Learning Experience 9: Preparing a Lesson: Deciding What to Teach

New-Teacher Training Resource: A Teacher-Improvement Companion to the Gospel Teaching and Learning Handbook, 2016


Overview

Note: The next five learning experiences are designed to help you learn how to prepare a lesson. Learning experiences 9–10 focus on deciding what to teach, and learning experiences 11–13 focus on deciding how to teach.

This learning experience covers the following concepts:

  • Teaching the scriptures sequentially

  • Balancing what and how to teach

  • Deciding what to teach

Key Concepts

Newly called teachers often have questions such as the following:

  • How is teaching seminary different from teaching other classes like Gospel Doctrine, Relief Society, elders quorum, and so on?

  • How do I prepare a lesson?

  • How much time should I spend choosing what to teach and how to teach it?

  • How do I decide what to teach?

This learning experience will help answer some of these questions.

Studying and Teaching the Scriptures Sequentially

In seminary and institute courses that focus on the standard works, the books and chapters of the scriptures are taught in the sequence they appear in the scriptures. Lessons are organized by scripture block rather than by topics. Each scripture block may contain multiple chapters, principles, and topics that you can emphasize. This approach is different from institute courses that are taught with a thematic approach.

video iconWatch the video “Studying the Scriptures Sequentially” (0:46), available on LDS.org. In this video, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles describes the benefits of studying the scriptures sequentially.

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Gospel Teaching and Learning Handbook Activity

handbook cover

Read the introduction to chapter 3 on pages 38–39 of Gospel Teaching and Learning: A Handbook for Teachers and Leaders in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion (2012) to help you understand why seminary and institute courses that focus on the standard works cover the scriptures sequentially. As you read this section, mark in your handbook the ways in which studying the scriptures sequentially will bless you and your students.

When teaching a scripture block sequentially, you will teach multiple principles within a single lesson. Each principle can receive a different level of emphasis.

video iconWatch the video “Teaching the Scriptures Sequentially” (4:28), available on LDS.org. This video illustrates several important concepts to consider when planning to teach a scripture block sequentially.

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What and How: Balancing Your Preparation

During lesson preparation, it is important to balance your efforts in deciding both what to teach and how to teach.

Unbalanced Preparation

unbalanced scale, What
  1. 1.

    What

    When a teacher spends too much time and effort deciding what to teach, he or she will not have sufficient time to consider how to help students participate in learning. Often this will result in lessons that are boring and too centered on the teacher.

unbalanced scale, How
  1. 2.

    How

    When a teacher spends too much time and effort deciding how to teach, lessons can lack purpose and power. In this case, students might remember the teaching method more than the inspired messages from the scriptures.

Balanced Preparation

balanced scale

“When preparing a lesson, every teacher must decide: ‘What will I teach?’ and ‘How will I teach it?’” (Gospel Teaching and Learning, 52). You have just learned what happens when the what and how are not balanced in your preparation. Now read the following sections and note the characteristics of preparation when the what and how are balanced.

  1. 1.

    What

    Preparing what to teach consists of:

    • Understanding the context (background, culture, and setting).

    • Understanding the content (story line, people, events, sermons, and inspired explanations).

    • Identifying important doctrine or principles.

  2. 2.

    How

    Preparing how to teach consists of determining the methods, approaches, and activities you will use to help students learn (class discussion, questions, audiovisual resources, writing exercises, small group work, and so forth).

For more information, see section 4.3.2 (“Decide What to Teach and How to Teach It”) on page 52 of the Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook.

A New Teacher’s Concern

video iconWatch the video “Obtain the Word” (8:54), available on LDS.org. In this video, Leah Murray is a busy mother who has recently been called as a seminary teacher. Like many newly called teachers, she feels apprehensive about finding time to prepare lessons and teach every day. She wonders where to even begin. As you watch the video, look for who she reaches out to when she needs help with her calling. Also, look for what counsel she is given regarding the most important place to start when preparing lessons.

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Deciding What to Teach: Four Stages

As you prepare a lesson, follow these four stages to help you decide what to teach. These stages are explained in the Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook, section 4.3.3 (“Decide What to Teach”), on pages 52–55.

  1. 1.

    Immerse yourself in the scriptures to understand the context and content of the scripture block.

  2. 2.

    Identify and seek to understand the doctrine and principles found in the block.

  3. 3.

    Decide which doctrine and principles are most important for your students to learn and apply.

  4. 4.

    Decide what level of emphasis to give each segment of the scripture block.

The following activity will focus on the four stages of deciding what to teach. For each of the four parts of the activity, watch the video demonstrating how to complete each stage. Then practice what you have learned by creating lesson notes while outlining Mosiah 27.

Lesson Preparation Activity

two women studying at table
Stage 1: Understand the Context and Content of the Scripture Block

The Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook gives four suggestions to consider when seeking to understand the context and content of a scripture block:

  • Immerse yourself in the scripture block until the content becomes clear and familiar.

  • Note natural breaks in the scripture block where a change in topic or action occurs.

  • Divide the scripture block into smaller segments or groups of verses based on the natural breaks. (Note: You will use these smaller segments to organize the flow of the lesson and give at least some attention to all of the content within a scripture block.)

  • Summarize what took place within each segment of verses.

video iconWatch the video “Lesson Preparation: Verse Segments and Summary Statements” (5:08), available on LDS.org. In this video, Sister Wilson demonstrates these steps.

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handout iconCreate a blank document similar to the one you saw in the video, or use the handout titled “Determining What to Teach” that is provided in the appendix of this manual. Then identify the context and content of the scripture block by doing the following:

  1. 1.

    Study the scripture block (Mosiah 27) to become familiar with the context and content.

  2. 2.

    Note natural breaks where a change in topic or action occurs.

  3. 3.

    Divide the scripture block into smaller groups of verses based on these natural breaks.

  4. 4.

    On your document, write summary statements describing what took place within each segment of verses.

hands writing on form
Stage 2: Identify and Understand Doctrine and Principles

After you have summarized verse segments, you will identify the doctrine and principles in each. Then you will write clear, simple statements that summarize the doctrine and principles you have identified.

video iconWatch the video “Lesson Preparation: Identify Doctrine and Principles” (2:57), available on LDS.org. In this video, Sister Wilson demonstrates how she identifies doctrine and principles, summarizes them in simple statements, and writes them in her lesson outline.

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Return to your lesson notes for Mosiah 27 and do the following:

  1. 1.

    Identify the doctrine and principles in each verse segment.

  2. 2.

    On your document, write each doctrine or principle using clear, simple statements.

hands writing on form
Stage 3: Decide Which Doctrine and Principles Are Most Important for Your Students to Learn and Apply

Scripture blocks often contain more material than can be discussed in class. Consider the following points when deciding which doctrine and principles are most important for your students to learn and apply:

  • Promptings of the Holy Ghost

  • The intent of the inspired author

  • Converting doctrine and principles

  • The needs and abilities of your students

video iconWatch the video “Lesson Preparation: Decide Which Principles to Emphasize” (5:07), available on LDS.org. In this video, Sister Wilson demonstrates how she decides which doctrine and principles are most important for her students to learn and apply.

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Return to your lesson notes for Mosiah 27 and do the following:

  1. 1.

    Decide which of the doctrine and principles you identified are most important for students to learn and apply. As you do so, consider the following:

    • Promptings of the Holy Ghost

    • The intent of the inspired author

    • Converting doctrine and principles

    • The needs and abilities of your students

  2. 2.

    On your document, circle or put a mark by the doctrine and principles you have decided are most important for your students to learn and apply.

hand pointing to form
Stage 4: Decide What Level of Emphasis to Give Each Segment of the Scripture Block

After determining the doctrine and principles that are most important for students to learn and apply, the next step is to decide which verse segments of the scripture block should receive the most emphasis during the lesson. The segments containing the truths you identified as most important will generally receive the most emphasis.

To help you decide the level of emphasis to give each verse segment, you might ask yourself some of the following questions, which correspond to the learning pattern. In this verse segment, will I plan to help my students:

  • Understand the context and content?

  • Identify important doctrine and principles?

  • Understand the doctrine and principles?

  • Feel the truth and importance of those doctrines and principles?

  • Apply the truths in their lives?

video iconWatch the video “Lesson Preparation: Determine the Emphasis Level of Each Verse Segment” (6:57), available on LDS.org. In this video, Sister Wilson demonstrates how she uses the learning pattern to decide the level of emphasis to give each verse segment in the scripture block.

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Return to your lesson notes for Mosiah 27 and complete the following tasks:

  1. 1.

    As you look at the verse segments on your document, consider what level of emphasis each segment will receive by asking yourself the following questions from the learning pattern. In this verse segment, will I plan to help my students:

    • Understand the context and content?

    • Identify important doctrine and principles?

    • Understand the doctrine and principles?

    • Feel the truth and importance of those doctrines and principles?

    • Apply the truths in their lives?

  2. 2.

    Write the level of emphasis you have chosen for each segment in your lesson notes.

Summary and Application

Principles to Remember

  • In seminary and institute courses that focus on the standard works, the doctrine and principles should be taught in the sequence they appear in the scriptures.

  • When preparing a lesson, balancing what to teach and how to teach ensures a more powerful and purposeful learning experience.

  • When deciding what to teach:

    1. 1.

      Immerse yourself in the scriptures to understand the context and content of the scripture block.

    2. 2.

      Identify and seek to understand the doctrine and principles found in the block.

    3. 3.

      Decide which doctrine and principles are most important for your students to learn and apply.

    4. 4.

      Decide what level of emphasis to give each segment of the scripture block.

Elder Richard G. Scott

“Determine, according to the individual capabilities and needs of your students, what is of highest priority. If a key principle is understood, internalized, and made part of the students’ guidebooks for life, then the most important objective has been accomplished” (Richard G. Scott, “To Understand and Live Truth” [an evening with Elder Richard G. Scott, Feb. 4, 2005], 2–3, si.lds.org).

“Therefore, What?”

To conclude this learning experience, write down some things you will do based on the principles you have learned today.