Thou shalt join in

11th July 2008 at 01:00
The old ones are the best: or how the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments got pupils sharing religious ideas for today. Matthew Friday encourages class action

The old ones are the best: or how the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments got pupils sharing religious ideas for today. Matthew Friday encourages class action

Primary - Ages 6-7

Just how much do the Ten Commandments mean in this day and age? I thought I'd get my Year 2s, in groups, to discuss them and work out a hypothetical order. Optimistic? Thou shalt give it a try, I thought.

The subject was Judaism and the lesson began with a brief introduction to the historical and religious context of the Ten Commandments. I led a class discussion in which we attempted to put them in order of importance, from one to 10.

For the independent activity, the children got into mixed-ability groups and discussed which of the Commandments are the three most important. They had the option of putting the others in order as an extended activity. Each group had a sheet numbered one to 10, so they could copy down their chosen Commandments. In the plenary, the groups reported back their findings and we all discussed the results, including the tricky process of debating and sharing opinions.

Being an inner-city school, there was a wide mix of ethnic and religious views. The Muslim and devoutly Christian children agreed that "thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain" should be ranked highly. Almost all of the children put "Thou shalt not kill" first.

Some children loved the debate; others found it a struggle, especially when they couldn't get others to agree with them. Be wary of the group who discovers that if they let others take turns at picking a Commandment, they can avoid discussion.

The main objective was for the children to become familiar with the principal laws that govern Judaism.

The children did this in a lively, cross-curricular manner. They enjoyed the Story of Moses, which I saved for the end of the day (I found a pictorial version of the story at I had forgotten how much violence and complex morality there is in this ancient story, but it served to heighten the children's appreciation of the Ten Commandments.

Though the children needed direction in the group discussion, the skills practised were beneficial. It's especially important for inner-city children to learn to share ideas and express opinions in a constructive, tolerant way.

Matthew Friday is a Year 2 trainee teacher at Ravenstone Primary School in Balham, south London


- Each group should appoint one person who does the written recording. Not only does this save on unnecessary argument about who does the writing, but it can act as a differentiated task for specific children.

- It's worth cutting up and laminating six sets of the Ten Commandments, making them tear resistant and allowing the children to spread them out.

- You may want to reword some of the Ten Commandments so that young children can understand them.

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