There’s no denying it: treats are great for capturing the attention of wiggly children or fidgeting, drowsy teenagers during a Sunday lesson smack dab in the middle of the long three-hour church block. And let’s admit it--even us adults get a little bit giddy if one of our teachers brings us something to munch on.
But a teacher can’t bring food every week, and there are times (like fast Sunday) when bringing snacks to church is not entirely appropriate. So how do you add that little pizzazz to your lessons and keep your class’s attention without treats?
Here are a few ideas:
1. Object Lessons
Tried and true, object lessons are a great way to break up the monotony of a class discussion and teach a gospel principle that strikes home. And although some of our old favorites will never go out of style (organizing various sized rocks in a jar to teach priorities), the best object lessons are those that catch us off guard with their profoundness.
Object lessons, like any lesson, should be carefully thought through and prayed about, however. Using object lessons to teach sensitive subjects like the law of chastity can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. When in doubt, stick to what’s in the scriptures and the manual.
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2. Guest Speakers
Bringing in a new face can brighten up a lesson in unexpected ways. Guest speakers add a unique perspective or added authority to the topic you are teaching, and guest speakers can often hold students' attention simply because they are something different.
In addition, the person you invite will often feel honored to help with your class and may even gain their own renewed spiritual strength by preparing for and participating in your lesson. Don't be afraid to reach out beyond the walls of the church building to neighbors and members of the community who can give insight into universal values like compassion, integrity, or the importance of family.
Here are a few ideas to jumpstart your creativity:
- Are you teaching about tithing? Ask the ward clerk to come talk about his experience processing the ward funds, or go on a short field trip to the clerk's office to have him explain how it works and what tithes and donations are used for.
- Can you use the family history consultant? You don't have to save them for a family history lesson. Family history consultants might have unique insight into a number of topics, such as missionary work, following the prophets, relying on the Lord, listening to the Spirit, temple work, and more.
- Invite converts, especially recent converts, to share their testimony and conversion story with your class.
- Musical talent doesn't have to be reserved just for sacrament meeting. Invite someone who sings or plays an instrument to perform a song related to your lesson.
3. Story Power
Jesus knew the power of stories. He used parables that were culturally relevant to the people He taught in order to illustrate gospel principles. Sunday School teachers can do the same thing. And although any story is better than no story, stories that are "culturally relevant" to modern kids, teens, and adults really pack a power punch.
If you take a few minutes to walk in the shoes of your students, you'll get an idea of what their "culture" looks like. What activities are your students involved in day to day? What things do they worry about? What things are they really good at?
Once you get a feel for the culture of your class, you can relate any scripture story and pull experiences from your own life and elsewhere that will hit home with your students. For example, let's say the lesson is on the early life of Joseph Smith. What aspects of his experience will your 14-year-olds connect with? Can they relate to doubt? Having others (maybe their parents) disbelieve them? Making huge mistakes that seem like they can never be made right? If so, then those are great parts of the story to emphasize.
4. Individual Assignments
Involve your students in telling stories and in every other part of the lesson as well. Assignments can come in all shapes and sizes, but the key is that they be individual. When you extend personal invitations to your students to participate it can help them feel involved, trusted, and valued. It also keeps them awake.
Ask for help on the spot. Students can read scriptures or quotes, write on the board, help with simple object lessons, or distribute and gather lesson materials. Instead of asking "Who wants to . . .?" Ask, "Jeremy, would you please . . .?" But be mindful of those who might feel uncomfortable being put on the spot.
Make assignments at the start of class. Let students know at the beginning of class that you'd like them to share an experience or testimony about a certain topic, find a relevant scripture story to tell in their own words, or be the spokesmen after small group discussions. Then, give them a few minutes at the start of class to prepare.
Call in advance. You might assign a certain section of the lesson for a student to teach, ask them to prepare a more thought-out experience, or put them in charge of an object lesson or finding media to go along with the lesson. Have a backup plan just in case, and text your helper a friendly reminder on Saturday night.
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Phones and tablets can be a distraction during a lesson, but if you can get your student engaged with their phones in a manner appropriate to what you're trying to teach, then you have something. Of course, we can encourage students to use their phones for looking up scriptures or following along in the lesson manual, but there are many other creative ways to utilize these tools during class as well, such as:
Use a free polling or quizzing app/website. Polling apps let you collect instantaneous, anonymous feedback from your class and to display the results on a screen for everyone to see. You could use this tool in a variety of ways. You might gauge how comfortable the class feels about a certain topic, instigate a scripture hunt to find answers to questions, or throw in questions like, "In which way do you most identify with Moses?"
Use the FamilyTree app. Ask, "Who can share a story from their family history that illustrates this principle?" and give your students a few minutes to pull out their phones and search. The FamilyTree app also boasts other features that you might weave into a lesson with a little imagination. Students can search family events on an interactive map, find how they are related to other people in the room, record their own memories and family stories, and of course, find names and prepare them for the temple.
Invite students to immediately apply what they are learning. Some suggestions are texting a friend who isn't there, blocking out time for scripture study on their calendar, writing down their thoughts and impressions during the lesson, or adding a phone reminder to find someone to serve, say a silent prayer, or follow through on a commitment.
Encourage students to use tools in the Gospel Library or on LDS Tools that they might not be familiar with. Did you know, for example, that you can click on any word in the scriptures and immediately pull up its definition? Or that you can refer someone to the missionaries right from your phone?
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