruction. In order to provide the best possible education to students, we must take the time to look back at how the lesson went and consider what we can do better the next time around.

Think back to how effective was your lesson.
  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • Did your students learn what you wanted to be learnt?
  • How do you know?
  • What can you do better next time?
  • What new strategies will you try to better engage students and incite thoughtful discourse?
Based on your answers to the previous questions, it’s time to modify your instruction and ensure that it’s even more effective the next time. Keep what went well; fix what needs work.
Try again
Now that you've reflected and refined, try out a newly designed apologetics lesson with the next group of students.
  • Keep reflecting and refining until you’re happy with students’ learning outcomes.

In Summary

At the end of the day, if you’re a Catholic educator, you should want your students to dig deep, think critically, and discover why it is that they believe what they do. Apologetics is a critical tool for helping students use science, history, and reason to understand, defend, and ultimately, fortify their faith.

Equip your students with the tools they need to think critically about topics that challenge their beliefs and have the potential to undermine their faith. Follow our guide to plan, implement, reflect upon, and modify your apologetics lessons.