My best lesson - Create secular temples to fire religious insight

30th May 2014 at 01:00

Sometimes, the best way to teach students about religious places is to take the religion out of them. It may seem counter-intuitive, but pupils are often so respectful of religious belief that difficult questions merely elicit the answer "because it's their religion".

Once the class has studied the features of Muslim mosques and Sikh gurdwaras, I use this technique to get pupils to reflect on the wider purposes of places of worship.

First, a Venn diagram on the wall reminds the class of what they have already learned. Each pupil adds a Post-it note to the wall highlighting the similarities and differences between Muslim and Sikh temples.

Next, we look at the ways in which holy buildings are used: as places of worship and celebration, as community meeting spaces, as areas where followers can learn more about their religion's beliefs and culture. Pupils work in pairs to think of features of temples that are linked to these purposes, and then we write these ideas on the board.

To really get the children to understand these functions, I turn them into designers. I ask them to pick any hobby or interest and imagine somewhere dedicated solely to that pastime, jotting down things that they might celebrate, what would be taught and how the space would bring the community together.

Then they draw their design, annotating it to explain how their space would be used. In the past, pupils have designed dance studios, concert arenas and gaming halls, all as secular places of worship.

Children find it easier to understand the non-religious purposes of holy buildings with the religion removed. The benefits of their own designs are obvious to them, and with just a few guiding questions they see how those same benefits also apply to places of worship.

To bring the lesson back to religion, I like to finish with a question: "What if there were no mosques?"

Philippa Seago is in charge of psychology at Littleover Community School in Derby

Download the plan for this lesson

Tell us about your best lesson



Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today