The Workshop Rotation Model: A New Model for Sunday School

Because I first started teaching with computers in my Rotation Model Sunday School back in 1990!  I’m one of the “inventors” of the Rotation Model, and founders of the, the official site of the model, and place full of free Sunday School lessons. My software work sprang out of my efforts to change Sunday School. Whether you’re using the Model or not, rotating different kids each week into your computer lab -while the teacher in the lab remains the same, –is still the best way I know how to run a computer lab in Sunday School.This article is part of a group of Rotation articles I’ve had posted at my software website. In addition to the one below, I’ve also revised and posted my article about How to Create a Rotation Model Scope and Sequence of Stories. You can find many more articles and years worth of free Rotation lesson plans at

The Workshop Rotation Model for Sunday School ~ A Brief Introduction

by Neil MacQueen
Posted at is an updated version of the original Rotation article first published in Christian Educator magazine.

The Workshop Rotation Model for Sunday School began in 1990 when a Presbyterian church in Chicago decided it was time to reinvent Sunday School or close it down. By 1995 enough churches in the Chicago area had successfully adopted the Model to call it a movement. was created in 1997 to provide resources, lesson plans, and community for the grassroots movement. Many of the original Chicago Rotation educators began organizing conferences. Several started publishing ministries. By the 2000’s, it was estimated that over 8000 churches in the U.S. and Canada have adopted or adapted the Model. And after a decade of showing little interest, several major denominational and independent publishers are now publishing Rotation-style curriculum. In 2006, an article about Sunday School in TIME magazine called Rotation, “one of the most popular innovations in Sunday School.”  

Being “popular” however, was not our original intent.

“We weren’t trying to invent a new model, -we were just trying to solve our problems,” said Melissa Hansche, D.C.E. at the Presbyterian Church of Barrington, -the church in Chicago Presbytery where the model got its start. What problems is she referring to?

  • Bored kids and teachers
  • Declining attendance
  • Lack of Bible literacy
  • Drab and uninviting classrooms
  • Sedentary teaching
  • Expensive curriculum (that’s half used)
  • Poor teacher preparation
  • Trouble recruiting teachers
  • (your problem here)

The decline in Sunday School is one of the worst kept secrets in the Church. Some say “it’s a sign of the times.” Others of us wonder out loud whether the traditional model EVER worked. (Where are all those kids we had in our Sunday Schools back in the so-called “good old days” of the 50’s and 60’s? They’re at home reading the Sunday paper.) “Like a lot of other churches, we knew we had to do something and soon.” said Hansche. “And we knew that looking for yet another ‘new and improved’ curriculum wasn’t the answer either. Been there, done that.”

It not only hurt our kids, it hurt the reputation of the church and Gospel.

Here’s the Workshop Rotation Model in a nutshell: 

  • Teach major Bible stories and concepts through kid-friendly multimedia workshops: an Art workshop, Drama, Music, Games, A-V, Puppets, Storytelling, Computers, and any other educational media you can get your hands on.
  • Teach the same Bible story in all of the workshops for four or five weeks rotating the kids to a different workshop each week.
  • Keep the same teacher in each workshop for all five weeks -teaching the same lesson week after week (with some age appropriate adjustments)to each new class coming in.

Example of a typical four week rotation for 3 different grade groups.

Teacher: Jane
Teacher: Amy
Teacher: Bill
Teacher: Jo
Week 1Grades K-1Grades 2-4Grades 5-6Open
Week 2OpenGrades K-1Grades 2-4Grades 5-6
Week 3Grades 5-6OpenGrades
Grades 2-4
Week 4Grades 2-4Grades 5-6OpenGrades K-1

Grades rotate, teachers stay-put repeating their lesson. You can add more grade groups by adding additional workshops, such as, Computer, Cooking, or Storytelling. You can let the Preschool or teens use the “open” workshop slots.

The results, says Linda Beckham, D.C.E. at Tampa’s Palma Ceia Church are astounding. “The kids love it, the teachers love it, and we can’t ever imagine going back to the old way.”

Here’s why it works: 

The Workshop Rotation Model concentrates on the major stories of the Bible over and over again. It eschews the popular but educationally unsound lectionary idea of changing the story each week. The model’s philosophy recognizes that kids not only love repetition, but they need it to develop a lasting memory and understanding of content. In Rotation, we believe it is more important to teach the major stories of the Bible more deeply, than to try and race through as many possible stories as we can.

The multi-intelligences (creative methods) approach in the model isn’t a fad or merely kid-friendly, it is calculated to take advantage of our student’s God-given thirst for multi-modal learning. Traditional designs have long attempted to teach through multimedia, but their frenetic lessons with six or more different steps, a game, a craft, Bible study and music all in 45 minutes left our teachers breathless. And few had the gifts to teach in each mode properly. Creative teaching also makes for happier students and better long term memory.

The model allows teachers to get better at their lesson each week. By the second week of the rotation, the teacher is already improving the original lesson plan for the next class. No more “if I only would have….” in the parking lot after class. No more Saturday night planning. No more recruitment hassles, –teachers are happy to sign up for five week rotations. And because the teacher is assigned to teach in the creative mode they are comfortable with, the teaching and learning experience are enriched. No more lectures and music cassettes still in their cellophane wrappers, no more overused worksheets, or fumbling popsicle stick Jesus’ crafts.

The Model also buries the beige and boring classroom in a blizzard of creative kid-oriented design. It says “we’re teaching kids, not cons,” and we want them to come back. Because each room is organized around a specific teaching medium, dramatic makeovers don’t get torn down a week or a month later like they do in traditional classrooms or VBS. Theater workshops can sprout theater seats and a popcorn machine. Drama workshops get a stage and accumulate props and lighting. Computer workshops get dedicated secure space for their equipment. Art Workshops become messy exciting places to learn. 


There is no need to buy printed curriculum,
 prompting one denominational publisher to describe it as “the third rail for curriculum publishers.” Instead, in a fit of connectionalism, educators are calling each other and saying “I’ll trade you my Moses rotation for your Ruth, and do you have any good art projects for the Prodigal Son?” Churches are gleaning from each other. They’re digging into their stockpiles of creative materials and hitting their resource centers. In-house “design teams” composed of a minister, elders and C.E. leaders provide the educational and theological backbone. Together they help shape the simple but creative lesson plans and then count on the teacher to improve on them each week. Unlike earlier models which fell by the weight of their planning, this model is proving easier to implement and maintain. Because each workshop uses essentially the same lesson plan for about five weeks in a row, every week isn’t a gauntlet of planning.

A website for the Rotation Model —– features the model manual, thousands of volunteer created rotation lesson plans, and a creative ideas area for each workshop, all of which can be printed out for free. “All along one of the strengths of this model has been the willingness of churches to share with each other. We believe that the grassroots sharing of resources and lesson materials is a vivid manifestation of the connectional nature we have professed for so long.

The growing success of the model underscores several important issues in Christian education.

First, the model demonstrates that the spirit of innovation is alive and well in the grassroots. Rotation has flourished outside of the traditional curriculum establishment. The gifts to reinvent ourselves and be successful in our ministry are out here.

Second, the model seriously addresses the underlying problems of Sunday School and offers practical solutions. Because Rotation is a response to realities, it’s “DNA” understands that it must adapt to changing situations. In fact, Rotation educators are often the first to admit what else doesn’t work anymore, and examine the model, instead of assuming the solution is “new and improved” curriculum.

Third, the model’s early and continuing co-operative impulse -enhanced by the use of the internet, demonstrates the ability of individuals to resource each other outside the publishing establishment and beyond traditional denominational boundaries. is a proto-type. It is a free resource paradigm made possible by new technology that challenges the foundation of traditional curriculum publishing.  

Pictured: the official logo of the Rotation website featuring “Wormy”

logo01 = The biggest, most curated, most creative source of free Sunday School lessons, ideas, and resources on the web today. And if we don’t have it posted, ask their community for help.

Author: Neil

I'm Neil MacQueen, a Presbyterian minister (PCUSA). For 24 years I owned and operated Sunday Software at A few years ago I shut down the site and donated all my software to I am also the founder and webmaster of, a non-profit Sunday School resource ministry run by a group of volunteers.

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