Teaching Symbolism

This weekend I attended a Christening of a family friend. The ceremony was very touching and the church was decorated beautifully. As I got talking to people afterwards I soon realised that some of what had happened at the mass and the beautiful decorations went completely over some (most) people’s heads. No one had connected the colours used to represent water and rebirth or the sand on the altar to symbolise a new journey. One person was disgusted that the priest had not got to know the family because he was mentioning the support available from the large family the child was entering into and my friend comes from a very small family. He was of course speaking about the family that is the church community. It was a shock for me to see how many people missed the symbolism and meanings behind the metaphors which in the past would have been obvious to the church community.

This got me thinking about the importance of teaching symbolism to students in an increasingly secular society. Symbols are used in all the religions and in non religious aspects of life. Symbols can change the meaning of something or make you see things in a new way. They give information that is not always obvious. I think if students are aware of this and can understand the importance of symbolism we are giving them a new way of looking at the world.

So this morning I started to look for resources that could help me teach symbolism to students in Religion class. Below I have links to the top three I managed to find. Please comment below if you have anymore or would like to share your opinion. I look forward to your suggestions 🙂

  1. Symbol Diaries – This idea I found on Tes.co.uk (one of my favourite resource banks) It is aimed at primary and junior level students but could be adapted depending on the class. Students spent time researching and learning about symbols in religious and everyday life. Each week they chose new symbols from different religions and noted their importance and if they are used in different ways and if they related to their own lives. All information was stored in a journal which was then displayed in the classroom.
  2. I found two very good introductory pieces for the religious educator on LOGOS by Mater Dei. Logos is an online resource collection for junior certificate RE. The section on sign and symbol has two essays explaining exactly what sign and symbol are and how they should be explained to students. I found this to be very informative and useful when planning my symbolism lesson. There are also worksheets available. These are quite simple but could be modified for higher ability classes.
  3. Religious symbols is a website that focuses only on religious symbols. Students can click on the different traditions and see the history behind the symbols. It is a basic website with easy to understand language. This website would be a great resource for junior cert or as a starting point for leaving cert religion projects.
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