Guest Author - Shannon Swanson
Before We Get Started…
There seems to be a set, unwritten outline for how a lesson in church should go. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but there are other ways to teach effectively and make lessons even more enjoyable, spiritual, knowledgeable, etc.
I have created a list of ideas and suggestions to try whether you are teaching Primary or Relief Society, but the real purpose of this article is to get your creative juices flowing. Yes, having the Spirit present in your lessons is the most important and key teaching ingredient, but you (and I) as a teacher have a great influence on how your class learns and how much they learn as well.
That being said, it is my hope that you will either use the ideas listed, or, better yet, be influenced to come up with ones that you feel your class will learn best from yourself. After all, you as the teacher know your class’ needs better than I do.
Let’s Begin With a Question?
Yes! I love getting the class thinking for themselves to start off a lesson. While I taught in Young Women’s, for example, I always started off the class period with a thought question that pertained to the lesson and had the young women write down their thoughts in a journal that I held onto for them (but didn’t read unless they gave me the ok) because I felt that it helped them come up with their own opinions, insights, helped them meditate on the subject and prepared their minds for learning.
This idea can be applied to any level of teaching at church. If you wanted to use this idea for Primary classes, a simple question with allowed thinking. writing and/or responding time may work. For Relief Society, you could either have the women write down their thoughts on a piece of paper or simply think for a moment and have a group discussion (though I prefer writing since it helps your mind solidify your thoughts).
Of course, the questions will vary in depth depending on which class you are teaching, but some examples may be, “What do you think is the overall purpose of Visiting Teaching?” or, “What does it really mean to be modest in all aspects of life?” Encourage everyone to get creative with their responses, dig deep and talk about it after to encourage them to teach each other.
One golden rule for teaching effectively is the 15 minute rule. This rule states that you should never, ever continue on with the same activity for more than 16 minutes (less than that for youth and even less than that for Primary.)
This is because the mind can really only give all its attention for about 15 minutes at a time. Beyond that, yes, there are some people who can still focus well enough, but there are others who will have trouble, and we don’t want to start losing them.
An example of this would be if you were lecturing for 15 minutes, you would want to change it to a question and answer period. If you were watching a movie, turn it off for a few minutes to discuss.
At the beginning of each class, I like to stress that I welcome comments and questions as long as there is time to get the significant part of the lesson in. This is because questions are key. If someone has a question, that tells me they are learning, processing, applying the information presented and more likely to remember it (and how many times are we counseled in the scriptures to remember?!).
And there is an added bonus to someone asking a genuine question. This is that you can then turn the question around to everyone else to help your class work together, teach each other and feel more unified.
Beyond that, one other idea I had pertaining to questions is dividing your class into groups, breaking up the lesson into sections for each group and encouraging them to come up with a given number of questions (instead of just summaries or thoughts) on the topic for the rest of the class. Keep in mind that sometimes breaking up into groups is favorable and sometimes not, so be sure that circumstances are right for this.
Stand at Attention!
I have noticed that whenever people stand in class, there seems to be more focus. There are several ideas that go along with this. One that I have witnessed and enjoyed was when a teacher asked all those who fell into different categories to stand up (e.g. if they liked chocolate, if they were a native of the area, etc.) and then streamlined this activity to make her point.
Another idea is to assign different objects to people before class that pertain to the lesson and then have them stand up and present their objects and their significance. For example, if your lesson is on studying your scriptures, you could assign a clock, a highlighter, a notebook, a journal, etc. Since this idea is also an object lesson, it should also have twice the impact.
One final thing to be aware of pertaining to standing is to be aware of where you stand. I think many of us seem deathly afraid to come out from behind the podium, or safe haven, but it is possible! Don’t be afraid to walk around the room a bit where and when you see fit, especially if you have a larger room. This way, people in the back can get a clear shot for hearing your voice and it helps change things up a little, meaning there will be more focus.
End up with a summary. Get the class to participate if possible and help them go over key points of the lesson. You may even want to ask what people have learned from the class if you feel confident enough about your lesson. If there is no response, you can state some key points that you have learned.
Do you have any good teaching ideas? You can either email me or post a comment in the Teaching LDS forum!