Making Isaiah (and the rest of them) FUN

I teach all of the youth in my ward. I suspect this is because nobody else will do it. Also, most of the youth (whether or not I’ve given birth to them) pretty much live at my house. So I am very able to tell them to behave and get a quick response. I want to list a few things which have worked for me in making the scriptures interesting to my kids and then ask for more ideas. Julie Smith, for example, had the great idea of using a “time machine� for helping kids enjoy Isaiah.
Here are a few of my tricks:
Yesterday, I made up a game based on “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire� in order to teach Jeremiah. I had twelve questions. Each question had four possible answers (multiple choice), and each had at least one completely ridiculous answer which was guaranteed to get the kids to smile. For example:
What did the Lord call Jeremiah?
1) My buddy Jerry
2) a righteous dude
3) an iron pillar
4) a smooth stone
Because yesterday was Fast Sunday, I had little “Mormonads� (complete with scriptures) as prizes for those who got their answers right. (I usually have some kind of treat.) When we talked about Jeremiah eating the words of the Lord, I had the students read their scriptures as though they were really delicious. At least one of them got into it thoroughly and kept saying, “Wow. Yum. Oh, this is so good!� Another actually did eat his Mormonad (completely predictable).
I do a match game as well, and have, for example, had my students match the name of the woman in the Bible with the scripture or act most closely associated with her. (Ruth–“Whither thou goest…â€?)
I insist that the kids make some kind of commentary when they answer a game question (WHY would the Lord use the image of an iron pillar?), and they actually come up with some good stuff.
In addition, I use Church video material as much as possible, not just the OT course, but the two available FHE videos. Once, I brought our own video camera and a script I had written about Jonah, including the fish’s perspective. The kids loved recording it and then seeing it the following Sunday.
As much as possible, I make things personal, trying to put my students or myself in the situation of the scriptural characters. I use a lot of stories to illustrate the points being made, but have a goal of putting at least one scripture into the hearts of my kids every Sunday. (And I follow the manual to an extent.)
This is just some of what I do. I’m not sharing it to indicate what a great teacher I am, but as a conversation starter. What things work for any of you involved in maintaining the interest our youth?
If Craig reads this, I’d really like to know how y’all do it in the Presbyterian Church. I admit to having played “O Bless the Lord My Soul� from _Godspell_ when I taught the psalms, but I could’ve gotten into trouble for that. I personally love Christian rock and run the treadmill to “Our God is an Awesome God� etc. When I took my kids to a Black Baptist church, they had a really hard time returning to ours. They loved the music of Calvary Baptist, and the loved the personable style of the pastor.
We need more joy in our worship, more smiles. I want the youth to look forward to Church. I don’t want to hear, “This is boring� too many more times before I die. I want my children and anyone I ever teach to feel the JOY of believing.
Years ago, I taught an essay called “Libido for the Ugly� which described incongruity by saying: “The effect is that of a fat woman with a black eye. It is that of a Presbyterian grinning.�
I am assuming that Presbyterians do grin a lot. I know Baptists do. I think Mormons are often seen as austere and smiling only in nodding approval after a reverent “amen,� though I have seen some great smiles throughout Mormondom.
Well, I want to see more. I certainly want to see every one of my students smiling as they leave my class.

23 comments for “Making Isaiah (and the rest of them) FUN

  1. This is a lovely post and your ward (and the church in general) is lucky to have a teacher willing to go the extra mile to make a class interesting.

    I’ve learned a lot from haunting the “Sunday School Ideas” websites of other Christian churches (and the Jewish equivalent, for that matter). They know that if their children’s Sunday program consists of read-a-verse-and-ask-a-question, people won’t go to their church anymore. Sometimes they take things too far (too goofy, too irreverent) for my tastes, but for the most part, they have incredibly innovative ideas. The Saints can do so, so much better than we are doing teaching children and youth. And we don’t need a change from On High to do it; here’s the list of teaching ideas From the Manual:

    Activity Sheets 159

    Activity Verses 159

    Application Techniques 159

    Attention Activities (Attention Getters) 160

    Audiovisual Materials (Videocassettes and Audio Recordings) 160

    Brainstorming 160

    Buzz Sessions 161

    Case Studies 161

    Chalkboards 162

    Choral Readings 163

    Comparisons and Object Lessons 163

    Demonstrations 164

    Dioramas 165

    Discussions 165

    Dramatizations 165

    Drawing Activities 166

    Examples 167

    Flannel Boards 168

    Games 168

    Guest Speakers 170

    Lectures 170

    Likening 170

    Maps 171

    Memorization 171

    Music 172

    Music with Narratives (Sing-a-Story) 174

    Object Lessons 175

    Overhead Projectors 175

    Panel Discussions 175

    Paper Stand-up Figures 176

    Pictures 176

    Puppets 176

    Questions 177

    Readers’ Theaters 177

    Recitations 177

    Role Playing 178

    Roller Boxes 178

    Scriptures, Marking and Writing Margin Notes 179

    Scriptures, Memorization of 179

    Scriptures, Reading Aloud 179

    Scriptures, Study Helps in 179

    Scriptures, Teaching from 179

    Sing-a-Story 179

    Stations 179

    Stories 179

    Visuals 182

    White Boards 183

    Work Sheets 183

    Pretty much anything you can think of–no matter how unorthodox–could fit into one of those categories and therefore be rendered perfectly kosher.

  2. Flannel Boards 168

    Do these still exist? Perhaps the modern equivalent would be powerpoint or something. We have started a practice of having guest instructors from the RS and HP group to teach the Elders once a month. Last month the RS sister blew us away, two videos on the laptop/projector, a handout/quiz and cookies. The bar has been raised.

  3. Until recently, when our small ward was dissolved and the pieces integrated into two other wards in the stake, I taught the high school age SS class. It was a combined class of the 14-15 and 16-17 year olds. When I first started teaching this past January, I had a total of five students. Two of them, brothers, moved with their family to Utah, and one stopped coming to Church altogether, so since about May I was down to two girls.

    It was an ordeal for me. I’m used to teaching adults, who in general love my lessons. And I had taught the youth SS class as a sub lots of times before, and always had a good experience and rapport with the kids. But this was different. These kids were a little bit younger than what I was used to. And this specific set of kids had no intellectual curiousity whatsoever. None. They didn’t care about the OT *at all*. My first lesson, a bird’s eye view of the OT, was one that the adults or a lot of kids would have loved. But this group sat stone-faced, expressionless, and had zero interest in the subject matter.

    So I struggled for a while. The father of the two boys suggested that maybe it would help to actually cover some controversial issues. So I actually gave a lesson on evolution. A damn fine lesson, if I say so myself. The kids I had taught in the past would have been on the edge of their seats; their parents might have been aghast, but I got no reaction out of the kids. Limited flood? They couldn’t give a flying fig.

    It was a brutal wake up call to me. I love Margaret’s and Julies creative ideas, and with many, perhaps most, kids they would work. I tried a lot of creative stuff, games, that sort of thing, but nothing was getting through; the kids were totally apathetic. (And since I had had lots of success with prior classes, I think it really was just these particular kids who felt that way.)

    So what I ended up doing was basically throwing the course of study, the OT, out the window. Not just the manual, which I pretty much ignore anyway–the entire course of study. The second Sunday of every month we had a class party, and just ate and talked about what was going on in their lives–no lesson at all. The other Sundays, instead of a prepared lesson I simply tried to engage the kids in conversation, and then tried to inject some religion into the conversation wherever and whenever it naturally fit. Not necessarily LDS religion, but just any spirituality at all.

    One of the things I did was “current events” days, where I would bring, say, 10 current events from the news that had something to do with religion, some LDS but others not, and we would discuss them.

    Every class is different. For this one, by painful trial and error, I found that simple conversation was the thing that helped me to reach them. And I think I was reaching them towards the end of our time together.

    But it was brutal. I have the *utmost* respect for those who teach the youth and somehow manage to do it effectively.

  4. Hi Margaret, thanks for the post.

    In our class we co-wrote the following verse to the song “Follow the Prophet.” The lyrics aren’t worth repeating, but we had an ok time generating them.

    Jeremiah was a prophet, called when just a boy,
    Doom and gloom he prophesied, his kings he did annoy.

    They threw him in the dungeon, and left him in the mire
    The Ethiopian eunuch saved him, he dropped down a line

    [yes, we need a better line here, but that’s the level of song-writing quality you get in SS when sacrament meeting runs late]

    Haul up the prophet, haul up the prophet, haul up the prophet, don’t let him rot.
    Pull up the prophet, pull up the prophet, Pull up the prophet, he’s what we’ve got!

    (alternatively, “he’s all we’ve got,” “he’s the best we’ve got, etcâ€?)

  5. Kevin, I LOVE the “current events” days idea. I will definitely try that. And I would have loved to hear your evolution lesson.
    I teach 12-18-year-olds, and you’re right that apathy is a major problem–plus that they’ve already sat through an hour’s worth of talks probably been nudged awake by a conscientious mother. Fortunately, I live in an area of town where exciting things are always happening. So I start a lesson by saying something like, “Remember when the bishop’s house burned down? Those flames went 70′ high! Do you know why? Because the propane tanks exploded. Now, Jeremiah says the word of God is like fire in your bones…”
    Julie, what’s this manual you’re talking about? Will it come up if I google “Sunday School Ideas”?
    And Stirling, that sounds just like you! I will try that one too. I’ve got some very creative kids in my class. they would do something amazing, I’m sure.

  6. Margaret, at the risk of sounded affected, I adore this post. First, you have some really wonderful, creative ideas. Second, because you inspire me with you dedication.

    Last, but not least, you used “Bless the Lord.” My third daughter won the Alpine Superstar vocal competition last year (at age 11) singing that very song and now my swing choir sings it, with her soloing. I love, love, love that song and most of that entire score. I was (finally) introduced to it two years ago when my eldest daughter played an apostle in her high school’s performance of it. (Her solo was “Learn Your Lessons Well.”)

    Admittedly, I tend to lean to the Gladys Knight line of thought that says Mormons need a little more oopmh in their music. But sometimes I’m utterly dismayed at our lack of…dare I say “diversity” in music?

    A number of years ago I taught my very multi-cultural young women “Ain’t Got Time to Die” for singing trees at YW camp. It was the stake smash hit single that year. When I tried to teach it to my new ward’s YW in Eagle Mountain, Utah, I got two responses:

    “That song is blasphemous.”
    “Why are we singing this? There aren’t any blacks in this ward.”

    Oh, does eye rolling count as a third response?

    Explaining that I learned the song when we sang it in BYU’s a cappella choir did nothing to change their minds. Ugh.

  7. Presbyterians grinning? I think not! There’s a reason those old Calvinists got dubbed the frozen chosen! They would be absolutely horrified by all our informality and getting to know one another!

  8. J. Stapley asks, “Flannel Boards . . . Do these still exist?”

    Oh ye of little faith:

    I bring my flannel board to Primary a lot. What has surprised me most is how well the little ones can follow a scripture story if they can just see it and I have also been amazed that the older ones (even the budding-cynic 10 year old boys) have made positive comments about it. But I have also done PowerPoint presentations in Primary, so there you go.

    Margaret asks, “Julie, what’s this manual you’re talking about?”

    That big list is from Teaching, No Greater Call which is the reference one is supposed to use to figure out how to teach a scripture story to children. Contrary to popular belief, the teacher isn’t supposed to just go down the list of questions in the manual. Each Primary lesson is prefaced with this statement: “Study the lesson and decide how you want to teach the children the scripture account (see “Preparing Your Lessons,â€? p. vi, and “Teaching from the Scriptures,â€? p. vii).” Those sections say “Try different ways of presenting the material to keep the children’s interest. The following suggestions can help you use a variety of methods as you teach” and then follows a list of over a dozen different teachings ideas. (I know that you already know this Margaret, but I’m in the Primary Pres. and so I visit each class quarterly and it continually disappoints me to see teachers just going down the list of questions in the manual.)

  9. Alison, I adore that you’re teaching THAT music!! Btw, did any of you catch the Tab Choir on Oct. 29th? ALL spirituals, with Pam Laws of Florida soloing. The reason they did that is because we had the Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society conference in SLC, and one of the organizers is a member of the Mo Tab. (She’s white, but most AAHGS folks are Black.) When Craig Jessop learned that the AAHGS members would be attending the live broadcast, and that a request had come in for at least one spiritual, he decided they’d devote the whole broadcast to Spirituals. They were all familiar ones, but beautifully done. After the broadcast, all of us AAHGS members then went to Calvary Baptist Church for our final session. (That was where my kids came into contact with that great choir.)
    (Sorry I just thread-jacked my own post.)
    Hope you can catch it on re-broadcast.
    P.S. to TMD–I really hope Craig V. responds to “the frozen chosen” idea.

  10. J. Stapley- Not only do they exist, but I think they are regaining popularity (like pegged pants, and leg warmers). One ward I was in had a RS craft day where flannel boards were among the crafts, then I moved to another ward and learned that they had just made flannel boards there too.

  11. “Flannel Boards 168 — Do these still exist? Perhaps the modern equivalent would be powerpoint or something.”

    It’s been a few years since I taught Primary or YW, but not so long ago that the kids weren’t already overdosing on high tech entertainment. Sometimes the low tech fascinates them by contrast. They groan when the flannel board comes out, but their eyes never leave the cutouts, either.

    For variety, tape a toothpick to each figure so that you have a spike at the bottom, then pose the figures in sheets of styrofoam — it adds a 3D element and works really well for “long and narrow” stories like the iron rod dream (you can put up a yarn “iron rod” on toothpicks and display the spacious building, mists of darkness, tree of life, and so on at different points along the rod) or stories where action is occurring at two places simultaneously (have one sheet of styrofoam for the Holy Family in Bethlehem and escaping to Egypt, and another piece for the simultaneous action around Herod or the wise men).

    What the manual calls a “roller box” also works well for novelty. You mount pictures illustrating a story on a long scroll of paper (wrapping paper, or shelf liner), with a stick in each end of the scroll that is mounted to a box; the box is decorated to look like a TV with the screen area cut out. As you roll the scroll from one side to the other, different scenes appear in the cutout area. (Mine is a finely balanced wooden “little theater” that my dad built, with satin curtains on each side of a fancy cut-out proscenium. Same idea, but with my dad’s expert touch.) Sometimes I bought two copies of a child’s book (you need two copies so you can show the illustrations on both sides of the pages, which get glued to the roll of paper), and sometimes I had the kids color coloring book outlines or else draw figures for a story one week, which I turned into a little theater presentation for the following week — a great way to review a story, and it kept their interest a second time because each child was watching for his own pictures or taking turns telling the story and turning the rollers.

    You might be embarrassed by the homemade quality or the simplicity of things like that, but if you don’t act embarrassed or as if there were something to apologize for, most kids will listen and enjoy after a certain amount of teasing. The novelty catches ’em first, then the familiarity of seeing something again that no other class uses catches ’em a second and third time.

  12. No, I missed the broadcast you spoke of. What bothers me more is that my own sister didn’t TELL me about it. She knows how I love spirituals and she’s in the MoTab. Hmph. Nora gets coal for Christmas this year!

    Last note on the jacked thread: the WEEK after my YW turned their noses up at my spiritual, Gladys Knight brought her choir to the Conference Center for the priesthood commemoration. My, did I laugh.

    Back to the topic, one of the best ways I ever reached youth was to play devil’s advocate. It was absolutley stunning how well they could teach my lessons for me when they thought they were arguing with me. Believe it or not, I once even had a 16-year-old tell the rest of the class, “Your parents know more than you do because they have more experience. If you don’t listen to them, you’re stupid.” My jaw is still on the floor.

    Kevin, I thought *I* had taught tough groups! I would guess that you are doing (did?) just what is needed to gain repoire with the class. In my experience, once they have tested and tried you (assuming you pass the tests), they trust you. THEN you can really teach.

    One of my favorite students was a kid who I had been warned about repeatedly when I was called–his parents even approached me in desperation. But he went from being a smart-mouthed, disgruntled, leaning-up-against-the-back-wall annoyance, to being the kid first in the room. He would stand at the door and say, “Welcome to the philosophy of religion class!” to the other kids as they arrived. No, he didn’t become an apostle, but he did soften his heart enough to really hear learn some things about the gospel and he contributed to the class a great deal.

    Wish I’d had more of Margaret’s great ideas back then!

  13. Oh, in January my online book club will be reading “Isaiah for Airheads.” (I realize none of you qualify, but I’d welcome your input if you’ve read it.) I’m thinking that if it becomes fun for *me* I’ll have a better chance of passing that on.

  14. Actually, Gladys brought her group to the tabernacle. It was an official Genesis meeting (June 2003). We asked if she would consider using the Conference Center so we could accommodate more people, but she insisted on the tabernacle because of its amazing acoustics. It was a phenomenal night. My co-author, Darius Gray, conducted the meeting–and was released from his calling as Genesis president the next month. I’ve always wondered if we were perceived as too rowdy. No matter, Gladys and the SUV Choir are now one of the Church’s great missionary tools. They did a performance at the Washington DC Visitors’ Center this summer and 400 referrals came out of it. (Of course, each referral was promised a free CD, so I’m not sure if they were more excited about the music or the message.)
    Ardis, your ideas are splendid. My head is spinning with possibilities.

  15. When teaching Seminary, I found it helpful to bring up episodes of The Simpson’s. There is no moral principle that cannot be illustrated by something from the Simpson’s.

    It works in reverse–I once had to explain schadenfreude to the class–don’t ask why. But one of the students butted in–he already knew. No German student he, so I asked where he’d learned it:

    “The Simpson’s”

    By the way, I’ve always felt that Jeremiah was a “fun guy.” It helps to call him “Jer” and, if possible, get the kids to start chanting “Jerry, Jerry” when you get stuck on something.

  16. This may show my poor taste, but to make Jeremiah engaging for the kids this week, I exagerated a bit and said mire was mud and poop. Apparantly Jeremiah neck deep in crap got their attention…

  17. Ah, Margaret, I stand corrected. I was merely the one who spent the internet time to get the tickets, then handed them over to my husband and children (limit of four, if I recall). I stayed home with the little guys. (My kids think I’m utterly selfless, but really I just crave the near silence that a nearly empty house brings.)

    Anyway…my husband and three teens went and still rave about it.

  18. Matt W. is on to something.

    If we highlight the earthy or sexual images in the scriptures, especially the Old Testament, what was a long and, frankly, uninteresting text comes to life.

    Your students may not care why David chose not to do Saul in while he was “cover[ing] his feet” in the cave, but they’ll always remember what Saul was doing there.

    They may not remember why certain of the house of Jeroboam were cursed, but you’ll have a hard time getting them to stop talking about those who “piss[] against the wall.” You may have to stop the boys from boasting about abilities that they have that the girls just missed out on.

    The girls may get their revenge when they learn the sex of the bears that enforced the “don’t mock the prophet” rule for Elisha.

    And, finally, don’t let them wander too far down the road in figuring out what the Lord meant when he said he would (or wouldn’t) discover their secret parts. (Compare Isa. 3:17 to D&C 111:4.) Help them learn what “discover” meant in 1600, and they’ll be off on a discovery tour of their own.

    But for heaven’s sake don’t get them started on emerods. Or why you’d make some golden ones.

  19. Mark B–So you think we should highlight the sexual images in the scriptures to build interest among the youth? Well, there’s certainly room to do that when we’re teaching the OT. Tamar, Bathsheba, Rahab, Judah, Rueben etc. And then there’s Onan. Onan, as you recall “spilt his seed on the ground” rather than risking impregnating Tamar. He was struck down because of this, which was regarded a betrayal of his duty. So how do you tell the youth about coitus interruptus and the divine retribution it might incur? That could be a very interesting lesson indeed. I’ll bet Stirling could write a song fit for MTV for that one.
    I remember my seminary teacher going through the Onan passage. Someone asked, “‘He spilt his seed’? What the heck does that mean?”
    The teacher said, “Well, that’s what the scriptures say. He spilt it on the ground.”
    “The scriptures just say that he spilt it on the ground…”
    I’m trying to remember if my teacher was blushing during that lesson.

  20. Mark B.- I do have to admit that the 16-18 year old group go for that kind of stuff.. I don’t have to bring it up, they bring questions about it to class.

    Now the 14-16 year old group, they want poop and killing and fart jokes.


  21. Well, Margaret, I’m not sure that you should, but you’d certainly pique their interest. And, it would help them to realize that they’re not unique in having particular interest in bodily functions (whether excretory or reproductive).

    I like your seminary teacher–Onan story. That should be warning to the seminary teachers of the church: Don’t go there if you’re not willing to go all the way. (Which, if you think about it, may have been the lesson Onan’s survivors were supposed to learn.)

    Matt W. Take the 14-16 year olds, and try to figure out where the euphemism “cover his feet” came from, or turn to Deut. 23:13 for a lesson on basic cleanliness that would apply to all those boys at scout camp:

    And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee.

    Just think if those boys learned to substitute for a certain four-letter word the euphemism “that which cometh from thee.” What progress! Coach Martinez, the wrestling coach at dear old PHS, could have cleaned up his speech by exclaiming: “Oh that which cometh from thee sakes” and the fairy which led them to the state championship in 1970 would no longer be the OSS fairy, but the OTWCFTS fairy.

  22. I’m in awe of anybody who can teach. Anybody, anything. I sort of suck at it.

    I taught Sunday School for the 15 year olds for several months before I was called into a presidency and I actually enjoyed that. It was on the New Testament, which I love. I’d researched the apostles, where they died, their ministries, etc. Mostly, I just tried to make it relevant to the lives of the kids and we just sat and rapped. Wassssupppp? Sort of.

    But one lesson I taught had those kids at hello. I was a sub and the lesson was on the word of wisdom I knew those kids well and I knew none of them had a word of wisdom problem. Perhaps that was to come, but they’d been taught and I felt anything I could say would be redundant.

    So, after and with the scriptures and lesson references, I changed the lesson to “Three things good kids do that are against the word of wisdom.” These were, not wearing seatbelts and driving unsafely, not getting enough sleep (all those kids had jobs along with school) and the last, commit suicide.

    I was careful in my presentation, especially not to glorify suicide. I wanted them to realize how much that hurts other.

    It occurs to me now that I could have added unsafe sex and eating disorders to my list of things good kids do that are harmful, but those didn’t occur to me at the time.

    The kids sat up, listened, and participated. What I will never forget is the son of one of the most active, stalwart, and probably perfectionistic and controlling, families in our ward, started to cry when we talked about suicide. I emphasized again and again that their pain would not go away if their mortal body died, there was no escape except to work things out.

    I wrote to that boy while he was on his mission and I made it a point to be extra friendly with him. He’s still alive, that was eight years ago.

    Well, I didn’t mean to write a book.

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