How to Memorize Scripture

Making an "L" with our hands for the word "Lord" in Ephesians 6:10-11.
Photo: Forest N. Morrell 2014. Making an “L” with our hands for the word “Lord” in Ephesians 6:10-11.

I personally learn how to memorize things better when I associate the thing I want to memorize with something else that is unique and/or familiar to me. For example, if someone tells me their name is John (a very common name), I might quickly imagine that person dressed up as John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River. Every time I see John, I’ll see that unique and familiar image in my head – and ideally remember his name.

I have found through experience that children can memorize Bible verses (and retain them in their memory) very quickly by using a similar method. I use a method I picked up at a Children’s Ministry Conference I attended about a decade ago (I think it was sponsored by Group Publishing). I have since created my own style of this method. Here it is:

  1. Pick a verse that is relevant to the teaching and/or theme you are covering. Try not to pick a very long verse (usually 30-40 words maximum). There is a time and place for memorizing longer passages and that can be done in smaller groups or in one-on-one training. Right now, I am talking about large groups of kids at camp or at church on a Sunday morning or other weekly meeting time.
  2. Show the verse on the big screen or have the kids look up the verse together. Make sure you pick a good Bible translation that has a smooth reading of the verse (I usually like the NIV ’84 and the ESV, sometimes the NLT).
  3. Have the kids stand up.
  4. Attach a motion to each word and/or phrase. I will make up motions (some silly, others just straightforward) to go along with each word or phrase in the verse. I then teach the motions and words to the kids and have them repeat it after me several times. Sometimes I will use a motion from American Sign Language while other motions I simply make up for the purpose of the verse at hand.
  5. Once the kids know the words and motions, the trick is just repetition from this point on. You may want to have a “Memory Verse of the Month” (as my friends at The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX have) and review the verse before and after the teaching each week for a month. When I’m at a week-long summer camp, I will call it the “Memory Verse of the Week” or “MVOTW” (pronounced ma-vah-twa). The kids love saying silly words that are really an acronym. When I do the MVOTW, I will open up every teaching session with the kids standing and reciting the verse. They don’t even need the verse on the screen after the first teaching session. Every time after that, they have it all memorized because they have the motions along with it.

As a word of encouragement, this is something that anyone can do. You don’t have to be a juggler or a magician. You can make up some silly motions for the verse and teach away. If you have fun with it, the kids will have fun with it. And they will remember (and so will you).

I had a group of girls approach me at summer camp a few months ago and they recited the memory verse I had taught them three or four summers ago! They did the verse along with all the motions I had taught them. That is the power of memorizing something along with motions. It drastically increases the retention rate.

And retention is what we want when we memorize Scripture. When we or these kids are faced with challenges in life or a temptation to sin, what better thing than to recall God’s Word from our minds (that we memorized) in order to resist temptation or pray through a challenge in life? Even when times are good, Scripture is something we want to meditate on all the time.

When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4), he was tempted three times and all three times he responded to Satan with a memorized Scripture verse (“it is written…”).

Let’s teach kids how to memorize scripture!

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Dr. Jesse Joyner travels nationwide as a speaker and entertainer. His primary role is that of a performing juggler spreading joy and the love of learning to family and kids events. H earned his PhD in Educational Studies at Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL). He enjoys playing the piano, bird watching, and old houses. He lives in Richmond, VA with his wife, Sarah, and their three kids - the perfect number for juggling children.