Are some teaching aids more appropriate than others?

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“Are some teaching aids more appropriate than others?” Ensign, Aug. 1990, 52–53

Are some teaching aids more appropriate than others in teaching children spiritual concepts?

Daryl V. Hoole, Primary General Board. Primary leaders Churchwide prepare prayerfully and carefully to teach and lead in ways that will be for the good of the children. However, well-meaning leaders and teachers sometimes employ teaching methods that are not in the children’s best interests. Among these methods can be the inappropriate use of some types of memory aids and the improper use of competition.

Memory Aids

I find that memory aids are appropriate when used with wisdom and propriety, but they can also be misused and confuse children or cheapen sacred things. For example, when we want children to think of the gift of the Holy Ghost, we do not want them to visualize a wrapped present.

Another method that I think is frequently misused in teaching Primary songs is the use of rebus symbols—pictures that suggest syllables or words in a phrase. The following are examples of rebus I find misleading: a head of lettuce and an iron depicting the words let us all press on; a picture of a bee and a leaf for the word believe; a spear being thrust into an object for “spear-it”/Spirit; and a wrapped stick of gum for “chews,” as in choose the right. Not only can these rebus symbols make indelible and erroneous impressions on children, but they can also interfere with the learning process. Children mentally replace the real meaning of the word with the meaning of the symbols. The rebus for the words let us all press on, for example, allows the image of lettuce and an iron to take the place of an accurate image of persevering.

Rebus symbols are generally not effective in teaching concepts, but are best used in rote memorization. Following are ideas that do contribute to understanding:

  1. Define the term by writing it on a chalkboard and using familiar synonyms to explain its meaning. In the case of “press on,” children would understand an explanation using terms like “to continue,” “to keep going,” or “to not give up.”

  2. Offer examples of what the term means. For example, you could explain that “pressing on” in the work of the Lord means saying your prayers every day, keeping the commandments, and serving others.

  3. Involve the children in the learning process. Ask them to restate the term, or write the lyrics of the song on a chalkboard and then cover them up while they sing.

Using techniques such as these, teachers can help children gradually understand the messages in the songs they sing.


The scriptures teach us that everyone is of equal value before the Lord. Consequently, I believe that Primary is not the place for contests in which there are winners and losers. Children who feel happy and comfortable will want to return every week. These good feelings can be destroyed through competition.

Children’s feelings are tender. One nine-year-old girl left Primary in tears after her incorrect answer in a game caused her team to lose. Another little boy came to equate his worthiness with winning a game—he was certain something was wrong with him when he didn’t earn a point. Still another child refused to sing for several weeks after not winning a “best singer” award. Two little boys were even fighting over who was the most reverent.

How do we measure who is the best singer? How do we measure reverence? Do we always know what is in a child’s heart? Furthermore, some behaviors, such as reverence, should be their own reward. More important, Heavenly Father wants us all to be winners—a principle that should be reflected in Primary.

Children are best encouraged and motivated not through comparing or competing, but through receiving specific and sincere praise. Compliments such as the following lift a child’s self-image: “Kimberly, when you raise your hand and answer questions, it helps everyone,” or “Michael, when you sit quietly and listen, it is easier for me to teach.” Group compliments also encourage. “Did you know, boys and girls,” a music leader might say, “that I feel a thrill when you sing with such expression on your faces and in your voices!”

Many fun, effective teaching methods exist to help motivate children, and it is vitally important that we use them if we are to teach children the lessons the Lord wants them to learn.