The new manuals for Relief Society and Priesthood can prove challenging for teachers to use for lesson preparation. Many of us are used to the Primary-style lesson manuals that have clear statements like “read this, ask that, show this, copy that”. But by following a few simple steps, you can plan a great lesson easily. The steps are
1) Start with a plan,
2) Make a great first impression,
3) Hold their attention,
4) Ask lots of thought-provoking questions that promote discussion, and,
5) Leave time for a conclusion.
ONE: Start with a plan
After you read the lesson through once, prayerfully determine what should happen in the lives of those you teach as a result of the teachings in the lesson. Plan your lesson so that each point you make, story you tell, and question you ask helps learners focus on the goal.
For example, when teaching a lesson about scripture study you may decide that the lesson should inspire those you teach to study the scriptures daily. When teaching a lesson about prophets, you may want each person to go away with a stronger testimony of the importance of following the prophet today.
When you begin with a goal you wish to accomplish with your lesson, it will make your planning much easier.
TWO: Make a great first impression
Avoid beginning your lesson with words like “I didn’t have time to prepare because…” or “Most of you can teach this better than I can…”. These kinds of statements can distract from the lesson content or could cause your students to think you didn’t care enough about them to thoughtfully prepare. Lesson preparation is difficult, but strive to create a positive feeling in the room by setting a positive tone immediately when you stand up.
The best thing you can do is look up from the pulpit and start your lesson with a big grin! When you look excited and confident about your lesson (regardless of how you feel inside), your students will respond in an enthusiastic way to the material. A trick I use when teaching adults is to look down at my material for a few moments and allow any chatter to die down — there’s always a ‘shusher’ in every group of adults! Then I take a deep breath, look up, grin at the audience, and begin my lesson.
Now that your students are focused on you, you’ll want to …
THREE: Hold their attention
Many leaders like to use humor to help their learners engage in the lesson and ease nervousness. It’s important to use humor appropriately when teaching spiritual topics. For example, if a Sunday School teacher tells a joke at the beginning of a lesson the class members may become attentive through the punch line, but they also may be led to think about things that will keep them from focusing on the principles to be taught.
Use attention getters that will help the class direct their attention to your topic. You might ask a class member to share a related story, read a scripture, write questions on the chalkboard, use an object lesson, play music, or display pictures related to the topic. When teaching a rowdy group, a simple game of hangman with the topic of the lesson as the word found can be an easy attention getter. Teaching, No Greater Call, Part F has a long list of ideas you can use, or try out the Mormon Share LDS Object Lessons list sorted by gospel topic.
Visual aids, like pre-printed word strips that you stick on the wall or chalk board, can help learners focus on the topics in the lesson. When making visual aids, be sure that the people in the back row can read them. A hand-made poster that everyone can read is a better teaching tool than the a gorgeous full-color sign that only the teacher can read.
Now that you’re to the meat of your lesson, …
FOUR: Ask lots of thought-provoking questions that promote discussion
This seems to be an area where many teachers struggle. Think of the other people in your classroom as your team of teachers. They have valuable insights and experiences that will add interest to your lessons. If you’re wondering if your questions will promote discussion try to answer them yourself. If you can answer your questions with one or two words, see if you can restate the question in a way that will require more thought or time to answer. Questions that begin with what, how, or why are usually most effective for encouraging discussion, but ensure that your questions don’t encourage people to speculate or ask for opinions. It’s usually better to ask learners to share experiences or stories.
Sometimes comments might get off topic. No problem — just thank the person for sharing and politely restate your question or move to another topic.
Be careful not to end a good discussion too soon in an attempt to cover all the material you have prepared. The best lessons are those that engage many members in focused, spiritual discussion, where both teacher and students can be edified.
Now that you’ve hit your stride, you’ll need to wrap up your lesson and …
FIVE: Allow time for a conclusion.
It’s very easy to get carried away in a great discussion and find yourself in a disoriented rush trying to leave time for a prayer. Don’t panic! If you need to interrupt a discussion, simply say, “This has been a fantastic discussion! I’ve learned so much, and now I’ll summarize what we’ve learned before we close.”
Your conclusion needn’t be long; your conclusion is a simple restatement of the goal and main supporting points of your lesson. If some great points were brought out in discussion you may wish to mention those, too. There’s an old saying about organized public speaking that I like: “Tell them what you’re going to say; say it; and then tell them what you said.” This old adage emphasizes we should always have a clear beginning, middle, and end to lessons and talks.
Remember that your testimony alone is not a lesson conclusion. Avoid rushing to close with something like: “We need to leave time for our closing song; so I’ll bear my testimony and sit down.” Be sure that you restate your lesson points and goal so that your learners will remember why you taught the lesson. Look back at Step One “Begin with a plan.” When you’ve started your lesson with a plan, it’s easy to restate your goal and the main supporting points to summarize your lesson.
These five simple steps can help you set a goal and focus on that goal when planning and sharing your lesson. Learners will remember your lessons because of the insights they gained from the discussion and clear restatement of the main points at the end of a lesson.