Gourmet foods may have great appeal, but when I was a hungry boy nothing ever equaled the simple meal of hot homemade bread smothered with melting butter, which so often awaited me upon my return home from school. My mother knew how to best nurture her children. She understood; she loved; she helped—in the simplest and most effective way.
Subsequently, it has not been difficult for me to understand why our Lord referred to himself and his gospel as the “bread of life” (see John 6:32–35). Neither is it difficult to recognize that “through the centuries … His teachings have remained simple and compelling and direct, because they were designed to do just that.” (Elder Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, [Deseret Book Co.: Salt Lake City, 1975], p. 19.)
As teachers or potential teachers of the gospel, one of our greatest challenges is to develop the ability to teach as simply and plainly as did the Savior. (see chart, “Teaching/ Learning Relationships,” International Magazines, April 1977, p. 27.)
There was nothing complex or difficult about the Savior’s approach to teaching. Elder Boyd K. Packer has said, “In our minds, we can go back to that day when He ministered among men. We can pay careful heed to what He is teaching. We can also watch how He did it so that when the commission comes to feed His sheep, we can go and do likewise.” (Teach Ye Diligently, p. 19.)
Many methods, aids, and helps can be used in teaching “but the basic instruction, when all is said and done, will for the most part be (1) lecture, (2) question and answer, and (3) recitation.” (Ibid. p. 224.)
Lecture provides the teacher with the opportunity to declare—and the student with the opportunity to hear—the basic truths of the gospel. Question and answer makes it possible for the student to further investigate, clarify, and understand those truths. Recitation encourages the student to review, rehearse, and establish in his own heart, the truths he has learned.
Lecture must not be thought of as mere lifeless verbalization by the teacher. Instead, it should be spiritually appetizing and soul satisfying.
The Savior, whose teaching example we ought always to follow, served nothing but the pure bread of life. The portion of the loaf served at any time, and the size of the serving depended upon the individual. The learner’s readiness to understand truth, and his willingness to obey it, had much to do with what the serving looked like; but always, it was simple, uncluttered and spiritually nutritious.
Elder Packer reflects, “When we study how Jesus taught, we might note that He employed one principle of teaching more than any other. If we also understand this principle and employ it, it will improve us as teachers of religion perhaps more than any other thing that we could learn about His teaching techniques. Educators refer to it as the principle of recognition.
“Apperception is defined as ‘the process of understanding something by using examples from a person’s previous experience.’ This means that if we have something difficult to teach, such as honesty or reverence or love, we should begin with the experience of the student and talk about the things he already knows. Then when we make a transfer or comparison with what we want him to know, he will perceive the meaning” (Ibid, P. 20.)
So often Jesus began his teaching with a statement such as, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto …” Then He would go on to compare the kingdom with something they already understood. (See companion article, “Using the Apperception Principle in Teaching,” for a more detailed discussion of this principle.)
A slight variation of the apperception principle has to do with the use of visual aids. Most of the ones used by the Savior were those that existed naturally in the environment of the learner. Fig trees, coins, lilies, etc. were probably within view of the learner at the time Jesus referred to them.
The following advice from Elder Packer gives us some good guidelines to follow in the use of visual aids, especially those that are manmade:
“Be careful to use visual aids sparingly. The best of them are really the simplest and are often those that are readily available. On balance, I think that no teaching aid surpasses, and few equal, the chalkboard: first, because it is simple to use, and next, because it is universally available—every-where in the world you can get a chalkboard. You can use it to focus the eyes of your students while the main lesson is presented audibly. As you talk, you can put just enough on the board to focus their attention and give them the idea, but never so much that the visual aid itself distracts them and becomes more interesting than your lesson.
“Perhaps the most common mistake in employing written words as visual aids is in not synchronizing sight and sound. The mistake is made so frequently that only occasionally do you see it done correctly. If you have words to write on the chalkboard, or if they are on a chart, or if they are put on a flannelboard, of if they are thrown on a screen from a projector, the students should see with their eyes and hear with their ears at the same time …
“Audio and visual aids in a class can be a blessing or a curse, depending upon how they are used. They might be compared to spices and flavorings that go with a meal. They should be used sparingly to accent or make a lesson interesting.” (Ibid, pp. 224–225.)
Question and answer was also an important teaching technique used by the Savior. He used it, however, in a very unique way. He generally shifted the responsibility for learning onto the student. He did this by wording his questions and answers in such a way that the student was required to interact with the subject matter itself. Thus, the student gained insight and understanding through introspection with basic principles of truth.
The Savior asked questions such as “I give unto you to be the salt of the earth; but if the salt shall lose its savor wherewith shall the earth be salted?” (3 Ne. 12:13) or, “why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (3 Ne. 14:3.)
Such questions are typical of the Savior’s unique way of helping the learner to clarify and understand the gospel, and also to relate personally to it.
Often the Savior would answer a question by asking another question. The learner would then answer his own question by answering the Savior’s question!
“You can employ the same techniques. When a student asks a question, … be careful lest you answer it and do not give students time to discuss and perhaps answer it themselves. How easy it is for a teacher to respond quickly to simple questions, to close a conversation that might have ignited a sparkling and lively class discussion.
“The wise teacher deftly and pleasantly may respond, “That’s an interesting question. What does the class think of this?’
“Or, ‘Can anyone in the class help with this interesting problem? ’
“A simple two-way conversation, and you’ve involved the whole class and their minds come alive and are open to teaching.” (Teach Ye Diligently, p. 55–56.)
Frequently, the Savior would review the learner’s understanding by asking him to recall or rehearse the truth learned in the lesson. (See Luke 10:36–37 for an example.) Such recitation of truth was usually followed by an invitation to “Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37).
And thus we begin to see how simply, how plainly, and yet how effectively the Savior taught; how he fed his Father’s sheep, the bread of life. Let us go and do likewise.