Effective group discussions have a carefully chosen topic, and the teacher's role is to keep the discussion on target. The “God's Word for Today” feature of your quarterly is designed to suggest topics for your discussion. You as the teacher certainly can add others, or even develop a totally different set of questions. But conversations that are not guided are the ones most likely to get off the lesson topic. You can ask people to share how they feel about the topic; new information about the topic; concerns they have about the topic; or even personal experiences that directly relate to the topic. Again, limit the time, and feel free to ask the members to summarize how what they have said contributes to the topic. If it doesn't, the members will likely be less inclined to give stray thoughts in the future if they know they may be asked how what they have said contributes to the topic.
Many teachers struggle with incorporating discussions into their classes because they feel their job is to “teach,” i.e., give information. And when they don't give information, they feel guilty, as though they have not done what they are supposed to do. Let's begin this journey by emphasizing that you don't need to feel that you cannot share new information with your class. After all, you have studied the details of the lesson, and you feel that you have something to say. That is fine! Say it! But how do you know if your students understood what you said correctly? Or just as importantly, hopefully, your students have studied their lesson as well, and they have learned things in the process that they are excited about and want to share. Class involvement meets both of those needs. From the feedback you get, you will know if you have stated your points clearly, and you will also have the advantage of learning from your students. It is OK to be the “sage on the stage” part of the time. But balance that with being a “guide on the side.” Your students will retain most of what they have been allowed to restate in their own words!
Source: Snider, Gordon. "Tips for Teachers." The Church: God's People: Adult Teacher's Insights, page 9.
Today’s technology gives the ordinary person the ability to create things once relegated to professionals. For example, with free or low-cost apps and your smartphone’s camera, it is relatively easy to make a “movie”, even if the final project is rough and amateurish.
The possibilities of making a movie to teach the scriptural principle of your lesson is truly limited only to one’s imagination. However, lessons that deal with stories in scripture may be easiest to handle, such as Lesson 3 of this quarter. Ask class members to role play the different characters in the Parable of the Talents. Consider a contemporary setting (CEO and middle managers in a office, trading in the stock market, and hiding money in a safe). Consider shooting the footage and compiling this “movie” in the week leading up to class. At an appropriate moment in your lesson, show the video and then lead the class in relevant discussion and application.
Using object lessons may seem a technique best left for teaching children, but this method is surprisingly effective in teaching adults. Just ask the chagrined pastor whose congregation is more abuzz after the service about his “children’s sermon” than the message he spent hours crafting!
- Plan your object lesson well in advance of Sunday. Searching for the necessary materials last-minute creates unnecessary stress that can keep you from a proper focus on your lesson.
- Avoid over-analogizing or over-spiritualizing your object lesson. Like Jesus’ parables were meant to make ONE point rather than for each aspect to hold some spiritual significance, the better object lesson will seek to make one point, rather than to provide a complete picture of life.
- Consider your audience. While some object lessons may be very effective, others may promote the idea of childishness and therefore detract from the authority of God’s Word.
Discussion is an often-used teaching method that may not even seem to need mention in this setting. Yet experience has shown that there is a real art in creating good discussions. Consider the following suggestions to encourage better discussions in your lessons:
- Avoid asking “Yes/No” questions. Such closed questions do not encourage thinking or discussion. Instead, ask how or why questions.
- Address questions to certain individuals. Often, a few persons are more talkative (and possibly considered more knowledgeable). If you do not actively seek the participation of others, the few can dominate the lesson.
- Ask a second person to add on to the answer of the first. Or, ask that person to provide a counter-argument for the sake of discussion.
- Re-work your questions for clarity. An easy trap for the teacher while studying a scripture is to develop a question based on several presuppositions, but to fail to lead the class through the same train of thought before asking this question.
Inductive presentations could be understood as deductive presentations turned upside down. Instead of stating propositional truth at the beginning, inductive reasoning begins with questions. As the progression of thought continues, various tentative or partial truths may be stated. Or the in-progress conclusions could be false, demonstrating a necessity to keep digging. At the climax of presentation, the key truth is finally stated, after which application is made.
In our lessons, the “God’s Word for Today” may be used for such a presentation, leading the class in a series of questions and truth statements, at the conclusion of which could be stated the “Central Truth.” (Please note that the writer’s presentation style for this section may NOT be inductive. Deductive reasoning may include questions. But the various questions in this section may help you to teach the lesson inductively.)
Inductive reasoning seems to have special appeal to men who often are used to tinkering with cars or computers, trying out various hypotheses until finally arriving at the solution.
If all presentation styles could be boiled down to two, the categories remaining would be deductive and inductive.
Deductive presentations and reasoning is typically what is most familiar to us. A propositional truth is stated upfront and the rest of the lesson is spent explaining or defending that truth. The basic structure of our lessons, especially the “Biblical Perspective” section, follows this style. The central truth proposes the scriptural principle and then the outline and various comments support this statement.
Many of us have grown up with this style of teaching, both in school and church. Deductive reasoning in teaching the Bible promotes the authority of God’s Word and is easily fits a lecture method of teaching. This style of teaching has appeared to be easily conducive to teaching women, although it should not be considered to be effective only in teaching one gender.
Teacher, we appreciate you for your dedication and hard work in making God’s Word come alive for your students each week. The good teacher spends much time in preparation and delivery and too infrequently gets credit for the investment made.
This quarter of “Tips for Teachers” will focus on various ideas you can use to create variety in your teaching. It is understandable that different teachers will use different methods and styles to present their lesson, and that over time a teacher may find the style most suited to him or her and use it almost exclusively. There is a danger, however, that stability may create boredom. Therefore, the ideas presented are offered for your consideration and experimentation.
While the teacher is expected to regularly instruct the student - to teach him or her what God’s Word says and how to apply it to one’s life, there remains the need for the teacher also to remain teachable, ready to learn, so that he or she can more effectively teach others.
This question is both the most scary and important a teacher can be asked at the end of the lesson. If we don't have a good answer - why was what we taught so important to our lives - it is good cause for embarrassment. Yet this question is essential because it cuts through the veneer of style and personality and lays bare the substance of what has been taught. Has everything that has been said fluff - impressive quotes, interesting facts, intriguing statistics, etc. - but nothing that speaks to any real life change I must make as a result of this lesson?
It is not enough to understand the cultural and historical background of the scripture, even though this is important. It is not enough to understand the roots of various Hebrew or Greek words, although this could shed light on the text. Simply, without a bridge made from the ancient text to our contemporary situation, the teacher's work is incomplete.
Another best practice for the Sunday school teacher is to constantly take opportunities to "sharpen the saw." There are numerous resources available. Here are a few you may want to consider:
- Arn, Charles, Donald McGavran, and Win Arn. (1980). Growth: A New Vision for the Sunday School.
- Hall, Kenneth F. (1995). Bridges to Teaching: A Basic Guide for Teaching in the Church.
- Harper, Albert F. (1956). The Sunday School Teacher.
- Haystead, Wes. (1995). The 21st Century Sunday School: Strategies for Today and Tomorrow.
- Johnston, Ray. (1996). Help! I'm a Sunday School Teacher.
- Neece, William C. How to Be a Successful Sunday School Teacher.
- Schultz, Thom and Joani. (1993). Why Nobody Learns Much of Anything at Church: And How to Fix It.
- Toler, Stan. (1995). 101 Ways to Grow a Healthy Sunday School.
- Christian Teacher's Training. http://trainbibleteachers.com/training-resources.htm
- Ministry Tools Resource Center. http://mintools.com/teacher-training.htm
- Pennsylvania State Sunday School Association. http://www.sundayschoolhelp.org
- Teacher Training - Sunday School. http://www.sunday-school-center.com/teacher-training.html
- Sunday School Teacher Training. https://www.m2820.com/sunday-school-teacher-training-3