Jenny's blog

A plan of attack for Scripture Mastery

Last year in Seminary I used the famed Magic Squares. I loved the idea of the little jingle to memorize scripture locations. My own children learned the little jingles very, very quickly, and I thought surely this was the answer to all Scripture Mastery needs.

At the end of the year, I required all students to pass off the Magic Squares rhymes in order to receive credit scripture mastery for the year. Those who learned Magic Squares are Masters, and those that memorize word-for-word are Jedis. During that final exercise it suddenly dawned on me: Magic Squares is a waste of time. I spent so much time coming up with ways for the kids to learn the grid and jingles that we didn’t really ever get into the finding and application aspects of scripture mastery. It took so much time to learn the memorization aid — time that could have been spent actually memorizing scriptures in scripture language — and I had the sudden realization that Magic Squares is not the most effective way to spend student time.

FYI, you can find all the magic squares online at by typing “magic squares” in the search box. After clicking a title, click “download” on the left hand side. You may have to also click PDF. It’s a bad interface. >:(

At the beginning of the summer I thought that I’d use the magic square rhymes and hand signs and drop teaching the grid this school year. Then I read the Magic Squares rhymes for New Testament (…). They are awful. It’s such a reach to try to make the verse rhyme with the keyword as to make the magic squares almost unusable. Then I remembered how during class a few times students would say “Oh — THAT’S what that rhyme means!” when we would cover a scripture mastery passage. It had not occurred to me that the rhymes are not intuitive enough to be helpful to students who are unfamiliar with the passages. Nearly all of them made sense to me, but not to my students who had less scripture exposure.

I need something different

So after some objective, hard thought, I’ve decided to drop magic squares.

My next thought was to just have the kids memorize the full text of the scripture mastery passages by repeating a verse at the beginning of class each day. I spent a couple of hours grouping the passages by length and plugging them into my reading/lesson calendar. After making a sign for the wall that included a place in our opening exercises for a repetition of a scripture mastery passage, I thought I was all set for the year.

But the voice of experience

Earlier this week I was on a Seminary blog site called Back on the Floor Again where the teacher posted the following information from the professional Seminary teacher at the RedHeadedHostess.

Teach­ers: Let me share how I final­ly fig­ured out how to do scrip­ture mas­tery after YEARS of trial and error! First quar­ter I worked on them know­ing the key phras­es of ALL 25 (so I focused on games and activ­i­ties that taught them this skill). Sec­ond quar­ter I worked on over­all doc­trines and prin­ci­ples found in the scrip­ture mas­tery scrip­tures so they became more and more famil­iar with them. Third quar­ter I had them pass off each scrip­ture with the first let­ters. And fourth quar­ter I had them pass off each scrip­ture mem­o­rized with no helps. I found that my stu­dents did MUCH bet­ter with this tac­tic rather than just start­ing with mem­o­riza­tion at the begin­ning of the year. What I found when I did that is that most of my stu­dents knew the first five to ten scrip­tures and then they burned out. With my new plan very few of my stu­dents burned out first, sec­ond or third quar­ter, so at least they knew the key phras­es, the prin­ci­ples and doc­trines, and a pret­ty good idea of the words in the scrip­tures. Also by the time you get to the mem­o­riza­tion quar­ters, your stu­dents are mem­o­riz­ing scrip­tures they have already have had a lot of expo­sure to and it is much eas­i­er for them and they are more excit­ed to put in the work mem­o­riza­tion takes.”…

This. is. genius.

What a perfect systematic approach! I considered a couple of ways to integrate this with my plan to recite a scripture mastery passage at the beginning of class. I couldn’t figure out a good way. Adding in the scripture mastery recitation would add more “stuff” to our opening exercises, and I dislike the idea of opening exercises becoming ritualized. Furthermore, having 100% of kids memorize 100% of scripture mastery passages word-for-word (my initial goal) is not required by the Seminary curriculum: it was just my over-achiever attitude taking over. RedHeadedHostess’ idea was looking better all the time.

So now my plan of attack is to implement RHH’s approach. Earlier today I tried to find the scripture mastery key phrases. Every person seems to use their own. To make matters more confusing, the Church uses two sets of what I call key words and key phrases. It’s more than a little confusing. One set is on the back of the brown bookmark that lists all 100 scripture mastery passages, and the other is on the New Testament chronology bookmark.

I decided to use the New Testament Chronology Bookmark wording, because I think if you’re going to spend time memorizing, you ought to focus on actual scripture wording. Oddly, the scripture mastery key phrase for James 2:17–18 does not contain a direct quote. I am going to use the actual quote: “faith, if it hath not works, is dead”. I hope that using these fairly familiar phrases will help the kids learn the scripture mastery passages faster. If you’ve already learned some of the language of a verse, that’s fewer words you have to memorize later. When everyone has learned these passages and learned them well, we’ll have mastered all our scripture mastery passages. Word-for-word memorization will continue to be a bonus program. I can focus more my time on finding, applying, and understanding doctrines in each passage.

Then I got to thinking….

I loved RHH’s systematic approach to scripture mastery. This morning it occurred to me that a similar approach could be taken with the four gospels. I am teaching them in order, which means there will be a good deal of repetition. I can make planning my lessons a little easier if I use a different focus in each of the gospels. Right now, my working model is this:

Matthew – teach the storyline
Mark – review storyline/learn doctrines
Luke – review doctrines/learn application
John – learn application/develop testimony

I am going to do some checking on the purposes of the gospels and see if there’s a better way to group the lessons.

As it is, this systematic way seems to make things so much clearer for me. How grateful I am for teachers who share their expertise!

Posted by Jenny Smith

I'm Jenny Smith. I blog about life on the 300+ acres of rolling farmland in Northern Virginia where I live. I like tomatoes, all things Star Trek, watercolor, and reading. I spend most days in the garden fighting deer and groundhogs while trying to find my life's meaning. I'm trying to be like Jesus -- emphasis on the trying.