Taking a Closer Look at Religions Around the World

This lesson offers a starting point for exploring religions and faith traditions, creating an ongoing respectful dialogue about religious tolerance. By helping students understand the roots of varying faiths, we help them to better comprehend the reasons behind divergent national and international religious beliefs. Building knowledge and comprehension of context can increase our compassion and consideration for other people and faiths.  This lesson includes activities and projects that are easily expanded upon through further research and is designed to encourage in-depth study of these topics over a longer period of time.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to: 

  • compare and contrast religious belief systems and faith traditions. 
  • develop speaking, writing, and critical-thinking skills. 
  • construct knowledge and understanding of world religions
Essential Questions
  • What is religion?  
  • Why is it important to learn more about religious faiths other than your own? 


Enduring Understandings

  • Religion is a set of beliefs that help answer life’s questions about why we are here on Earth, what happens after we die, what is moral, and what is holy. Those beliefs can help people understand the world around them. 
  • Learning about other faiths can help us to understand better, and improve our relationships with, people of those faiths.


mufti [muhf-tee] (noun) a Muslim legal expert who is empowered to give rulings on religious matters  

signatory [sig-nuh-tohr-ee] (noun) a party that has signed an agreement, esp. a country that has signed a treaty 

solidarity [sol-i-dar-i-tee] (noun) unity or agreement of feeling or action, esp. among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group 

tenet [ten-it] (noun) a principle or belief, especially one of the main principles of a religion or philosophy 

unprecedented [uhn-pres-i-den-tid] (adjective) never done or known before


Suggested Procedure

1.  Ask students to complete a 10-minute quick-write to address the question, “What is religion?” After writing, invite them to share responses with a small group or partner.  

2.  Then ask, “How were your answers similar? Different?” Next, based on those discussions, ask each student to identify something he or she considers a religion as well as something that someone else considers a religion but that he or she doesn’t. Tell students to compile a list of criteria for what their group believes constitutes a religion. Then instruct them to collaborate on a paper or presentation related to that essential question: “What is religion?” 

3.  As a follow-up task, explore with students the difficulty of talking about differences. Ask the class, “Is a letter an effective method for bridging differences and recognizing similarities? Why or why not?”  

4.  Break the class into teams of six, with half of each team being supporters and the other half being non-supporters of the effectiveness of written dialogue. Have groups discuss share what they know of their position and develop a strategy for the debate. Allow time to research and prepare for the debate—but, instead of debating their researched point, have everyone switch sides and become supporters of the opposing perspective/position. After their group shares what they already know of the other side’s perspective/position, ask students to come together as a group of six again in order to reach an agreement, a compromise. Then have students write a brief summary of their experience in the process of seeing both sides and the outcome. 

5.  As a class, read “A Muslim Letter to Christians” by Emily Flynn Vencat, making note of any unfamiliar details or facts and any difficult vocabulary terms they encounter. Invite the class to write down reactions, feelings, or thoughts about Vencat’s argument. In addition, display a wall map and have students note the location of each place mentioned in the article. In pairs, have students work together to reach an understanding of difficult terms and/or unfamiliar details/places and then discuss their reactions. Next, pairs pair and share what they have learned. 

6.  Hold an all-class discussion and raise these questions: “What else could be done to reduce animosity between religions? What historical precedents exist to show that people with diverse beliefs have come to an understanding and practiced tolerance?” Have students write their own letter to a religious leader that they consider in a position to promote tolerance or peace between disparate groups or factions. Point out Emily Flynn Vencat’s use of metaphors (e.g., weeks/fruits). Ask students to experiment with using metaphors in their letter. Ask: “In your opinion, what are the most important points to include?”  

7.  In conclusion,, challenge students to describe what intrigued or interested them most about this topic. Ask: “How are you and your local community connected to other people and religions and faith traditions in the world? What can you do to make the world a better place for people of all religious and non-religious belief systems?” Finally, ask students to identify any unanswered questions they may have, as the starting point to delve deeper into this topic.


Extension Activity

1. Have the class visit the British Library Web site for an activity that presents stories from six world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. Divide students into six groups, with each group exploring one of the six sacred texts. After investigating the sacred text and stories, have each group share their understandings with the class, create a summary noting leading characters as well as moral and historical references. In addition, each group might want to identify quotations from the sacred texts to share with the class. Note: As a modification to this activity, have students explore some religious traditions not listed here (e.g., Daoism, Shinto, unaffiliated Pagans, Sufism, Wicca, etc.).

2. Invite guest speakers who can present information about their own religion or faith tradition. The Islamic Networks Group is a good starting place to help you locate guest speakers across the United States. Before the guest speaker comes to visit your class, have a pre-discussion on the topic and begin to think of possible questions you may wish to ask. Keep in mind that the guest speaker’s perspective is only one of many. Remember to write a thank-you letter to your guest speaker after the session. 

3.  Another intriguing offering on the British Library’s website features a variety of clergy, academics, believers and doubters discussing the three Abrahamic sacred texts: Jewish Bible, Christian Bible and the Qur’an. (Visitors to the site can choose which book to hear about). If your class is inspired by this treatment, develop your own panel discussion in class with groups representing the believers of each text (or texts from other religions). To ensure productive discussions, first have your students create a code of cooperation together—which should include respect, non-judgment and compassion.


Common Core State Standards: R.1, R.4, R.6, R.7, W.1, W.2, W.4, W.7, W.8, W.9, SL.1, SL.2, SL.4, L.4, L.5, L.6

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