Note to the Teacher
Our scripture is from the Book of James, and it talks about taming the tongue. The opening activity gets students thinking about compliments. The discussion encourages students to think deeply about the impact of what they say. The activity is a great object lesson to help them remember the power of words. Times are based on a fifty-minute lesson period but may be adjusted.
1. Ice Breaker: Compliment Board (10 minutes)
In this ice breaker, you will make a giant list of compliments. Go around the group and ask students to share with the group a compliment they have either given or received this past week. Write the responses on a whiteboard or piece of paper. If students are having a hard time remembering compliments, ask them to come up with new compliments they can give one another. Once you’ve made a giant list of compliments, have your students take a picture of the compliments with their phones to be reminded of positive and uplifting phrases this week. If meeting online, use the chat features and possibly a shared whiteboard within the applications you are using to video conference.
Transition to today’s scripture by asking your students if they’ve ever heard the saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Ask them what they think it means. Do they agree with the quote? Why or why not? Today, we’re going to look at the power of words and what James says about taming the tongue.
2. Read Scripture (5 minutes)
Our scripture reading today talks about “taming the tongue.” Ask a student to read the scripture and as he or she does, ask students to think about how powerful our words can be and the major effects they can have on our lives.
Read James 3:1-12.
3. Discussion (15 minutes)
- In verse 1, James writes that some people will be judged with greater strictness. Why do you think those who attempt to teach others about Jesus how to live a Christian life would be judged more harshly than others?
- Verse 2 says, “all of us make many mistakes.” If you’re comfortable sharing, is there something that you have said that you would take back if you could? Or perhaps, have there been times where something has been said that became a bigger deal than it was ever meant to become? On average, do you think words that we choose to use more often uplift others or the opposite? How about the words we use and hear in worship? How about the words we hear in the news? What about the words we use in our social networks?
- Do you find it easier to use harsh words around your friends or around people you hardly know?
- In verses 3-5, James talks about how you can move a horse and a ship. What does he say moves these objects? Why is this significant? What is an example that we could come up with from our regular lives (since not many of us have horses or ships) where something very small has a huge amount of influence on how that thing works and functions? (SIM card in a cell phone? Filter settings on an app or internet browser? Our own behavior on YouTube recommendations?)
- James uses the imagery of the tongue as a fire in verse 7. What are characteristics that fire and hateful or harmful speech share in common?
- James elevates the power of words to cause harm. Do we think of gossip as not that bad? How do you think James would feel about gossip?
- What are some ways you can help others stop gossiping or using non-uplifting words?
- What are some positive ways to get a gossiping conversation back on track? Why might it be important to do so?
- Have you ever said something bad about someone and it came back with unexpected consequences? Explain.
- James is asking us to consider deeply the words we use in our daily lives and says that they would be uplifting and positive. He goes as far as to say that fresh water and salt water can’t come from the same spring. It begs us to ask the question, “If we know this about the words that we choose, how can we be more faithful to this teaching?” How can we sum up James’s “taming of the tongue” passage in one short sentence? Have the youth write this down and then take a picture of it with their phones. Invite youth to share their paraphrase of today’s passage on their social media.
4. Activity and Discussion (20 minutes)
“You can’t take it back!” You’ll start off with one tube of toothpaste. Start talking about how our negative words can really harm people and how hard it is to take back something once you’ve said it. Even on social media, it’s hard to take our hurtful words back. Start squeezing out the toothpaste on a paper towel or plate. Once you’ve squeezed a lot out, ask for a volunteer to come forward and try to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
If you are doing this activity online, you may want to encourage your students to use their own toothpaste or simply ask them to watch you. Either way, it is impossible to put all the toothpaste back in the tube. That is just like our hurtful words. Once they’ve come out, they’re hard to take back. That is why we need to be super careful about how we use our words.
Have each student get a piece of paper and a pencil or pen. Ask them to write down the biggest struggle they have with words. It may be that they gossip, or cuss a lot, or perhaps let the anger or emotions affect what words come out. Maybe they lie a lot or tell really inappropriate jokes. Give them a few minutes to write down their struggles and then have them fold up the papers and put them somewhere as a reminder to pray. Let your students know that no one is going to see the notes.
Read each quote below and discuss with your students what they think each quote means and how it might apply to the scripture we read today.
- “I have never been hurt by something I didn’t say.” – Calvin Coolidge
- “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when only one will do.” – (attributed to) Thomas Jefferson
- “Once a word has been allowed to escape, it cannot be recalled.” – Horace
- “Politeness goes far, yet costs nothing.” – Samuel Smiles
- “Clear your mind of can’t.” – Samuel Johnson
- “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” – Plato
- “Speaking comes by nature; silence by understanding.” – German Proverb
- “While the word is yet unspoken, you are master of it; once it is spoken, it is master of you.” – Arabian Proverb
Re-read James 3:1-12.
Close your time together in a manner that is typical for you. Consider taking joys and concerns, then asking for a volunteer to close in prayer.
Total Time: 50 minutes
- Pens or pencils
- One piece of paper per student
- Whiteboard or Posterboard
- Paper towel or plate