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How to Learn and Tell a Biblical Story by Heart


by Rev. Ron Coughlin, former NBSI president


  1. Pray.  Begin with prayer to invite God to be with you as you learn this sacred story and to give you insight and wisdom to understand its message for today.

  2. Read out loud – 3-4 times.  It is important to read out loud.  Do not read it in silence.  Hearing the words in your ears, rather than in your mind will help you to learn the story.

  3. Write out the passage – in phrases – the act of writing gets the words into your fingers and body. As you do, arrange the text graphically in scenes (also called "episodes") and lines (phrases) in ways that make sense to you. 

  4. Picture: try to form a vibrant picture of the scene in your mind:

    1. setting: what is the time and place?

    2. what are the sounds, colors, smells in this scene?

    3. who are the characters?

    4. what things are significant to the story?

    5. what are the actions? (watch for the verbs)

    6. stage the scene, where are people in the story?

  5. Meditate on the passage –
     ask 3 questions:

    1. What feelings are evoked by this passage?

    2. Are there any experiences you have had which resonate with this passage, or help you understand this passage?

    3. What message is there for you and your listeners today in this passage?

  6. Learn the passage by heart. 
    Use whatever method works for you to learn the passage.  Repeat the passage over and over – adding a new line or section, once you have mastered the previous section. 

    You will find that it helps to plan and use gestures and move around as you learn.  Movement helps to instill the words into your body.

  7. Tell it to someone else prior to the official telling. This is important!  Telling to an audience is very different from telling to an inanimate object.




  1. Watch for Verbal Threads - Many of the stories repeat the same words.  Make a note of them. You might underline the repeated words.

  2. Study the Passage
    Use commentaries, Bible Dictionaries, go on-line (see online resources listed here.)

  3. Draw a picture – Some people are visual learners: it helps them to draw a picture of the various scenes (like a storyboard for planning a video).

  4. Use all the senses - Use movement – muscle connections – exaggerate at the beginning, you can always scale back when you tell. Plan your gestures; don't depend on "what comes naturally." 

  5. Visualize where people are in the scene. Keep the geography consistent. Don't step on anyone you have imagined on the ground! 

  6. Rhythm: Watch for the rhythm and tempo in the story. (Fast, Slow; Loud, Soft; Pauses)

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