Teaching Faith Across the Grade 6-12 Curriculum and Programs: Language Arts and Social Studies

Written by Father Tom Simonds, S.J., Director of Secondary Engagement, NCEA, [email protected]

Teaching the Catholic faith is everyone’s job in a Catholic school. This is the third blog post in a series, and each post features ideas for teaching the faith in specific disciplines and programs.

In this blog, through six separate posts, I will be sharing how faculty can develop lesson plans across the curriculum and across programs using the Four Pillars of the Catechism and other curriculum guides. In this post, I will focus on language arts and social studies for grades 6-12. In future blog posts, I will focus on religious education, physical education and athletics, clubs and activities, fine and performing arts and modern languages. Go back to look at my previous posts for ideas for teaching the faith in math and science.

The Four Pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church are the Creed, the Sacraments, the Ten Commandments and the Our Father. Each of these pillars can be used to share the basics of the Catholic faith with your students. The pillars can also be the foundation for a more in-depth sharing of the faith. I provide an example here of how to organize curriculum using the pillars.

What we believe: The human person is created in the image and likeness of God, and so the human person has a dignity that must be respected. Through the choice of literature and textbooks, high school teachers can emphasize that human persons are worthy of respect because they are children of God our Father. Teachers can also emphasize this key belief in discussions and class activities.

How we celebrate: Teachers can intentionally focus on how people of other religious traditions celebrate their faith and compare those ways of celebrating to the Sacramental celebrations in the Catholic Church. Comparison and contrast is an excellent way to help students learn about the religious traditions of the Catholic Church and engages students in higher level thinking according to Bloom’s Taxonomy.

How we live: The Ten Commandments focus on loving and serving God and loving and serving our neighbor. Through literature and topics in social studies classes, teachers can provide examples of characters and people throughout history who have modeled these values. Demonstrating that people live according to religious values can be important for students who are wondering about the real value of practicing the faith.

How we pray: Begin each class with a prayer or ask students to volunteer to begin class with a prayer. Using traditional Catholic prayers such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be, can be a valuable means to acquaint students with the Catholic tradition and can also be a way to integrate the tradition regularly in your classroom.

A second curriculum guide for teaching the Catholic faith in language arts is “famous Catholic writers.” High school students pay attention to the values and way of life modeled by the adults around them. Teachers can share the life stories and accomplishments of Catholic writers to provide models of how people live out their faith in the world. Additionally, posting pictures of these people in the classroom and discussing their writings provide additional ways to share how Catholics live their faith.

Some Famous Catholic Writers:

  • Donna Tartt (novelist)
  • Thomas Pynchon (novelist)
  • Michael Symmons Roberts (poet and journalist)
  • Seamus Heaney (poet)
  • GK Chesterton (writer)
  • Don DeLillo (novelist)
  • Louise Erdrich (novelist)
  • Graham Greene (writer)
  • Jack Kerouac (writer)
  • Toni Morrison (writer)
  • Flannery O’Connor (novelist)
  • John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (writer)

The seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching are another organizer you can use to integrate faith formation in social studies courses. For example, a teacher could focus a history unit on working conditions in a particular period and lead a discussion about what dignified working conditions would have looked like at that time. The study of labor unions in the United States would be another way to use theme seven of Catholic Social Teaching to focus the curriculum in a social studies class. There are numerous other ways to use the seven themes to organize your social studies curriculum. I provide a list of the seven themes here so that you can brainstorm your own ideas.

The Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching:

  1. Remember to make an option for the poor and vulnerable a priority in your daily living.
  2. Care for God’s created world.
  3. Participate in family and community.
  4. Respect the life and dignity of all human persons.
  5. Be in solidarity with others.
  6. Respect the rights of others and be attentive to your responsibilities.
  7. Advocate for dignified working conditions and for the rights of workers.

NCEA Learning Arc: Affiliation of Students

NCEA Learning Theme: Evangelize before You Catechize

NSBECS Benchmarks: 7.9, 9.3