Tuesday, August 5, 2014

15 Ways to Study a General Conference Talk to Teach a Lesson

Every month priesthood and Relief Society lessons spend one Sunday discussing one or more conference talks. 

Teaching a lesson using a conference talk is challenging.  First, it requires careful study to get a sense of the theme and the important points used to build the message.  Second, there is hardly any supporting material or teaching suggestions available anywhere online or offline to help teachers because the talks are so new.  So….third, it requires the teacher to receive revelation as to the best way to approach the talk so as to invite the Spirit and promote learning and encourage participation. 

Usually if we look online hoping to find supporting material for conference talks, what we find is one of two things:
1)   Someone blogs, “This talk is awesome!  Here’s a link to it!” and doesn’t share their own thoughts.
2)   Someone blogs, “This talk is awesome!  Here’s my favorite part of it!” and then quotes that part and links to the talk, but doesn’t spend much time actually engaging with the quote to share what they think and feel and any experiences they’ve had with it.

So, I thought I’d share some methods I personally use to study conference talks.  So far I’ve found 15 methods that help me.   

If you need ideas for how to study conference talks to formulate and teach lessons, you can try these methods and start making progress more quickly.

1.  Decide what the main theme of the talk is.  It may seem obvious, but for some talks this is harder to do than with others.  The theme may or may not be the same as its title.  Take apart the talk to see what pieces were used to build up the main theme.   Can you tell why each piece was included?  Was there anything left out?   Understanding the pieces will help you know what parts are most important to focus on in your lesson and even the order they should be discussed.

2.  Look at stories, analogies, and extended metaphors.  They are often the most memorable part of talks and have lessons attached them.  Some lessons may be stated right out, but some may be only implied.  Try to squeeze every drop of insight you can get by pondering implications besides the obvious.  Take notes of everything you find so you can remember it.   Can you find all the ways that the stories or analogies illustrate lessons about the main theme?

3.  Think about what experiences you have with the topic and what personal stories you can share.  Sharing your own experiences will make the topic further come alive for your class and give you an opportunity to testify of truths.  Ask your class if they have personal experiences they can share about the truths in the talk.

4.  Think about what personal hang-ups you may have with the talk or the talk’s topic and why.  Teaching something you are challenged by is an opportunity to grow as you grapple with it and become reconciled with it.  Humble yourself and seek revelation.  Repent and recommit yourself as necessary.  Seek other study material on the topic.  Sharing your experience of struggle and enlightenment with the class will make your lesson all the more powerful.

5.  Notice where you have personal questions about what is in the talk.  Share these questions with your class and invite them to give answers.  Sincere questions will wake them up and they will be happy to help.

6.  Look at the parts of the talk that bore you.  (Yes, occasionally they seem boring, and that usually represents an area where there is opportunity for growth, even though it seems like the opposite.)  Try to figure out why you are bored by them.   Is it the language?  How would you have expressed the same idea in a better way?   Is the speaker trying to transition to another point of emphasis?  If the topic bores you, think about why.  Is there something you can do to help it become more interesting?   Why might the speaker have been interested in it?  What makes the topic important?  How might the church or life be impacted if nothing about this topic was ever known by anyone?

7.  Think about what concerns or trials or temptations the talk is meant to address.   List them. Look for how the talk addresses them.  This will give you insight into the trials people in your class may face and helps you understand how the talk is going to be helpful to them. 

8.  How does the talk draw a distinction between things of the world and the things of God?  Are any false doctrines skewered?  If so, what ones and how?  Are lines drawn between good and evil that weren’t understood before?  What evils can be discerned and avoided now because this talk was given?   This is also a good question to ask your class. 

9.  Look for processes shared or explained.  Processes help us know what we can expect as we progress spiritually.   See if your class can come up with the steps in the process that are covered in the talk.  See if your class understands why the order is what it is.

10.  Look for lists.   Write in numbers so you can identify parts of the list.  Why are those things part of the list?  Was anything left out?  Was anything on the list unnecessary?  Can people in the class explain each item on the list and why it is important?

11.  Look for prophecy of future challenges that the Saints may face.  Sometimes it seems like the talk doesn’t have much to do with present problems, which means it may be given ahead of when it is needed.   Can you imagine future problems that might be addressed by the talk?  What kind of spiritual preparation does the talk advise?

12.  Look for hidden mysteries of godliness.  Is there anything that seems counterintuitive or shows deep insight? 

13.  Look for the power quotes.  Power quotes are those parts of a talk that distill a large amount of truth and doctrine down into a very small space with firm and vivid language.   They are the parts that resonate strongly.  They are the parts you will be drawn to.  Think about what you like about these quotes and why.    Using these quotes in your lesson provides opportunities for your class to share what they think and feel about them. 

14.  Look for action items.  What does the talk say we should do?  How should we change?   Is the change or commandment simple or complex?   Are there many ways to do it or one way?   The more general the commandment, the more ways there are of keeping it.  Give your class opportunities to share how they try to keep the commandments and how they organize their lives to make it easier to do so.

15.  Look for promises given.  What is promised and what must be done to obtain those promises?   You can ask your class to imagine how their life would be improved if they could obtain those promises.  You can also ask individuals in the class to share how they were blessed when they saw those promises fulfilled in her lives.  This helps motivate others to exercise their faith to obtain those blessings themselves.

Maybe you have additional ways you study general conference talks to prepare lessons.  If so, will you share them? 


Jocelyn Christensen said...

This post is awesome! (wink) You'd better not be talking about me in that first part! ha ha. Hey this really is good. I hope you send it to the Ensign, because a little birdie told me this would be something they would be looking for!

Jocelyn Christensen said...

Also, I think think teaching from a Conference talk is the best thing ever...BECAUSE it REQUIRES the teacher to have the Holy Ghost as their guide. I don't really believe in teaching something I found online. Guess we all need to get back to basics on that one!! This post is super useful though in helping with that..it takes a lot of spiritual work to teach Conference Talks. Not to be shy-ed away from!! :)

Rozy Lass said...

For us out in the hinterlands, and being a "twig" I ALWAYS share the video of the talk. Most of the sisters here don't watch General Conference so I want them to hear the voice and see the man (or woman) who is speaking. I then ask for impressions and comments from the sisters to see where their minds and hearts are. I share what impressed me and any connections to scripture stories or admonitions that I can. I remind the sisters of how this topic relates to the purposes of RS, or our theme for the year (Keeping Covenants) or how they can use it in visiting teaching. Out here I do LOTS of teaching and training in the absolute basics of the gospel. Thanks for sharing all of your ideas, they're great and I'll be incorporating them as I can.

Michaela Stephens said...

Did I mention names, Jocelyn? ;-)

Since you suggest sending it to the Ensign, I will. Just to see what happens.

Yes, it is extra neat to have the opportunity to rely on the Spirit when teaching conference talks.
The thing is, though, that the Spirit best helps us when we have done our part to study things out in our mind. Figuring out how to study the talks in a productive way can be challenging, so this list is meant to give members a starting point of things to try so they can think of good things to share quicker and notice things that should be shared.

I will not say no to teaching something I found online if I'm confident in the source and if I anticipate that it will edify. But I'm not for regurgitating things wholesale without doing the work.

Rozy Lass, that's a neat idea to ask them how the talk relates to RS or the year's theme. Drawing connections between different topics is another useful way to study.

Jocelyn Christensen said...

OH, yeah, doing the "work" beforehand is the thing that allows one to teach conf talks with the spirit. That's when the "magic" happens and it all comes together.

Good thing you sent it in!! I'm sure it'll be helpful to many...plus I alerted an editor I work with at the Friend, so hopefully it'll get in front of the right eyes!

Michaela Stephens said...

Is this a case "I know a friend who knows a friend who knows a friend.."?

Sent it in this morning.

Anonymous said...

I like this perspective given by a previous commenter, namely that the one online "supporting" material that we DO have is the video and audio of the speaker. We often neglect to use this particular tool to invite the spirit into our lessons. Or perhaps we are in a transition phase, still figuring out how to best employ all this great technology!
Great post, and I agree that it would suit the Ensign very well (and be beneficial to every member who studies conference talks). Pretty incredible that you came up with 15 different methods. Wow! - Sara

Michaela Stephens said...

I suppose you are right, that the video and audio of the speaker is supporting material. However, it isn't often practical for lessons to show the whole talk. Somehow there has to be an easy way for members to slice up the talks for use in their lessons.
That reminds me, the church occasionally does Mormon messages using snippets of conference talks and adds extra things that illustrate applications of the principles or dramatizations of the powerful stories. It would be nice if they would provide a link to those Mormon messages on the webpage of the talk.
I agree, we are probably in a transition phase, still figuring out how to use all the technology we have. What an exciting time to be alive!

g.dibble said...

These are awesome tips!! With conference talks it can be hard to know where to start, especially when for other lessons you have a manual that helps lay it all out for you. I used your tips as a starting point for preparing a lesson I did today. I will definitely be referring back to this post in the future. Super insightful, and super helpful. Thanks!

Michaela Stephens said...

g.dibble, thanks for stopping by! And I'm so glad that my list helped.