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New teaching using cartoon characters to teach Religious Education in primary schools are being rolled out in time to explain the story of Christmas.

How to teach Christmas: A new approach to primary Religious Education

New teaching resources that use cartoon characters to teach Religious Education in primary schools are being rolled out in time to explain the story of Christmas to children across the country.

The online resources present an innovative approach to RE using a group of cartoon characters, collectively known as the ‘RE-searchers’. Each RE-searcher embodies a different method of studying religions. The aim is to illustrate different perspectives and approaches to learning about RE topics such as Christmas.

The resources encourage pupils to familiarise themselves with a range of research techniques such as questioning and arguing, interviewing and empathising, participating and experiencing, and narrating and exploring interpretations, and help students learn about religious subject matter in different ways.

The approach was co-created by Dr Rob Freathy from the University of Exeter’s Graduate School of Education in collaboration with his brother, Giles Freathy, a Specialist Leader in Education. The approach was developed and piloted by Giles at Sir Robert Geffery’s School and was recognised by the Times Educational Supplement Schools Awards last year for the quality of its RE.

Dr Freathy, Deputy Director of the University of Exeter Doctoral College, said: “Christmas is the perfect opportunity to introduce the RE-searchers approach. The curriculum content is reasonably familiar to teachers, so there is an opportunity to experiment with different ways of teaching and learning. We want pupils to understand that different methods of enquiry are based on different assumptions and reveal different things.”

His collaborator, Giles, now working as a consultant for The Learning Institute, added: “There isn’t one right way to approach any topic. If pupils are searching for the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas, for example, should they observe a church service, interview a vicar, debate the possibility of the incarnation, read the nativity narratives in the gospels, or participate in a Christian festive funder-raiser. Any or all of these enquiry-led approaches could be used to spark engagement and enjoyment. We want teachers to experiment with learning experiments and give pupils varied opportunities to make sense of Christmas for themselves”.

A number of teachers across the country are now adopting the RE-searchers approach with positive results.

Lorraine Abbot, Head of RE and in charge of chaplaincy at a secondary school in Dorking, has written a blog on implementing the framework. Lorraine said: “I was certain that this approach to RE in primary schools could be translated beneficially into my secondary teaching context. It has been creative and challenging translating this and planning in this way but the potential that this offers in terms of greater religious literacy and awareness of methodology is really exciting”.

The RE-searchers approach was developed as part of a project sponsored by the Culham St Gabriel’s Trust. Full details of the RE-searchers approach and resource materials including lesson plans for using this approach to teach Christmas are available on the University website.


Date: 8 December 2015

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