Adapt Curriculum


In order to adapt curriculum, you need to know—

  • What is curriculum, and why adapt it?
  • What are the goals for the group and for individuals?
  • Guides for constructing a lesson plan for a class.
  • Guides for adapting for a group without written curriculum.
  • Tips for using the Bible and Bible stories within curriculum.


Curriculum is the body of discovery planned by a church, and everything that goes on in the church from parking lot to smiles in hallways. Part of that body of discovery is the printed curriculum that helps provide a framework for your design to enable a student grow spiritually, educationally and socially.

Adapting curriculum is necessary because all students’ needs are different and change. It is important to assess the abilities of students with special needs, and teach to those abilities.  Remember that every meeting of persons is a gift exchange, and your students are sharing their gifts with you. In planning, revisit their discovered  abilities often. Whether in a typical classroom or a special one, try to use the following teaching ingredients:

  • Repetition
  • Sensory involvement
  • Fun
  • Flexibility. We teach students, not curriculum.
  • Freedom with boundaries
  • Participation with choice
  • Visual and hands-on use of the Bible.
  • Moments of awe worship and/or directed worship.
  • Moments or planned time of prayer.
  • Planned ways for self-expression, for example bells, chants, songs, art or drums especially with persons who are vocally challenged, puffing into a voice box, pointing to a word or picture on a story board.
  • A take home paper or object for the child to take home for the parents to use as a reminder during the week. Children with disabilities often are not able to tell parents what they did or learned. (Teen and adult students will think this childish.)
  • If there is a child with vision and hearing disabilities, other adaptations will be necessary.

See Appropriate Teaching Practices for further suggestions.


TO CONSTRUCT A LESSON PLAN FOR YOUR GROUP, FIRST ASK: What are our goals for the group and what are our goals for an individual who needs special help?

A Group Example: Our group will learn about how God talked to Moses through the burning bush and they will think about how God might make a suggestion to them. Or, opportunities for socialization or student leadership will be provided.

Individual Examples: Cam will feel happy, loved and safe, will experience moments of worship, will learn something using tactile experience, will feel and or hear something from the Bible, will have freedom to roam but an effort will be made for her to do something with the group. For a student who is blind, an additional goal might be, “John will be within touching distance at all times by his familiar person. He will hold a book with tacticle figures such as fur or feathers.” For a student with cerebral palsy: John will learn to use an adaptive tool so that he can paint with a brush to express the burning bush.



Review the curriculum at hand, and follow a four-word sketch: review, focus, explore and respond. One added word creates fellowship: eat. Tuck it in where the groups needs a break. Know if anyone has food allergies.Within the plan, become aware of and celebrate moments of awe and worship.

  1. Discover and/or create readiness for what is to be presented. Review previous session ideas and build on them or repeat focus idea from last session, just coming at it from a different angle. Students love to do this! Prime their thinking with pictures or word cues or      pantomime.
  2. Focus on the idea or subject.
  3. Explore the subject
  4. Allow for response. Plan for a response without having an exact response that is required. It should be an honest student response possibly but not necessarily in words such as art or flag waving or charades or praying, etc. Affirm all responses.
  5. Close the session.
  6. Plan who will lead the team of teachers, who will mentor, and what they will do.

With younger children who have varied challenges, the focus and explore may last only a few minutes. For this and other reasons, it is important to use repetition and visual and/or tactile images.


Within the plan, become aware of and celebrate with students moments of awe and worship.

  1. Discover and/or create readiness for what is to be presented. Review previous session or talk about student’s life since last meeting.
  2. Focus on a student life situation to be found in the session’s Bible study.
  3. Guide Bible study. Students pass out Bibles and lead or read when possible. Define new words.
  4. Apply Bible truth to life with specific examples. Use experiental methods to facilitate application such as pantomime, making something, mending something, giving out servant coupons each week, etc.
  5. Ask for prayer requests and have students pray. This may fit into the schedule naturally at any time.
  6. Close session with summary or reaction or take home material.



Within a comfortable, friendly environment, use the three-word formula: focus, explore, and respond. Individual and group goal setting is an important first step. Focus on activity such as craft project, fishing, talent show, etc.with one person presenting the focus of activity. Explore ways of doing the activity with suggestions and directions. Respond by doing it and respond to having done it. It is important to close the event or activity. Groups often create their ceremonial opening and closing using a drum beat, special group prayer, a chanted word led by a student, or a song.

Reminders about Bible study and persons with intellectual disabilities

Many students do not understand time – time of day and the time lapse of years, so the history of Bible incidents is mostly lost. It’s as if it happened yesterday. Students are also literal in concepts. It is what it says it is.

The story is often the focus of a teaching plan and the story can be explored, and one responds. Affirm the fact that it is okay to understand the story on any level, and it is special that the student has listened and perhaps responded. A leader who understands the capabilities of students and relates them to a story can come away feeling successful.

A student may understand a Bible story on one or more of three levels:

  1. It’s just an interesting story.
  2. It’s a story that happened time ago and it meant XXX to those people.
  3. It’s a story that can have meaning for me today.

Experience will teach you students’ level of understanding, and you will be delighted to see growth in this understanding. Or not. It’s okay, either way. See How to Use A Story.

Always have a Bible visible, hold it in your hands as you tell a story. Show your love and respect for the Bible and hold it as it is to you -a wonderful treasure. If the story is not directly from the Bible, say that it is a story based on the Bible, or, for an older group, say it is a might-have-been story from the Bible.

Bible study seeks to point out that the Bible is a treasure book that helps us understand God, and helps us get acquainted with Jesus and his teachings. No matter how carefully crafted a Bible study plan is, the precious students will have burning questions or statements that are so far off the wall of Bible study, you will catch your breath. Teachers tell each other that they have to go with the flow, that learning and affirmation happens when the student is in the center of HIS stage, and often the exploration in “left field” turns out to be the best part of the day.

For examples of spiritual growth in Bible study, please see Stories of Spiritual Growth.