Explore some secular and religious symbols

Younger children


* Secular: Show the class pictures or models of road signs and ask what they mean. Focus on the purpose of a ship's anchor.

* Religious: Why was the anchor used as a disguised cross in early Christian days and why is it still symbolic in the faith? Each pupil could draw and cut out a large anchor and print on it what they believe anchors their lives (home, school, parents, friends, pets, routine and so on). Then consider religious anchorage (such as hope, security in an uncertain world, being held fast in the knowledge of God's love).


* Secular: Focus on examples such as the story of life and death in Charlotte's Web by EB White. Look at Chapter 1, with the axe representing misfortune.

* Religious: Look at bible stories that refer to signs and symbols. For example, Noah's Ark and the rainbow; Jonah (storm, sackcloths, withered tree); the Jewish story of Hanukah; the gifts of the shepherds and the Magi at Jesus's birth.


* Secular: Collect water-related pictures: sea, river, stream, pond, lake, reservoir, tap, bottled water and so on. Discuss the moods or uses of water. How is it portrayed in poems or music? Each pupil chooses a picture featuring water and expresses what thoughts and feelings it conjures up.

* Religious: Water often symbolises purification. Look at the Christian baptismal story of Philip and the Ethiopian: Acts 8: 29-35, or find out about the Islamic ritual of washing before prayer.

Older children


* Secular: Invite the children to bring items with special attachments and talk about them (such as a teddy - contentment, security, comfort; shell - enjoyment, freedom, tranquillity, security because of an animal's protection).

* Religious: Against a backdrop of pictures and writing about personal items, display religious symbolic objects after discussing the meaning of each (for example, Christian cross, candle, Easter egg; Jewish hanukkah, shawl, skull cap; Hindu incense sticks; five Ks of Sikhism, explore Buddhist symbols and model them - white elephant, lotus flower, bodhi tree and others).


* Secular: Talk about how tattoos send out strong messages, especially when permanent. Did children know that clowns paint their individual face designs on eggs to register them?

* Religious: Focus on stained glass windows and religious art. Investigate the identifying symbols of the six main world religions often shown pictorially: Christian cross, Jewish Star of David, Islamic crescent moon and star, Buddhist wheel, Hindu Om, Sikh Khanda.


* Secular: Study everyday metaphoric sayings such as "It's raining cats and dogs".

* Religious: Why does the psalmist refer to God as the "rock of salvation" or the Christian call Jesus "The Good Shepherd"?

All ages


* Secular: Discuss the signals which colours can give, such as traffic lights or how a chameleon changes from green to white when losing a fight to display its reduced status.

* Religious: Find out how colour features in the Hindu festival of Holi, or invite a member of the clergy into school to explain when and why altar cloths and a priest's vestments alternate between red, green and white through the Christian year.

Body language

* Secular: The class can dramatise facial expressions, global forms of greeting, occupational gestures of the football referee, traffic warden and orchestra conductor; and play charades.

* Religious: Study Muslim prayer positions (Rak'ah) which represent adoration, submission, willingness to serve and humility.

RE Curriculum links

Signs amp; Symbols

RE:AT1: Expression amp; LanguageL2 Identify difference between signs and symbols, and suggest meanings.

L3 Link symbols with stories and practices surrounding them and understand their religious significance.

L4 Show understanding that symbolic expression can take many forms and explain the significance of each.L5 Explain how faiths vary in their use of religious symbolism.Cross-curricular linksEn1 to 4 En2: 1d; 2b; 3; 4a, b, e, f; 5b, f, g; 8e,f PSHE amp; Citizenship: 2a,b; 4c; 5c,e


Symbols: Teaching RE Series (pound;6.80, RE Today - to order a copy call 01332 296655) Religious Artefacts in the Classroom by Paul Gateshill and Jan Thompson (pound;15.99, Hodder amp; Stoughton) A Gift to the Child by Michael Grimmit, Julie Grove, John Hull and Louise Spencer (Nelson Thornes) - available in various formatsBody Language by Pam Robson (pound;9.99, Franklin Watts)

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