Why Object Lessons

Object lessons are a tool in the teacher’s bag of tricks. There are many ways teachers or leaders use to explain abstract ideas and concepts. The object lesson is a great tool for this purpose. The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives two similar definitions for object lesson. First, “an example from real life that teaches a lesson or explains something” and second, “something that serves as a practical example of a principle or abstract idea” (“object lesson”).

As the definition points out, an object lesson is simply something that demonstrates an idea or principle. In its most basic form it is an object that teaches a lesson, hence the name. It is also called a visual aide. This teacher’s tool is not limited to physical or tangible objects. The practical application of a visual aide or object lesson is representative instruction. Similar practices are used in education such as an illustration, metaphor, or example. In religious instruction a common form of representative instruction is the parable.

One of the primary methods Jesus used in his teaching was the parable. He also used object lessons. For example, in the discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 Jesus used the water as a spontaneous object lesson for what he had to offer—eternal life.

The purpose of an object lesson is to make a difficult or unknown idea simple to understand. As Ministry Tools Resource Center says, “Jesus used object lessons like a bridge to move people from the known to the unknown” (3). Using a familiar item and drawing a parallel with an unfamiliar idea or principle is the goal. The object lesson has been used for centuries. According to Creative Youth Ideas they are even used in the Old Testament (2010). Object lessons are not for every occasion though. Following are some advantages and disadvantages as pointed out by Creative Youth Ideas (2005).

Objects attract and hold the attention of observers.
Retention is very good due to the high interest as well as the identification of the truth with the object.
Object lessons are fairly easy to use in a class and elaborate equipment is not necessary.

The time is usually short so must be used as a part of a class. Usually as an introduction or an illustration or conclusion.
Objects may obscure the truth rather than clarify and simplify.
Small objects do not work well with large groups.

The object lesson is a great method to achieve maximum effectiveness in a presentation. Denton points out that object lessons can increase audience participation in learning (2014). Kriedler notes that it is best when kept clear, concise, unambiguous, and culturally recognizable. She also recognizes that object lessons are useful for groups with limited language ability (1971). This means that object lessons are great for young age groups but does not exclude them from other age ranges.

While there are many venues in which object lessons would be suitable, they are especially adapted to use in an outdoor setting. This is firstly due to the endless amount of items available for representative instruction. Secondly, most any object commonly found outdoors would be familiar to most audiences. Thirdly, outdoor items are highly likely to be encountered again generating a lasting lesson that can be recalled on future encounters with the item.

The object lesson is a great resource because it can be simple yet profound. It can be utilized nearly anywhere and with most any age group. It has many advantages and their disadvantages should be kept in mind. However, as Jesus’ many examples show, an object lesson can and should be kept ready for use by any competent teacher or leader.


Creative Youth Ideas. "Advantages and Disadvantages of Object Lessons." Creative Youth Ideas. 2005. Web. 14 Jan. 2016. <http://www.creativeyouthideas.com/resources/improving-your-teaching/object-lessons-in-the-old-testament/>.

Creative Youth Ideas. "Object Lessons in the Old Testament." Creative Youth Ideas. 2010. Web. 14 Jan. 2016. <http://www.creativeyouthideas.com/resources/improving-your-teaching/object-lessons-in-the-old-testament/>.

Denton, Ashley. "How You Can Use Object Lessons & Props in the Outdoors to Increase Participation & Bring Learning to Life." Outdoor Leadership. 3 Nov. 2014. Web. 17 Jan. 2016. http://outdoorleaders.com/use-props-object-lessons-effectively-outdoors/.

Kreidler, Carol J. "Effective Use of Visual Aids in the ESOL Classroom." TESOL Quarterly 5.1 (1971): 19-37. JSTOR. Web. 6 Feb. 2016. .

Ministry Tools Resource Center. "Lessons from the Master Teacher on Using Objects." Train Bible Teachers Blog. 24 May 2013. Web. 14 Jan. 2016. <http://trainbibleteachers.com/blog/jesus-used-objects.htm>.

"Object Lesson." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Inc. Web. 14 Jan. 2016. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/object lesson>.