Trials and tribulations

15th February 2008 at 00:00
Getting pupils to analyse the differences between moral and natural evil is not easy. Sarah Hannafin finds they actually enjoy the task.


To teach this GCSE lesson on evil and suffering, I split pupils into groups and give each a sheet of sugar paper and pens. I ask them to list as many types of suffering as they can. Once they have a variety I then ask them to list all the "evils" that could cause this suffering before taking some feedback and recording some of their "evils" on to the board.

I then give the class the definitions of moral and natural evil - and their next task is to colour code their list of evils into moral and natural.

During this task some start arguing about an "evil" and whether it is moral or natural. At this point we have a brief discussion and decide that some evils could actually be both. They finish the task and we talk some more, focusing on evils that could be both moral and natural.

My next question to the group is: "What could be the benefits of suffering?" To cries of "What?" and "How can there be any?" the pupils have to try to list at least five - which they do eventually.

Pupils then have to create a persuasive statement (100 words maximum) from an atheist to convince people that the existence of evil and suffering in the world shows that God does not exist. I usually have some prizes or rewards for the best one, which gives added motivation.

As a plenary, the groups have to produce a statement from a theist (believer) that tackles the atheist arguments. It always surprises me that these statements are fantastic. Often they come up with the actual Christian responses we will look at in a later lesson such as the idea of life as a test and the concept of free will.

I love teaching this lesson - it's all about the pupils coming up with the ideas and working together.

The quality of work they do and the participation in discussion shows that they do too.

Sarah Hannafin is head of RE at Chichester High School for Boys in West Sussex.

Higher learning

I teach this as part of the Believing in God unit of the Edexcel GCSE Religious Studies Unit A. Pupils will have already considered a variety of reasons for believing in God, as well as, in the previous lesson, thinking about why some people are atheists.

The next two lessons explore in more detail the problem of evil and suffering for religious believers, looking specifically at the Christian responses to evil and suffering.

By the end of the lesson pupils should be able to:

- Explain the differences between moral and natural evil.

- Explain why evil and suffering lead some people to reject belief in God.

- Consider how religious people might respond to the problem of evil and suffering.

My favourite KS4 RE resources


Fotosearch is a website with thousands of images that I use for stimulation, discussion and to jazz up PowerPoint or Smart Board files. So far everything I've searched for has yielded results.


One World Many Issues by Bernard Williams, Lyn Clark, Mandy Kennick and Graham Langtree (Nelson Thornes). A text with excellent layout and interesting images.

It contains some great questions for thought and discussion as well as tasks for pupils. Particularly good in explaining the issues - the social context, non-religious arguments - it allows pupils a good understanding before moving on to look at religious attitudes. It covers Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu attitudes although not always in as much depth as the GCSE syllabus needs.


Flatliners (1990 Columbia Pictures, rated 15).

I love this film as has almost every class I've shown it to. A group of medical pupils experiment with death to discover whether there is anything beyond it - and face the consequences of their actions.

I use it for the Edexcel Matters of Life and Death unit but apart from the themes of life after death and near-death experiences it also focuses on the ideas of atonement and sin.

In parts it's quite dated but this doesn't matter - the pupils are talking about it, and what might happen next, as they leave each lesson.

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