As Sunday School leaders and teachers work to improve learning and teaching in the lives of those they serve, they will become mutually edified as they learn and teach by the Spirit and inspire the learner to live the doctrine.
What Can I Do to Encourage Inspired Discussions?
“Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege” (D&C 88:122).
A Key Responsibility of Every Sunday School Presidency
One of your responsibilities is to help every teacher learn to teach in the Savior’s way. As we strive to teach more like the Master, we often face challenges that can momentarily frustrate us or thwart our pursuits. For example, teachers often ask, “What can I do to encourage inspired discussions?” As a Sunday School presidency, you can use the following ideas, along with the inspiration you receive, to help teachers learn how to encourage and lead inspired discussions.
Questions and Possible Solutions
How can I increase the quality of classroom discussions? The quality of a discussion is often influenced by the quality of the lead-in question. Does the question inspire class members to live the gospel, or does it merely ask them to recite facts? Does it allow freedom of thought, or does it lead class members to try to guess what the teacher wants them to say? For example, a teacher might ask how old Joseph Smith was when he received the First Vision or what year the First Vision occurred. These questions lead to foundational facts, but consider the following questions, which perhaps are more thought provoking: What truths did Joseph Smith learn while he was in the grove of trees? How did these truths differ from what contemporary churches taught? What scriptures support the truths Joseph learned? How do these truths affect your life?
How can I know if a discussion is successful? A discussion is not successful merely if it is robust. Many robust discussions occur in business and secular settings and have nothing to do with building faith. A discussion is successful if it increases faith, leads to greater spiritual understanding of a gospel doctrine, and inspires the participants to live that doctrine.
How can I help people feel good about their contributions so they will want to contribute more? You can help those you teach feel more confident about their ability to participate in a discussion when you respond positively to every sincere comment. For example, you might say, “Thank you for your answer. That was very thoughtful” or “What a good idea! I had never thought of that before” or “That is a good example.”
What can I do if class members are hesitant to share insights and experiences? Some class members feel more comfortable responding when they are given sufficient time to think about what they want to say. You might occasionally give class members a moment to silently reflect on a question before you ask anyone to respond. Or you might write a question on the board before class so they will have time to think about it.
You might also consider inviting class members to share their thoughts in small groups and then ask a few of them to share their groups’ insights with the rest of the class.
If you notice that certain class members are not participating, you could briefly relate the discussion to their individual strengths and interests. For example, you might ask, “Sister Rodríguez, how have your feelings about missionary work changed as you have received letters from your son on a mission?” Or you could say, “Bill, you excel at basketball. Why is unity important for your team? How might this same principle apply to a family or a ward?”
Class members often respond more readily when they are asked to share their own experiences. For example, you could ask, “When have you seen the truthfulness of this principle?” or “In what ways have you been blessed as you have followed the prophet?”
What can I do if one person dominates the class discussion? One of your responsibilities is to give everyone the opportunity to participate. Be careful not to allow a few class members to dominate the discussion; ensure that those who want to share have opportunity to do so. You could do this by allowing learners to share in small groups or by saying something such as “Let’s hear from someone who hasn’t shared yet” or “What do the rest of you think?”
How can I help class members expand on initial responses to questions? When class members share insights and experiences, you might sense that sometimes they have more to share. Here are some examples of questions you can ask to prompt additional comments:
- Why is this important to you?
- How could this help us draw nearer to Christ?
- Who has a related thought they would like to share?
- What other scripture passages teach this truth?
How can I end the discussion on a spiritual high? You can conclude with a brief testimony. At the end of a discussion, your testimony will be most powerful when you testify of, or seal, the doctrine that has been taught. When you do so, you should clearly declare the doctrinal truth by the Spirit and bear witness of its truthfulness.
- “Conducting Discussions,” Teaching, No Greater Call: A Resource Guide for Gospel Teaching (1999), 63–65
- “Teaching Videos,” Learning and Teaching Ideas, Come, Follow Me lessons
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