Teaching RE: back to the basics of text & interpretation


My teaching in RE has mostly been trying to squeeze in all the ‘stuff’ in a limited amount of time. I’ve taught short course GCSE on one lesson a fortnight; you don’t have time to do anything other than skim learn. This leads to teaching superficially in teaching the what and how but not the why. (See my other recent post for how this links to our own teacher practice)

Now two things have changed. I am blessed to work in a school that values RE and gives it a great amount of time on the timetable and the new GCSE specifications are starting. Both of these have changed the way I’m teaching RE.

Using texts

If we really want to get down to the core beliefs and reasoning behind religious practices time needs to be spent on the original texts. In key stage 3 I’ve begun to collate appropriate quotes from holy texts that link to the topic.

For example, whilst studying Sikhism I’ve presented students with references from the Guru Granth Sahib that link to our work on equality. We spend a lesson going through them and working out what they mean. I often start with simpler texts to interpret and go on to more complex texts.


The fascinating thing is that some of my lower attaining students have been able to interpret them much more easily than others. One girl in particular just rewords the text and seems to grasp them so quickly. It’s a real strength yet she struggles with her written work. She loves it.

I’ve also bought a set of Qur’ans. I felt that if students at GCSE are to engage with Islam at a deeper level then they should have direct access to the text itself. I haven’t used them yet. I want to set out a protocol for them and indeed Bible usage so students have a set routine.

Using quotes and references to texts are also part of our key stage 3 assessment skills. Encouraging students to engage with this from the start of year 7 will make GCSE much smoother.


This student hadn’t used textual sources initially but then added a relevant quote & explained it.


Asking a believer

I work in a mainly mono-faith, mono-ethnic area. Students rarely engage with people with faith or at least those that aren’t Christian. I really need to get them engaging with believers to see how they interpret their own religion. So, I’ve tried to use social media to collect real views of believers relating to the topic we’re studying. I’ve asked people for short clips and quotes and the response has been fantastic.

For our studies on the Jewish mitzvot we had a Rabbi  create a video of how the mitzvot are kept in his house and two RE teachers explained what the mitzvot mean to them.

Last week I asked for Muslim colleagues to share why Muhammad is important to them. The response was immense and I now have a fantastic resource to use with the students.

The beauty of these is that these are each individual’s interpretations and therefore they differ. It’s easy to teach students one common interpretation but this variety gives students the chance to engage with real life differences.

It also makes religion and believers come alive to students. It’s not from a book but it’s from people I know, other teachers, people who live in the same country as them; it is no longer ‘otherness’ it’s ‘us’.



Examples of colleagues explaining what Muhammad means to them


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