Instructional Aids

An instructional aid is any device that helps teachers communicate more effectively with their students. An aid may help impart knowledge, attitudes, skills, or understanding; arouse emotions; or develop appreciation. An instructional aid, therefore, is a tool for improving instruction.

Instructional aids are valuable for several reasons. First, they help overcome the language barrier in teaching. Most teaching is verbal, either written or oral; yet increasingly our culture emphasises visual learning. Aids help capture and hold student attention and make learning more rapid, thus making more efficient use of class time. Students remember longer what they have learned when the aural sense is reinforced by the visual. Aids can make the Bible come alive in ways that words alone cannot.

If all of these things are true about instructional aids, why don’t more teachers use them? Perhaps the main obstacle is habit – we use only what is most comfortable and familiar. Also, aids usually take extra time and planning to prepare and require certain skills in using equipment. Many aids, especially audiovisuals, do involve some expense for equipment and materials. Yet when you come to realise how effective these aids may be, you will quickly forget these obstacles.

Traditionally, instructional aids have been classified either as impressional or expressional.

Impressional Aids:

Impressional aids are used to create impressions on the students through activities that are done to or for them. Among the impressional aids that you will find effective are audio devices, visuals, and audiovisuals.

Audio Aids
Sound is vital to communication and equipment such as phonographs and tape recorders can be used profitably in church education.

Phonograph records are available on a variety of subjects such as Bible and life application stories. Recorded music might be used to set moods for the lesson, to teach new songs, or to accompany singing when an instrumental accompanist is not available.

Tape recorders, either reel-to-reel or cassette, have many uses in the classroom as well. Possibilities for using tape recorders include taping or playing lectures, panel discussions and interviews with experts, and class discussion. Taped class sessions can then be taken to shut-ins. On occasion, teachers who must be absent from the class may prepare a tape of the lesson in advance and then have it played during the class period,

Visual Aids
Visuals reach the student through the eyes as well as the ears. One value of visuals is that students who fail to grasp a truth orally may be able to comprehend it through visual means.

A wide selection of visuals is available. Teachers who use them report increased interest, more constant attention, and an enthusiastic response.

Included in this category are objects and models, maps and globes, pictures, bulletin boards, chalkboards and flip charts, flannel graph, and puppets.

Objects and Models
Objects and models are tangible items used to help illustrate or define spiritual truth.

Objects appeal to everyone. A small object such as a coin, stone, or paper is easily used. Jesus frequently used objects in his teaching. When he wanted to teach his followers about the qualities they should possess, he set a child in their midst as an object lesson. On another occasion, when his enemies tried to trap him on the issue: of paying tribute to Caesar, he called for a coin, which he then used as an object to make his point. When used effectively, objects are valuable instructional aids. They give students firsthand experience with the subject being discussed.

A well-equipped church should also have among its materials a collection of models such as the tabernacle, temple, home in Bible times, as well as missionary artifacts. Bible models add background and substance to the biblical records and descriptions of life in ancient times and missionary artifacts provide realism to missions stories.

Maps and Globes
Maps and globes help students become familiar with mission fields and Bible geography and history. The journeys of the patriarchs, the wanderings of Israel, or the campaigns of Joshua and David cannot be followed without the use of maps. Every class, therefore, should have a good set of Bible maps available. Small maps in Bibles, classroom wall maps, and maps on overhead transparencies are all helpful aids for effective teaching.

The skilful use of pictures results in successful instruction. Some of the great works of art depict Bible scenes. Copies of these masterpieces can be used in class sessions. Often a series of pictures can be arranged to present a running narrative of the life of Christ or other Bible characters. Pictures may be purchased from publishers of curriculum materials or collected from magazines. posters, calendars, and other sources.

Students may need help in interpreting a picture’s message and its relationship to the lesson emphasis. Too much attention to detai1s of a picture will cause the students to remember the picture more than the lesson. Often pictures are left up for several weeks after the lesson has been taught. In this way they silently help the students review previous lessons.

Bulletin Boards
Often known as the classroom “silent teacher,” bulletin boards use good visual form, attractive colours, and effective pictures to communicate information. A bulletin board can emphasise, remind, review, introduce, or announce a variety of subjects. Bulletin boards should be kept current and fresh for maximum impact on the viewers. To add to their learning value, students can be involved in creating and constructing them.

Chalkboard and Flip Chart
Every classroom should have a chalkboard. If commercially prepared boards are beyond the budget, inexpensive boards may be made by applying a special chalkboard paint to a piece of hardboard.

Flip charts and chalkboards may be used by teachers to draw diagrams, outlines, and sketches step by step. Even the teacher’s action while using the chalkboard helps sustain attention.

It is not necessary to be a professional artist to make good use of a chalkboard or flip chart. A short line, a few stick figures, a circle, or a square can represent people, cities, or events. New and difficult words, names of characters, important dates, an outline or summary can be written for class members to see. Five things to remember when using a chalkboard or nip chart are:

Avoid too much detail. Don’t block the view.

Write legibly, but quickly.

Stand at the side of your work as much as possible.

Talk while writing, but do not talk to the board.

Teachers will also at times have the students use the nip chart or chalkboard. Student participation will help them remember the lesson longer.

Flannel Graph
Flannel graph is a very versatile instructional aid. It therefore is one of the most widely used aids in church educational programs. While it is most frequently used in young children’s classes, it can also be effective with youth and adults.

This medium secures attention at the very outset and, as new factors appear, interest is sustained. At the end of the lesson, the class may repeat the story, placing the figures on the board. This activity combines the faculties of hearing, seeing, and doing.

Frank G. Coleman, in The Romance of Winning Children, points out three basics which must be mastered if the flannel graph is to be used successfully – dexterity, suspense, and movement.

First, to have dexterity, you need to practice the story in advance so that it flows swiftly and smoothly. The figures should be arranged in advance in the order in which they will be used. If backgrounds are to be changed during the story, these should be laid out or arranged so that the change can be made without interrupting the story. Talk as you work, but be sure to maintain eye contact with your students.

Second, nothing holds students’ attention like suspense which arouses their curiosity. Keep backgrounds and figures not being used out of sight until they are needed. Use voice inflections and facial expressions to heighten suspense and delay the climax or the final scene until the very last moment.

Since movement attracts and holds attention, your gestures or movements are important ways to enhance .the lesson. At times, you may want to exaggerate these motions to increase attention.

A great variety of flannel graph materials are available from Christian publishing houses. But at times you may want to prepare your own backgrounds or figures.

A variation of the flannel graph is the hook-and-loop board. This material (sold under the commercial name of Velcro) allows you to suspend heavy objects from the board and proves useful when objects are used in the lesson.

Puppets are very useful in capturing and holding attention and bringing Bible stories alive. Simple finger puppets or those made with paper bags or socks can be constructed by students and are used as effectively as the larger, full-body type. Time must be given to preparing the script and practising with the puppet before using them in full productions. Many teachers of small children find that puppets are most effective when used in an impromptu situation or to relate to students informally.

Audiovisual Aids
Often audio aids and visual aids are combined to assist instruction. Such a combination is commonly referred to as an audio-visual.

Years ago David Livingston used a “magic lantern” to gain interest and friendship among the African natives. Modern projectors, vastly improved over the rather primitive equipment available to him, are now widely used in Christian education.

Among the equipment and materials which are included in this category are: films, filmstrips, slides, transparencies, phono-viewer programs, and videocassettes.

Hundreds of films are available for purchase or rental from distributors. Most of these are in the 16-mm format. Since these are produced by persons from diverse backgrounds, you should carefully preview them before showing them to your class. Imaginative teachers who have access to an 8mm home movie camera and projector have found creative ways to produce and use these in their teaching as well.

Filmstrips and Slides
Similarly, filmstrips for the 35mm projector are available in great numbers for sale or rental. Since these are less expensive than films, many churches purchase and maintain a filmstrip library.

Many 35mm projectors can use either filmstrips or slides. Slide programs are available commercially, but they can also be pre- pared by teachers who have access to 35mm equipment. With a little practice you can photograph landscapes, buildings, other colour photographs, classroom scenes, or individual students. By preparing an audio tape to accompany them, effective audio-visual programs can be produced.

Transparencies using a heat-sensitive photocopier, professional transparencies may be made from prepared masters. Commercially prepared transparencies are available as well. Some teachers also use blank sheets of acetate and special transparency pens to trace outlines or write comments as they teach.

Phono-viewer programs
The phono-viewer, which looks like a small television set, uses a record and a short filmstrip to present its message. Since this was originally designed as a toy, it is simple to operate and even younger children can use it. The phono-viewer is especially effective with a small class seated around a table. Many commercially- prepared programs are available on Bible subjects.

The video recorder-player, while still rather expensive, is becoming more readily available and is used in many churches. Videocassettes on biblical and Christian subjects are being produced in increasing numbers. As equipment prices decrease and availability of programs increase this medium will be more widely used in churches.

Expressional Aids:

A distinction is often made between aids that are primarily impressional and those that are expressional. Impressional aids include all things teachers do to make an impression on students in order to stimulate them to mental activity.

Expression, however, involves students in various activities that allow them to express some aspect of the lesson they are learning – to encourage them to think through the lesson until they can express it in their own words and behaviour. Expressional activities allow teachers to evaluate what students have really learned.

To be effective, you must provide expressional activities that involve careful thinking, reasoning, analysing, evaluating, and summarising. This active involvement of the mind and will urges Students to become “doers of the word” (James 1:22).

Expressional activities are part of good teaching. They are effective because they supplement the personality and skill of the instructor, and assist students in learning.

Impressional aids help to reach and stimulate the student’s mind but they do not necessarily secure a response. Expressional activities are effective because they deepen impression, capitalise on energy, and reach the personality in such away as to bring lasting change in the students’ lives.

Children will often forget what they hear and they may forget what they have seen, but they will not soon forget what they have done. Learning is a process of listening, looking, and doing. As students express themselves they re-impress their own minds and learn the truth through a different sense channel – not only through sight and sound, but also through activity. Learning begins and continues in what the learner does. Students taking piano lessons receive certain impressions when the teacher demonstrates a musical selection, but they don’t begin to learn until they practice it for themselves.

Effective expressional activities will have a positive effect on the shaping of the lesson and the lives of the students. The objective of Christian teaching is the development of Christian character and living. This requires the appropriation and application of know!-‘ edge which is encouraged by the use of expressional activities.

Two very important expressional aids are student activity books and handwork projects.

Student Activity Books

Student activity books are important expressional aids and are included in most commercially prepared curricula. They represent and set the pace for the students’ response to instruction. These materials are only a means to an end, however, and not ends in themselves. The activities contained in these books are not just busywork to keep students occupied, but are designed to help students learn by involvement and response.


It is estimated that students remember 10 percent of what they hear, 50 percent of what they see, 70 percent of what they say, and 90 percent of what they do. For this reason, you should look upon handicrafts as an important part of your teaching, not just something to hold students’ interests or keep them quiet. Choose handicrafts carefully so that they reinforce the lesson aims.

Handicrafts may be used during pre-session periods to help prepare students for the lesson. Since younger children may need special supervision, it is wise to have extra helpers during the craft period.

A great variety of craft materials and projects are being produced by commercial companies. However, you can also prepare excellent crafts from inexpensive materials or from scraps of paper, plastic, glass, cloth, and metal. The church library or your own personal library should contain several craft books which present hundreds of creative ideas for crafts.

Use projects that are related to one lesson, or to a lesson series. Your class will learn more by constructing a model of the tabernacle than by just observing it or reading the description in Exodus. Making a relief map of Palestine will teach more about the locations of cities, mountains, and valleys than by pointing them out on a map or reading about them, or even by special instruction in Bible geography.

Students may also be involved in making crafts that are to be given to others or used by others. Such projects have the added value of arousing within the student a serious concern for others.


Every teacher’s work can be strengthened by the use of instructional aids. They will help overcome communication barriers and enhance the speed and permanence of teaching.

Impressional aids are primarily used by the teacher to stimulate student response. Among impressional aids are: phonograph records, tape recordings, objects and models, maps and globes, pictures, bulletin boards, chalkboards and flip charts, films, film-strips, slides, transparencies and video cassettes.

There are also expressional aids. The purpose of these is to have the students make or do something that will enhance their learning. Among the most widely used of these are the students’ activity books and handicraft projects.

For Review:

1. After group members have listed all the impressional aids available in their church, discuss a program for making these known to all teachers, instructing teachers in their use, and making them available.

2. Discuss a possible program of expressional activities for a class of junior children who wish to do something helpful for the church.

For Application:

1. Visit a class and determine the proportion of class time spent with impressional teaching aids and that spent with expressional aids. Evaluate the effectiveness of this division of time.

2. Cut handicraft ideas from magazines, newspapers, and other publications. File these according to age groups with suggestions how each can be utilised as an instructional aid.