Lesson 17: Helping Learners Be Attentive

"Lesson 17: Helping Learners Be Attentive," Part B: Basic Principles of Gospel Teaching—Invite Diligent Learning, ()


A Sunday School teacher shared the following insight about a lesson he had taught:

“I felt like I had taken the class on a hike through the forest. As we started to walk down the trail together, I pointed out interesting scriptural insights as we passed them along the way. I carefully explained the ideas of the lesson, like a guide would explain the different kinds of foliage found along a forest trail.

“At one point, I turned around, as it seemed, to look for my class members. I discovered they were quite a ways back on the scriptural trail. None of them had kept up with me. Some were lingering; some were stuck; others had wandered off the trail and were lost. It was as if I had to go back down the trail, gather the class up, and try to move forward again.”

As this experience illustrates, a teacher can sometimes get “separated” from learners during lessons. Learners sometimes lose interest or become distracted.

How can teachers help learners remain attentive? There is no single answer to this question, but there are things you can do that will make a difference.

Observe and Listen to Those You Teach

You can often tell if those you teach are getting “separated” from you. You may notice that they are more restless than usual, that they are not reading along when others read scripture passages aloud, or that they are talking to each other about things that do not relate to the lesson. You may sense a lack of thought or enthusiasm in their responses to questions that you ask.

Be careful when interpreting clues to learners’ attentiveness. Some who appear to be “separated” may actually be following a lesson closely. For example, a class member who is not looking at you may be thinking about something that has been said in class or pondering a prompting he or she has received from the Holy Ghost.

When you are teaching by the Spirit, you will often be blessed to discern the attentiveness of those you teach. At times you may be prompted to make changes in a lesson to help redirect learners’ attention.

How to Help Learners Be Attentive

The following suggestions can assist you as you help learners be attentive:

  • Make the material relevant. Help those you teach see how the lesson material applies in their lives. If they cannot see how the material applies to them, they most likely will not be interested or attentive.

  • Vary your teaching voice. Do you talk too slowly, too fast, too softly, too loudly? Do you use the same tone of voice, with little inflection? Is your speech clear? Are you enthusiastic about what you teach? How you use your voice can influence the attention level of those you teach.

  • Maintain eye contact. Use eye contact as a way to draw learners into lessons. When you teach eye to eye, your attention is focused on those you are teaching, not on lesson materials. Making eye contact as you listen to their comments and questions helps them know that you are interested in what they have to say. Be careful not to let your eyes wander around the room as you speak. Arrange the chairs in the room so you can see each person’s face and so each person can see your face. Young children will be more attentive if you sit close to them and talk to them at eye level.

  • Use movement. Try moving about the room as you teach, but do not pace back and forth. Moving closer to learners when asking a question demonstrates your interest and invites a response. Appropriate hand and arm movements can help emphasize a lesson point. Move about in a natural way, consistent with your personality. If your movements are staged, unnatural, or overused, they might distract learners and cause them to lose interest in the lesson.

  • Vary the pace of lessons. The pace at which you cover lesson material can influence learners’ attentiveness. If the lesson moves too quickly, learners can become confused. If you cover the material too slowly, they can lose interest. Some parts of a lesson presentation can seem to drag on or become bogged down in discussions or stories. Some material may be important but less relevant than other material for those you teach. You should treat such material quickly so you can move to the main points of the lesson.

  • Use a variety of teaching methods. Different teaching methods can help you vary the pace of a lesson, focus learners’ attention at the beginning of the lesson, recapture their attention during the lesson, or make a transition from one part of the lesson to another. For example, discussions in small groups can instantly involve those who seem to be losing interest and concentration. (See “Teaching with Variety,” pages 89–90.)

Individuals’ Responsibility to Participate

As you seek to help learners be more attentive, remember that they are ultimately responsible for their own participation. If someone does not participate, do not pressure that person to participate. Instead, continue to be interested, respectful, and helpful, remembering this counsel from the Lord to priesthood bearers: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained …, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41).