Seven Ways to Tweak Curriculum

Dec 20, 2017

Seven Ways to Tweak Curriculum

By Jen Bradbury

When choosing a curriculum (especially when intentionally choosing a curriculum using these questions), the hope is that you’ll be able to use the curriculum as is. Unfortunately, that very rarely happens. Instead, you’ll likely have to tweak the curriculum to make it work in your setting. Here are seven ways to tweak curriculum.  

1. Adjust the timing.

A curriculum will very rarely match your specific timeframe. So, add or delete content in order to make it work in your setting. If a curriculum is too long, you might have to show a clip rather than an entire video; cut entire sections; or trim questions from a discussion. For example, because I have a short Sunday morning gathering time, I rarely use all of the video in a video-driven curriculum. Instead, I’ll choose a key clip and show it to save time. In contrast, if a curriculum is too short, you might have to add an additional clip, activity, or discussion.

2. Change the format.

The more you know the teens in your ministry, the more you can tailor curriculum for them by adjusting its format. For example, once I learned that my teens do NOT like being lectured at, I began reformatting talk-based curriculum into discussions. Having someone else’s talk as my outline still made my work considerably easier. It gave me a starting point and enabled me to use their Scripture passages and points to write a discussion that actually worked in my setting.   

3. Contextualize theology.

Curriculums are written with certain theological slants to them. It’s up to you to know what the theological bent of the curriculum is and whether or not that’ll fly in your context. If it won’t, then you need to contextualize the theology for your setting. As an example, when I was in grad school, one of our assignments was to work through a specific evangelism-focused curriculum with our youth ministries. Had I been searching for a curriculum, this is one I never would have chosen. Even though it was well-written and theologically sound, it wasn’t theologically suitable in my mainline context where, as a whole, we don’t talk about evangelism in the same way that more evangelical settings do. So, I had to adjust it. I showed the videos that I thought would challenge my teens. Then I wrote new discussion questions – ones that didn’t abandon the concept of evangelism but instead, altered it to make sense in our context. Because it was so different than what we normally discuss, this series actually became one of my students’ favorites of the year.     

4. Modify the content to meet your long-term goal of who you want your students to become.

While curriculums are written with goals in mind, they’re not necessarily your goals. You might really like the topics covered in a curriculum. Even so, you might not want to devote a whole youth group meeting to that one topic. So, adjust. Combine parts of different lessons into one session so that your lesson is focused on the things you (or your church) have deemed important.    

5. Piece different curriculum together.

Not only can you combine parts of different lessons from one curriculum into one session, but you can also build a lesson by combining various parts of different curriculums. This enables you to build a particularly strong lesson really focused on the topic at hand. However, it requires that you have lots of different resources at your disposal (which has become slightly easier now that so many resources are digital.)

6. Use a piece of curriculum as the jumping off point.

Sometimes, you have an idea for where you want to go in a lesson but you don’t know how to get there. When that’s the case, find a curriculum dealing with the same topic and use it as your starting point. Choose one or two sections of the curriculum and then augment your lesson from there. Write the parts that are missing (but don’t reinvent the wheel!) This can be particularly effective if you’ve been in your setting for over a year and have a good sense of who your students are: Where they are theologically and what the best ways to teach them are.    

7. Augment your lesson.

I like to think that I’m a pretty creative person. And yet, sometimes I just get stuck. Turning to curriculum in those moments can often get me unstuck. That’s why, even when I write my own lesson, I almost always augment it with ideas from other curriculums. To do this, look at the lesson you’re writing and ask yourself, “What is this lesson missing?” Is it missing a compelling video? An experiential piece? A game? A good discussion element? Scripture? Once you know what you’re missing, search through curriculum to find those missing pieces. Then add them to your lesson. Doing so will enrich your lesson and make it way more effective for your students. 

Whenever you tweak curriculum, don’t feel guilty. Curriculums are written to SERVE you. So do what you need to do to make them work for your setting. Doing so will enable you to minister well to your teens in a way that best utilizes your time and resources.

Jen Bradury serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus(The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus(The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.