“As a Primary teacher, what is appropriate for me to do when I finish before class time ends?” Ensign, June 1986, 26–27
Kathryn Christensen Harris, former member of the Primary General Board, now on a mission in Kentucky. The purpose of the Primary lessons is to teach children the gospel of Jesus Christ and to help them learn to live it. Since classes vary in size, background, and interest, the time it takes to present the prepared lessons will vary.
Each lesson has a stated purpose; everything in the lesson should help teach that gospel principle. Since we as teachers are encouraged to present the lessons as outlined in the manual, I recommend that we expand the existing lesson, rather than bringing in a lot of extra material to fill up the class time. Following are ways to make the entire class time meaningful for the children:
1. Discuss their activities and interests. It is important for you to know your class members—their backgrounds, interests, abilities, and the current happenings affecting their lives. This information is basic to modifying and expanding lesson materials. During the first few minutes of class time, ask the children to share important things happening in their lives. Invite them to discuss their concerns and questions.
2. Use questions effectively. Since nearly all lessons involve discussion, your skill and effectiveness in asking good questions and involving class members in the discussion can make a great difference in the success of the lesson. Use questions that require thought and discussion, rather than yes/no or simple answers. Ask such questions as “What do you think … ?” “Would you please explain … ?” “Why do you think … ?” Children will respond best if you recognize and value their answers.
3. Repeat learning activities and stories. Children will repeat the things they enjoy doing. By repeating some of the learning activities in the lesson, you will be reinforcing the gospel principle as well as expanding the lesson.
A good story, too, is worth repeating. Following the first telling, have a class member retell it, or have one class member begin, and others continue one by one until it is finished. Make some stories open-ended (stop before the story is completed) and take time for several class members to tell how they think it should end. Have the children role play a story or a situation. Role playing is most successful when the children are very familiar with the story and you have reviewed the sequence of events, the character traits of the people in the story, and the reasons things happened. If your class is small, you could be one of the characters or the narrator, and class members could take more than one part. Most important, follow up the role playing with a discussion about reactions and feelings.
4. Help class members identify with the people in the story. Ask such questions as “What kind of person would you be if you were like _______? or “Why would you like to be like ______? or “What would happen in your life if you did the same thing?”
5. Use pictures to involve class members. Pictures help children identify individuals, stories, and scenes. But they can also be used as springboards into further discussion. Occasionally ask the children to tell what happened just before and what is likely to happen right after what is shown in the picture.
6. Encourage the children in their artwork. When young children draw or color, encourage them to take time to do their best. Know what the age-group is capable of and call attention to simple skills which will help them improve their work. Have extra paper or copies handy in case some want to do another one; then give a positive challenge to do it “even better” this time. When they have completed their work, have each child show and tell about his or her work.
7. Extend the use of music in the lesson. Sing songs or hymns more than once, memorize the words, and discuss the meaning of words and the messages of the text.
8. Extend the use of the scriptures. By using the scriptures suggested in the lesson in ways that are appropriate to the age-group, you can help the children be excited and comfortable using them. For example: (a) before reading quotations directly from the scriptures, identify the book, chapter, and verse, and show where it is located; (b) have the children practice locating the scripture; (c) help them understand the background of the scripture being used; (d) have a scripture chase using references from the lesson.
9. Encourage memorization. Take time to help the children memorize important things from the lesson or items related to the lesson, such as names of the books in the scripture being used, the Presidents of the Church, quotations from Church leaders, and Articles of Faith. Simple games can make this learning more exciting. Review frequently the things they have memorized in the past.
10. Use games. Adapt a game or activity from a previous lesson to the content of the current lesson.
Every person who is called as a teacher has much to bring personally to his or her assignment—experience, awareness, personality traits, testimony, faith. All of these attributes can contribute greatly to the printed words in the lesson manual. As you are faithful in your calling, and as you prayerfully seek help from the Lord, you will be strengthened in your ability to use class time effectively and to influence for good those you teach.