When the Savior taught, He did more than just share information. He gave His disciples opportunities to ask questions and share their testimonies. His pattern for teaching and learning invites us to “teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom” so that “all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege” (D&C 88:77, 122). As a teacher, you can encourage uplifting discussions enriched by learners’ experiences and testimonies. Even small children often have much to contribute. A robust discussion is not your primary goal as a teacher, but it can support that goal—to help learners increase their faith in Jesus Christ and become more like Him.
Create an Environment That Encourages Discussion
Church classes and meetings provide Latter-day Saints with opportunities to strengthen each other by sharing thoughts, experiences, and testimonies. The environment you create in a classroom can help to encourage these kinds of interactions. Your words, your actions—even the setup of the room, including the lighting and arrangement of the chairs—can help establish a spirit of mutual respect and active learning.
Question to ponder. What can I change about the environment in my classroom to encourage more edifying discussions?
Scriptural example. As recorded in John 21:8–12, what did Jesus do to prepare an environment in which He could effectively teach His disciples? How can I follow His example?
See also the video “We Share” (LDS.org).
Ask Questions That Encourage Pondering
A good discussion often begins with a good question—one that invites people to think deeply about the gospel. For example, you might ask, “What doctrinal truths are taught in Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision?” or “How has Joseph Smith’s First Vision made a difference in your life?”
When asking this type of question, give learners time to ponder their responses. Sometimes writing a question on the board in advance can encourage pondering. You could even let learners know that you want them to take a little time to think before answering. Invite them to silently ask Heavenly Father to inspire them as they ponder the question. In these moments of quiet contemplation, the Spirit can touch hearts.
Question to ponder. What questions could I ask in my next lesson to inspire pondering and discussion?
Allow Everyone to Take Part
Everyone has something to contribute, but sometimes not everyone gets a chance. Christlike teachers are interested in the learning of each person, not just the outspoken ones. Look for ways to increase the number of class members who can share their testimonies. For example:
You could divide learners into pairs or small discussion groups, or even into smaller classes, as approved by the bishopric.
You could invite class members to write their thoughts or feelings and ask a few to share what they wrote.
You could say “Let’s hear from someone who hasn’t shared yet” or “That’s an interesting comment. What do the rest of you think?”
If you are teaching children, you could think of a simple game that involves everyone.
You may feel inspired to invite a specific person to share—perhaps because he or she has a perspective that others could benefit from hearing. Consider asking questions that draw upon a person’s experiences and strengths, such as “What has your experience as a mother taught you about Christlike love?”
Don’t become so absorbed with the lesson that you forget to thank learners for their contributions. They need to know that you appreciate their willingness to share their insights and testimonies.
Question to ponder. Besides making comments or sharing experiences, what are some other ways in which class members can participate?
Let the Spirit Guide
As you lead discussions, let the Holy Ghost guide you. Make sure that discussions are always positive and uplifting. Do not end an inspiring discussion too soon in order to cover all the lesson material, especially if you perceive that the discussion is meaningful to those you are teaching.
Questions to ponder. How can I tell when a discussion is being guided by the Spirit? How can I know when to end a discussion and move on?
Scriptural example. What do I learn from Doctrine and Covenants 50:21–22 about following the Spirit as I teach?
Ask Follow-Up Questions
When someone shares a doctrinal insight or spiritual experience, you might sense that he or she—or someone else in the class—has more to share. Follow-up questions can prompt additional comments and lead to deeper insights. For example, you might ask, “Why is this principle important to you?” or “What other scripture passages teach this truth?”
Question to ponder. How could I encourage those I teach to think more deeply about the principles they are discussing?
See also the video “Asking Follow-Up Questions” (LDS.org).
Listening is an act of love. It requires that we care more about what is in another person’s heart than what is next on our agenda or outline. Ask Heavenly Father to help you understand what your class members say. As you pay careful attention to their spoken and unspoken messages, you will come to better understand their needs, their concerns, and their desires. The Spirit will help you know how to teach them, what follow-up questions to ask, and how to help meet their needs.
Questions to ponder. How do I know when someone is listening to me? How can I show class members that I am sincerely listening to them?
Scriptural example. What did Alma learn by listening to the poor Zoramites? (see Alma 32:4–8). How did what he learned affect his teaching?
See also Preach My Gospel , 185–86.
Ask Inspired Questions
The right questions can make the difference between an inspired discussion that builds faith and testimony and one that is merely interesting or even unproductive. For more information about asking inspired questions, see “Ask Inspired Questions” in this resource.
For the Discussion Leader
Share and counsel together. Begin by inviting teachers to share recent teaching experiences and ask questions related to teaching.
Learn together. Invite teachers to discuss one or more of the ideas in this section. Do not try to cover everything in one meeting.
Practice. Invite a teacher to practice leading the group in a brief discussion about a gospel principle that he or she will be teaching soon. Encourage the teacher to apply the ideas in this section (the suggested videos may be helpful). Afterward, teachers could talk about what went well and what could be improved.
Prepare. Decide together on a topic for the next meeting, and invite teachers to prepare.