Have you ever taught a lesson that was powerful—where you could tell the class was feeling the Spirit, and as you walked away, you knew good was done?
Have you ever had the opposite experience where it felt dead in the class, and as you walked away it seemed like the hour was a waste of their time and yours? I think we have all been there and taught both types of lessons.
What makes a lesson truly life changing is when the experience helps someone change their life for good. If it is a life-changing lesson, then you would hope that as people leave class, they leave with strengthened faith, a deeper testimony, and the motivation to now go and make some alterations in their lives. Here are 6 steps to help you get there:
1. Start with a destination.
In order to start, you have to begin with the end in mind—the personal application you’re hoping class members will walk away with. Read the assigned scripture, lesson materials, words of the prophets, and other resources you have for your lesson. Usually, lesson manuals will break the lesson into sections and groups of verses. For each of those sections, write down on a notepad what you think a good end goal would be.
What actions do you hope class members will implement in their lives after you have taught the lesson? In what ways would you want their testimony to grow? Write down what actions you hope they might be committing themselves to as they leave class, based on each section of the lesson.
Now here comes the difficult part. After that initial preparation, you might have five or six ways you hope the lesson could change a life for good. But with most lessons, you will only have time to focus on two or three of these personal applications. So decide what those two or three are going to be and simply keep the others at the back of your mind.
During the lesson, the Spirit may prompt you to deviate from the personal applications you decided. That is okay. Remember you are teaching individuals, not lessons. The Spirit and the interaction with the class will guide you to how the Lord wants to bless the lives of the class members. Once you have the end goal in place, the next steps will often come intuitively.
2. Find a good lesson starter.
With any lesson, you will want a good hook that will draw the class into the lesson and engage class members. Nothing draws people into a lesson better than showing that the lesson has relevancy to their lives. You can demonstrate this by starting with a compelling question, story, or object lesson that will interest your class. Think of whom you are teaching and tailor every part of the lesson, including the lesson starter, to their lives and what they might be struggling with.
Remember, the purpose of the lesson starter is to drive your class into the scriptures or words of the prophets; for this reason, don’t let it take too much time.
3. Provide context and a storyline.
Have you ever had the problem of having great verses or a wonderful quote read in class, but then when you ask a good follow-up question, class members don’t know how to answer because they didn’t know what to listen for in the first place?
Here is a great solution. Before the verse or quote is read, give class members a “look for.” This will engage their minds and help them know what to pay attention to in the reading. Be sure to also give some background information of who is speaking and what the situation is. A good “look for” might sound like, “While Sarah reads the next verses, listen for why the Lord is upset with the Children of Israel.”
After the class has read the verses or quotes from the lesson, it is very tempting for teachers to want to pontificate and share their own insights and thoughts. DON’T. Life-changing lessons are not lectures. With life-changing lessons, the teacher usually helps their students discover insights for themselves and discuss those with others—something that is bound to help the lesson stick.
Ask questions that get class members thinking deeper about the text and the personal application you want. Many teachers complain about their class giving similar “Sunday School answers” over and over again. But that is only because class members are used to teachers only asking a “What” level question.
If you find your class only giving basic answers like “prayer” or “reading your scriptures,” follow-up by asking a “Why” or “How” level question that gets them analyzing and thinking deeper. Ask additional questions like, “How does prayer help with that?” or, “Can you give me an example of how that has helped you or someone you know?”
5. Help class members discover the principle or doctrine.
After the class has been analyzing the text, ask questions that get them to figure out the life lesson. You could ask questions like, “So what is the moral of the story? How should what we learned here make a difference in our lives?”
It is always best if you have your class members come up with and express the life-changing principle themselves. It may be a bit different than the personal application you had planned in the beginning, but that is okay.
6. Always tie in a personal application.
It is one thing to know a principle or doctrine and another thing to be inspired to want to live it. For instance, we all know the details of what tithing is and how to pay it. But it is another thing completely to be touched by the Spirit in a way that a person commits themselves to pay their tithing. This is where sharing stories and quotes, as well as testifying, can be a powerful support. Better yet, invite class members to share and testify. Finally, give them a heartfelt challenge to apply that teaching to their lives.
So now it’s your turn to try these steps. Take out the next lesson you will be teaching. After studying the content of the lesson, write down the life-changing personal applications you hope your students will desire at the end of the class. Then go through and prepare those next steps that will help your class discover and want to make those personal applications in their lives.