I surveyed my students’ glazed expressions as I went over the religion lesson for the day. I had been wracking my brain for weeks trying to find a way to engage my students during the first class of the day. But the early morning hour coupled with difficult material had made what was usually one of my favorite classes to teach almost a chore. I just wanted an effective way to teach the Gospel.
As I spoke about how Jesus is our Good Shepherd trying to save us lambs from ourselves, I recalled a story I had heard about the stupidity of sheep. “You know how dumb sheep are?” I asked my half-awake class. “They’ll blindly follow each other right off of cliffs.”
“Really?” one of my female students couldn’t hide her skepticism.
“Yeah, there was this herd in Turkey where thousands of sheep all jumped off a cliff until they created a fluffy pile. The ones on the top bounced off the ones on the bottom, so they lived.”
A series of chuckles started emerging from the class. “Wow, that’s pretty stupid,” another kid remarked.
Seeing I had piqued their interest, I decided to go on with the theme. “Can you imagine the sheep just wandering along, and they see one of their friends take a dive off a cliff?” I made my voice deep and “dumb,” like a rumble. ‘Hey, I wonder what Bobby is doing? Oh well, let’s follow him!'” My hand pantomimed falling off my podium like a sheep. “‘Whee!'” I made the same deep voice.
My entire class was laughing now. “Your voice is funny!” the first girl exclaimed.
I kept talking sonorously. “That’s my Bobby the Sheep voice.”
Fully engaged, my kids listened raptly to the rest of the lesson. I had succeeded at getting their attention, but little did I realize I had also created an in-joke that would last far beyond the religion class. Over the next couple of weeks, Bobby the Sheep would make multiple appearances.
In reading, we used Bobby as the subject for all of our vocabulary sentences, usually with him meeting some grisly end. He became the immortal sheep, always bouncing back from whatever gruesome fate we threw at him ala Wile E. Coyote:
Bobby the sheep fell into a dormant volcano. Bobby the sheep ignited and smoldered in the flames. Bobby sighed in exasperation that he kept dying. Bobby was gratified he kept coming back to life. The vocab lesson went faster with the help of absurd sentences, and it sparked something in the kids.
The other day, a boy came in with a tiny toy boat and said jokingly, “Look, I have Bobby the Ship!”
Another time, some girls showed me a balloon on which they had drawn a face and informed me, “It’s Bobby the Balloon. He falls off the cliff and just flies away!”
It’s all silly, but it’s given the class a connection, a secret that only students and teacher share. It started as a simple exercise in engaging the students in a lesson and morphed into a fun way to bond. In a few months they may have moved on from Bobby and his exploits, but for now the hapless sheep is an indelible part of my classroom. Do you have your own Bobby the Sheep?