Friday, December 11, 2009

Great Resources for Teaching Church Lessons and Family Home Evenings

I have a tendency to put myself on the list of volunteers to substitute teach in primary classes, and as a result, I have substitute-taught a fair number of different classes this year. I’m not always content with the attention activities in the book; my goal is always to find object lessons and approaches that are both memorable and strongly tied to the purpose of the lesson.

Technology sometimes plays a part in my lessons, but I really dislike the prospect of checking videos and things out from the library because I have to do it during church while the class may be running wild. I don’t even like checking pictures out. I feel more relaxed as a teacher when I come to church completely prepared with all the resources I need.

I remember one time I was asked to sub in the CTR 8 class. The lesson was about how Heavenly Father loves all his children and contained several stories of children in different countries and how they lived the gospel. As I was reading over the lesson I strongly felt that I needed lots of pictures. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the lesson book. The lesson listed some pictures I could use, but I didn’t care for the idea of having to get them from the library.

Finally I got the idea to make a power point presentation and get lots of pictures from the internet that would work with the lesson stories and put them in the presentation and then bring in my laptop and show the pictures as a slideshow as I told the stories that went with them. It made me laugh to think of subjecting the 8-year-olds to a Powerpoint presentation, but I knew the pictures would interest them in a way that would make it possible for the Holy Ghost to work on them. And I was right. (Of course I later found out that I may have broken some copyright laws by using images not owned by the church.. DOH!! Guess I can’t do that anymore..)

Something the lesson suggested I do was sing “Children All Over the World” with the children. As I was studying the lesson, I knew from past experience that it feels uncomfortable to sing even a well-known primary song without some sort of accompaniment. So I downloaded an mp3 of the song from the church’s website onto my laptop and when teaching the lesson, all I really needed to do was hit play and then it felt more natural for everyone to sing. (I love that the church has primary songs for download!)

I’m very grateful for the technology tools that we have that can solve some of these problems and create an environment for the Holy Ghost to be present and teach.

One new resource that I’m excited about is the church’s Old Testament Visual Resource DVDs. My mother-in-law got us this for Christmas (and she had us open our gifts early). Today I decided that I wanted to try the DVDs out to see what they were like. The thing I was most excited about was the videos that were included. These are high quality videos, many of which I remember watching when I was in seminary and which had a big impact on me. (In fact, there have been occasions when I wished I had access to some of those videos to use in some lessons I’ve taught.) I can see these videos being useful in both church lessons and family home evenings.

Another thing I liked about the DVD was the charts. They are called “charts”, but what they really are is a series of slides that list scriptures and ask a question about those scriptures for you to think about when you look them up and read them. After each question slide is an answer slide. Of what I saw, there was a chart about the difference between true prophets and false prophets, a chart about prophecies of Christ that were in Psalms and then places in the scriptures where each prophecy was fulfilled. I think these charts would be a really good thing to use in family scripture study or family home evening. They can give children valuable experiences of searching the scriptures for answers and get them used to doing it.

There’s a sizable booklet that comes with the DVDs that acts as an index for everything on the DVDs. It goes by topic, and it also shows what kind of visual each thing is. There are videos, music videos, charts, audio quotations, video quotations, text quotations, and paintings.

I kind of wondered why paintings and text quotations were included in the DVD, since the church has a booklet of just pictures that can be used for lessons and church lessons tend to have choice quotations included with them. I looked at the booklet though, which had a list of all the copyrights and I saw that most of the paintings are fairly new ones that have been produced within the last 30 years. This means that these pictures not going to be the usual ones we’ve seen so often.

For small children, there is another DVD included with narrated slides of pictures from the book Old Testament Stories. (I remember my mom reading to me and my siblings from those books over and over when we were little.) I took some time to watch a few chapters from it and it was funny how much it took me back to my childhood. I listened to those simple words and I tell you, I felt the Spirit. This is a great way to familiarize children with scripture stories and it is something they can watch on Sunday (and any other days too).

I look forward to using the Old Testament Visual Resource DVDs in future lessons and I recommend it.

While I was at the church website, I happened to find more videos that are offered; these are on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History and they can be found here. Since we are studying the Doctrine & Covenants in Sunday school this year, I’m surprised I haven’t heard of anyone showing these in class.

Another resource that I recommend for teachers is a booklet put out by the church called “Teaching, No Greater Call”. (It can be accessed from the church’s website here.) It has a number of lessons on the following topics:
  • The Importance of Gospel Teaching in God’s Plan
  • Prepare Yourself Spiritually
  • Improve upon Your Talents
  • Love Those You Teach
  • Teach By the Spirit
  • Teach the Doctrine
  • Invite Diligent Learning
  • Create a Learning Atmosphere
  • Use Effective Methods
  • Prepare Every Needful Thing
  • Teaching Different Age Groups
  • Teaching in the Family
  • Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching
  • Teaching in Leadership Settings
It also has significant discussion on methods of teaching, along with a huge list of teaching methods! This list is so big you’ll wonder why you ever let your teaching get in a rut.

Here’s a small sample:
  • Case studies
  • Demonstrations
  • Dramatizations
  • Guest Speakers
  • Maps
  • Music
  • Puppets
  • Role Playing
  • Work sheets
Does that sound FUN or WHAT?!!

So why should we care about our teaching methods and whether we use resources or not?

Here’s a fabulous story that addresses this question. It’s from the “Teaching No Greater Call” manual (p222-223) about Elder Boyd K. Packer when he was a mission president:
We scheduled zone conferences. For each one, Sister Packer baked a three-tiered cake,…decorated beautifully—thick, colorful layers of frosting, trimmed beautifully, and with ‘The Gospel’ inscribed across the top. When the missionaries were assembled, with some ceremony we brought the cake in. It was something to behold!

As we pointed out that the cake represented the gospel, we asked, ‘Who would like to have some?’ There was always a hungry elder who eagerly volunteered. We called him forward and said, ‘We will serve you first.’ I then sank my fingers into the top of the cake and tore out a large piece. I was careful to clench my fist after tearing it out so that the frosting would ooze through my fingers, and then as the elders sat in total disbelief, I threw the piece of cake to the elder, splattering some frosting down the front of his suit. ‘Would anyone else like some cake?’ I inquired. For some reason, there were no takers.

Then we produced a crystal dish, a silver fork, a linen napkin, and a beautiful silver serving knife. With great dignity I carefully cut a slice of the cake from the other side, gently set it on the crystal dish, and asked, ‘Would anyone like a piece of cake?’

The lesson was obvious. It was the same cake in both cases, the same flavor, the same nourishment. The manner of serving either made it inviting, even enticing, or uninviting, even revolting. The cake, we reminded the missionaries, represented the gospel. How were they serving it?

After the demonstration we had no difficulty—in fact, some considerable enthusiasm—for the effort to improve the teaching of the discussions. A few months later I thought the missionaries might well be reminded of the lesson, so I sent out a bulletin with a sketch of the cake.

When I met the missionaries again, I said, ‘You received a bulletin recently, didn’t you?’

‘Yes indeed.’

‘And what did it say?’

Invariably the missionaries said, ‘It reminded us to sharpen up on presenting our lessons and to do more studying, to learn the lessons carefully, and then to help one another in our procedure for having them taught.’

‘You got all that out of one picture?’

‘Yes, that’s one lesson we won’t soon forget!’

I should, of course, add that I was happy where necessary to pay the bill to clean the elder’s suit!
It is my conviction that Heavenly Father has inspired the creation of many helpful resources for us to use in teaching the gospel, and using the right presentation and teaching methods and resources for the situation can make a big difference. As just a little instance, I have learned that one of the reasons we have appropriate attention activities at the beginning of our church lessons is to not to entertain (although that can happen), but to pique interest and curiosity. When we become interested and curious, we want to learn and we open our hearts to receive. We become humble and meek and teachable. This allows the Holy Ghost to work on us and teach us the things that the Lord really wants us to know, which may or may not be included in the actual words of the lesson.

I also know that as we prepare our lessons, Heavenly Father can help us know what will be the best methods to use.


Rebecca Irvine said...

Thanks for sharing these great ideas, Michaela. I love the cake story.