Alt SS: Teaching AdultsBy: Stephen Marsh
I was once called as a Sunday School President so they could have someone gently wander the hall and encourage everyone to go to class. The problem was that the hall conversations had gotten so engrossing that no one wanted to attend Sunday School. But they did not want to offend people. It took a couple months of steady, but friendly time, but we got it turned around. Helped that the teachers were good. But I was thinking, again, of what types of lessons I would like to have taught in Sunday School.
I’m thinking of doing a series of lessons I would like to see taught.
First Alt SS lesson: How to be taught (and learn) as adults.
In theory lessons are supposed to include a good deal of everyone teaching everyone — that is, group discussion and learning.
Setting the stage (or the room) To do that you have to have everyone facing each other — or it at least helps a great deal. You start by having the chairs set up in two concentric circles or in a V shape with the teacher in the middle. It helps if the teacher sits down.
Preparing Every one, or almost everyone, is used to people not having read the lesson material, so that they do not seem to be prepared. But, if the lessons relate to people’s lives, they are prepared by virtue of having lived them. Part of preparing is being open and allowing the people in a lesson to talk.
That leads to
Sharing Adults teach each other by sharing. They get better at sharing by practicing sharing.
Sharing is helped by good questions and by allowing time. While I appreciate the effort that goes into the lesson manuals, often it is easy not to think of them as a springboard for sharing rather than a forced run-through lecture. But look at the end of Lesson 3 from the George Albert Smith Manual. [Emphasis added]
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–vii.
- Read the story on page 21. How would you respond to someone who says the Latter-day Saints do not believe in Jesus Christ?
- President Smith taught, “Not only do we believe that Jesus of Nazareth lived upon the earth, be we believe that he still lives” (page 23). What reasons do Latter-day Saints have for believing that Jesus Christ lives today? What reasons do you personally have for believing this?
- Briefly review pages 24–27. What are some stories or passages from the scriptures that have strengthened your testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Read 1 Nephi 10:17 and consider ways you can increase your understanding of the Savior’s mission.
- As you read page 28, think about how obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel has strengthened your testimony of Jesus Christ. What can parents do to help their children gain this testimony?
- What thoughts or feelings do you have as you read President Smith’s testimony on pages 29–30? Think about times when you have seen people’s lives change because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. How has the gospel changed your life?
Teaching help: “[Avoid] the temptation to cover too much material…. We are teaching people, not subject matter per se; and … every lesson outline that I have ever seen will inevitably have more in it than we can possibly cover in the allotted time” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Teaching and Learning in the Church,” Ensign, June 2007, 91).
In preparing for that lesson, a key part would be to prepare follow-up questions for the class.
E.g. “How would you respond to someone who says the Latter-day Saints do not believe in Jesus Christ?” followed up with asking class members to share not only the answer to “how would you” but “have you ever had someone say” and “what do you think it means to believe in Jesus Christ?” — and encourage more than one person to share their thoughts and answers, more than one person to share their experiences, more than one person to comment on others.
Sharing is also encouraged by sharing rather than dominating. That means that not only should the teacher not dominate the discussion, the class members need to remember to take turns and to allow silence so that those who are not talking will have space to fit into so that they can talk.
Teaching a lesson like this might start with rearranging the chairs after the class comes in, explaining why the chairs are being moved around. Then a discussion about how we prepare by living every day, by raising children, by helping others and by the lessons we have had and by keeping our minds, hearts and spirits open. Then it would move to how to encourage everyone to share, be listened to, and encouraged without any one person dominating the conversation. Half the class could be called on in order for their ideas on that topic (the left side) and half randomly (in an order determined by passing out numbered pieces of paper) (to get some experience comparing order vs. random participation).
The class would end by asking people to share about their week and the things they feel they need from Sunday School or want from Sunday School until time is gone.
What do you think?
What follow-up classes do you think belong in the Alt SS lesson manual?
I’ve always thought
“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self security. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.
( Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 135.)
Or perhaps discussing the two sections in the Doctrine and Covenants that sprang from the incident behind this quote:
“I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine . . . Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their Church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” Joseph Smith