“How can I help my students apply the principles of the lessons in their lives?” Ensign, Mar. 1985, 28–29
Kathryn M. Kleekamp, institute instructor, Bedford, Massachusetts. The emphasis in gospel instruction is clear: In every lesson we teach, we are to communicate truth—gospel principles, doctrine, and history—and our witness of Jesus Christ. Our presentation of these truths and testimony are geared toward a change in behavior, an attempt to inspire students to alter their lives for the better. That is one of the reasons the Church manuals and courses of study are written as they are. If students are to benefit from these lessons, therefore, they must be able to feel their testimonies being strengthened by the witness of gospel truths, or see how to implement in their own lives the principles being taught.
The ideal class would be one in which these aims are accomplished: Under the inspiration of the Spirit of the Lord, the teacher (1) presents truths, and (2) gives the members of the class an opportunity to discuss ways to make the principles part of their lives.
Most of us sincerely want to live the principles of the gospel. But sometimes we lack the understanding, motivation, or discipline to actually implement them in our lives. Unless we discuss matters realistically in our gospel classes—beyond statements of ideal behavior—we as teachers aren’t being as effective as we could be.
A method that has worked for me as a teacher is to present the lesson material as outlined in the lesson manual, then make time for class discussions based on the following three topics:
1. The obstacles that may prevent us from implementing the gospel principle being discussed.
2. Ways to overcome the obstacles.
3. The benefits of incorporating the principle in our lives.
Let’s suppose, for example, that the lesson is about keeping a journal. After presenting the basic points of the lesson, you could then ask the class to consider some obstacles: “Why is it difficult for some to keep a journal?” Or “What are the obstacles that prevent us from writing regularly?” These questions allow the class members an opportunity to identify with the topic of the lesson and, in a comfortable atmosphere, discuss possible obstacles, such as “It’s difficult to find the time.”
If an issue more sensitive than writing in a journal is being considered, you should present the obstacles in a way that the students don’t have to expose themselves. For example, you could think through the issue beforehand and state reasonable obstacles. If you know your students well, you will be able to pinpoint the real obstacles they may be experiencing in their lives rather than using trite or contrived excuses. You could talk to various individuals before the class, and then in class state the obstacles they mention in a general way without labeling the sources. A third method is to use role-play or dramatization, allowing class members to act out life’s situations.
Discussing obstacles is an important step. If you concentrate only on the idealistic approach, you run the risk of turning off those who feel alienated, inadequate, or alone in their struggles. But by openly recognizing impediments, class members come to realize that others, too, are experiencing struggles and challenges similar to their own.
On the other hand, it would be unwise to dwell on obstacles too long or to get bogged down in discussions of mediocre behavior. Move the discussion quickly to ways to deal with these obstacles productively. This allows an opportunity for those who have had success to share their insights and experiences. For example: “Although I don’t have much time to write, I consistently try to record just one significant event of my day.”
Anticipating the various obstacles that members may have with the principle, you could come to class prepared to share examples of others who have been successful. For example, in the case of journal writing, you could share the words of President Spencer W. Kimball: “There have been times when I have been so tired at the end of a day that the effort could hardly be managed, but I am so grateful that I have not let slip away from me and my posterity those things which needed to be recorded.” (Ensign, Oct. 1980, p. 72.)
The third step is to consider the benefits of obeying the principle. This allows the discussion to end on a positive, encouraging, spiritual note. Here you and other class members can point out through testimony, personal experience, counsel of our leaders, or the teachings of the Savior the value of implementing the gospel principle in our lives.
This simple three-part plan—a discussion of obstacles, of how to deal with them, and of the benefits of obedience—is one that can be adapted to almost any principle of the gospel. It helps capture student interest, provides for discussion, and allows time for the expression of feelings and concerns. However, it can lose its effectiveness if used too often. And it may not be effective at all for some lessons.
Whatever approach you use, try to help your students see the relevance of gospel principles in their lives. The classroom should be a forum of sincere communication, a source of trust, support, and encouragement, in which the sharing of important information is coupled with efforts for improvement in people’s lives.