17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

From the Tales Inbox: Ideas for Teaching

When I first was called to teach the oldest girls in primary, I thought, this will be a breeze. The girls are so well behaved and smart, it should be easy, right? I started out teaching like I'd done previously when substituting in primary---have the kids take turns reading the lesson from the scriptures, ask the questions the manual provides, fill up extra time with Hangman.

What a disaster. They weren't interested in reading out loud, instead they just wanted to jabber about school. It was impossible to get them to focus on the lesson. Finally, someone would answer a question I'd pose, and they'd rattle off the entire lesson in a few sentences. Most of the attention activities in the manual are *way* below these kids. And half the class knows everything already!

I clearly had to get creative. I started looking in the manual for ways to present the scripture stories besides just having them read it. I have my five staples which I will list below, but

the problem is, I feel like if we do the same things every Sunday, they'll get bored of it. I need more ideas. I'm sure there's lots of great teachers out there---what have you done to make it interesting?

Some of the ideas I've used that have been successful:
  • Have the kids act out the lesson. It works best if you make up a script beforehand with copies for everyone. If it's mostly narration and not actual speaking parts, I'll mark the lines as "Narrator" and have the girls take turns being Narrator. They LOVE it. I take the scripts entirely from the scriptures, often with no editing at all. Occasionally I'll have to make up lines, like if the scriptures say Laman and Lemuel "murmured against their brother," I'll fill in a few lines of what they might have complained about. The girls love to adlib as well.
  • Have the girls be news reporters doing interviews. First time I tried this, I wrote up some questions, and they took turns interviewing me. What an easy way to tell them the entire lesson! They loved it. Second time, I wrote up questions and answers for the girls, and they interviewed each other. I have a couple girls who don't like reading out loud or acting things out, so they took turns operating the "camera," which was an antique film camera on a mini tripod with a large viewfinder.
  • Invite other adults into the class to read a quote or lead the kids in singing a hymn. It helps to have some variety like this, and if the adult is one of the kids' parents, that's fun for them, too.
  • Play a matching game. I've done this with scriptures directly from the lesson, but instead of having the two cards match each other, I have the matching cards be the first and second half of a scripture. Makes it trickier. Last time I did this I had a ton of cards, so we laid them out in separate areas---one area was the beginning of the line and the second was the last part of the line. They all really wanted to know what the first half of "as a drunken man" was. ("The earth shall tremble and reel to and fro as a drunken man.")
  • Play a game asking questions. This Sunday I have a bunch of questions on index cards with multiple choice answers listed. I've made enough that we're covering the entire lesson this way. A couple of the cards, instead of having questions, have scenes for the girls to act out
Here are some more ideas I've tried that aren't in the manual:
  • A sort-of treasure hunt. For the lesson on Paul's missionary travels, I printed out the scripture accounts of what he did in different places, and left them all over the building. Each one would end with a clue to where the next would be found. I'm not sure I'll dothis again any time soon, although the girls loved it---I now sometimes have an autistic girl in my class who likes to wander off, and I'd be nervous about it.
  • Write an important scripture from the lesson on the board, but scramble the letters. Works for a good attention activity. Got this from a blog post I read somewhere awhile ago, sorry can't remember where.
  • Play a board game. I printed out a generic board game I found online and we just use colored paper clips for their pieces (they like to mangle them into different shapes). Then I print out questions on cards that detail the lesson. Some of the questions will have extrathings like "read the quote in envelope #1 and tell us what you would do..." etc.
  • I like to immerse the girls in the lesson story. For Lehi's dream, I made up different things for the different symbols, and had the girls read the dream, and as we read, they took turns building the dream symbols around us. A poster board of the great and spacious building, some blue paper cut in curves for the river, a tree on poster board (I let them draw the fruit), etc. Then I passed out cards with the meanings of the different symbols and had them each place the cards with the symbol they thought it represented. (This might sound impressive but if you actually saw my artwork, it wasn't so much.) Then we talked about the symbols.
  • Also, every Sunday have a "teacher's helper." The girls take turns each Sunday being the helper. The helper says opening prayer, passes out anything that needs to be passed out, does any writing on the chalkboard, etc. The girls love it and it's been influential in getting one girl whose parents are inactive to actually say the prayer---she never would before. We go in order of age to make it easy to remember who's next.
I want to start having a wrap up at the end of the class where I can reiterate to the girls the main point of the lesson. This is something I've never managed to do, simple as it sounds! I'd like to have it be something somewhat formal we do---with a name for it. I keep thinking of calling it "Final Thoughts" but that's what Jerry Springer uses! Any ideas? I'd love to be able to have the girls do it, too, not just me. If I make it sound important they'll want to do it, for sure. Maybe assign it to the teacher's helper. Or maybe assign it to someone else so two people get special jobs, I don't know.

I've never taught or attending a teenage Sunday School class, but feel free to offer suggestions for that too. I know my kids, who are teenagers, always complain about the other kids in the class not paying attention and just chatting the whole time. Teenagers seem like a unique challenge! I don't envy those teachers.

You can read more from Susan M at Nine Moons or Strange Pulse


  • "Animate" the story. Take key scenes and draw them out, set the pictures up in order (one behind the other) and have the kids remove each scene when you give the sign. My students loved it and my art style is half a step up from stick-people at best.
    posted by Anonymous Proud Daughter of Eve at 2/21/2008 03:09:00 PM  

  • That's an awesome idea. I might try having my kids do the drawings...and do it so they can't see what each other are doing. Then the reveal will more interesting for them.
    posted by Blogger Susan M at 2/21/2008 04:03:00 PM  

  • Be sure the kids are already familiar with the story first. Also be on the look-out for smart-alecs. I tried having them do their own drawings and that didn't work too well for me, but I had a class of smart-alecs and semi-active families.

    When I was teaching, I tried hard for student involvement but the kids just proved to me how very wise it is to have someone in charge. There's a lot I wish I knew about engaging the kids and keeping discipline; I know you can manage it but it seemed every little bit of rope I gave them in hopes of helping them with "concept attainment*" learning just ended up around my neck.

    *buzzword from my husband's teaching courses.
    posted by Anonymous Proud Daughter of Eve at 2/21/2008 06:13:00 PM  

  • Wow!

    So many great ideas. I just got called back to the primary after 10 years and it's been difficult trying to figure out how to teach sharing time to a group of kids age 3-11. I can see adapting a lot of these ideas and making them work.

    Sorry I don't have any ideas to reciprocate!
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 2/22/2008 01:59:00 PM  

  • It actually sounds like you have TONS of good ideas!

    In primary I've only taught sunbeams, but I've been in YW a while, so I have a few things that work with them I guess. I always have an "attention getter" at the beginning of the lesson to get them involved. Sometimes they do role-playing, or a guest speaker will come in, or I'll have them write down questions about a specific topic as it relates to their own lives, or a journaling exercise. I've also brought in questionaires or fun quizzes that I'll write up that pertains to the lesson. I don't know if that works as well with younger ones, but I think that when you have them write at the beginning of the lesson it gets them thinking about the topic you're teaching as it relates to their actual lives.

    I had them do commercials once in teams and that was really fun. They had to do an ad campaign convincing me and the other leaders why we should read our scriptures, or pay tithing, etc. You could even video tape it and play it back. We've also done jeopardy games and I will raid the dollar bin at Target for little prizes. I think trying to incorporate real acts of service is good too. Like doing a little service project as a class. Maybe making thank-you cards for the primary presidency or something.

    But like I said, I think you already have way more ideas than anything I've come up with. They're lucky to have such a great teacher. Good Luck!
    posted by Blogger Beth at 2/22/2008 02:01:00 PM  

  • For a wrap-up activity, how about a class journal? They could date it at the top then write one or two sentences about what was learned that week. My friend who teaches Kindergarten does this at the end of each day and then the kids take it home so they can talk to their parents about what happened during the day. If your class keeps a journal like this, maybe they will start to think about how cool journal keeping can be.
    LisaC (sorry...too lazy to sign in through my blog. :)
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 2/23/2008 06:24:00 PM  

  • An idea from grad school: "exit tickets," where students have to write down 2 things they learn on an index card before they leave. Also, if you run out of time or they seem to already "know everything," what about working in partners to memorize a scripture from the lesson?
    posted by Blogger JessK at 2/26/2008 03:14:00 PM  

  • Thanks for the ideas. The journal was something I've already been considering. The "exit tickets" is cool, too. I might combine them somehow. I'm thinking of making a
    "people in the BOM chart" and adding to it every lesson. I myself get confused with who's who sometimes.
    posted by Blogger Susan M at 2/27/2008 08:17:00 AM  

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