“Building a Lesson from Teachings of Presidents of the Church,” Ensign, June 2004, 62–66
Most building projects begin with two things: a set of building materials—such as boards, nails, and shingles—and a blueprint showing how to put the materials together.
Building a lesson from Teachings of Presidents of the Church (the Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society course of study) is another kind of project. You have building materials, of course—the Teachings book, the scriptures, and your own and your quorum or class members’ testimonies and experiences in gospel living. But where is the blueprint showing you exactly how to put these materials together into an inspiring lesson?
Most other Church manuals do contain an outline showing how to teach each concept. But the Teachings of Presidents of the Church volumes are personal resource books—as well as manuals—and they do not contain lesson plans. So when you prepare a Teachings lesson, you are the architect as well as the builder.
This task might seem daunting—especially if you haven’t had a lot of teaching experience. But designing your own lesson plan gives you great flexibility to “build to suit” the needs of your class. And following a few simple principles can make preparing an inspiring, relevant lesson a task you can accomplish.
Always begin lesson preparation with prayer. To all teachers, the Lord has given a comforting promise, along with a caution: “The Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). Praying for the influence of the Holy Ghost as you choose how to teach the lesson is an indispensable first step. It can make all the difference between an uninspiring lesson and one that will be a vehicle for true gospel learning. Sister Karen Knickerbocker, serving in the Micronesia Guam Mission, finds that her most valuable lesson preparation is “constantly praying for the sisters’ ears and hearts to be opened for understanding.”
Plan a discussion, not a lecture. “An effective Teachings lesson is usually more of a discussion than a tightly structured presentation,” explains R. Val Johnson, former manager of core curriculum in the Church Curriculum Department. Instead of thinking of yourself as a lecturer who must be prepared to answer every possible question, think of yourself as a guide on a journey of discovery. Your role is not to give a history lesson or even a lesson about the prophet’s life. Nor is your job to create a lesson from other sources on the topic of your lesson found in the Teachings manual. Your role is at once more simple and more profound: to guide class members in discovering and applying to their own lives truths revealed by a prophet.
Before class, read the assigned chapter completely, marking quotations that especially impress you. Often a chapter in Teachings contains far too much material to teach effectively in one class period. Marking the quotations that seem especially important will help you make your final selection of what to read and discuss.
Choose the quotations you will use for the lesson. These quotations will be the core content you will plan to cover in your lesson. The topical headings in the chapter and the questions at the end can help you make your selection. In your planning, remember that you and the class members can spend time discussing how the quotations apply to our lives. Consider also that your assignment is not just to discuss a gospel topic, but to discuss the given prophet’s teachings on that topic.
Find scriptures that support the topic. Because the scriptures are the words of the Lord, they bring His Spirit into the classroom. “The scriptures add depth and insight to the discussion,” observes Rodrigo Durán of the Providencia Ward, Santiago Chile Las Condes Stake.
Plan an attention-getting introduction. The first two minutes of any lesson are critical. It is usually during these 120 seconds that class members decide whether or not they will devote their mental energy to the lesson. To introduce one Relief Society lesson, Roxana San Martín de Seguel of the Providencia Ward, Santiago Chile Las Condes Stake, passed a mirror around and asked the sisters to tell what they saw in it. “A face,” said one. “A daughter of God,” said another. The class members were instantly involved, and the lesson began with a wonderful spirit, Sister de Seguel recalls.
Select teaching methods appropriate for the topic. Object lessons, thought-provoking questions, role plays, and many other techniques can create interest and motivation to learn. For ideas on teaching methods, see Teaching, No Greater Call (item no. 36123) or the Teaching Guidebook (item no. 34595).
Apply, apply, apply. Applying lesson concepts to real life is perhaps the most crucial part of any lesson. It may also take the most thought and planning. But unless students make connections between gospel truths and their own lives, the lesson may remain merely an intellectual exercise.
Vital Jonel of the Petit Goave Branch, Haiti Port-au-Prince Mission, explains how using appropriate personal experiences brings the Spirit into his classroom: “I ask for examples from the lives of the class members. These stories edify, as well as inform and hold the attention of the class. An appropriate story, drawn from personal experience and confirmed by a testimony of the heart, will help carry the message of the lesson.”
Choose some questions ahead of time. You might consider questions that will help your students think about how a principle applies to people in different circumstances. Consider choosing some of your discussion questions from those at the end of each chapter. One Relief Society teacher says, “I like to ask questions that can be answered at least in part by a particular quotation. If class members don’t immediately offer their ideas, we read the quote to see what the prophet has taught. His words often jog memories, prompting class members to share their own insights and experiences.” You might also want to assign a class member to read part of the lesson in advance and report to the class insights relating to that topic.
Bear your own testimony, and give others the opportunity to do so. Sharing testimonies can help your students make the crucial step from learning to application. President Gordon B. Hinckley explained that if teachers will speak from their hearts, “it will catch fire in the hearts of those they teach.”1
Encourage class members to study the lesson before class and to discuss it at home afterward. A schedule of reading assignments can help those serving in the Primary, Young Women, and Young Men organizations to keep on track studying the chapters at home. Those attending the class might benefit from a reading schedule as well—and the suggestion that they study the lesson and bring their manuals to class. It may be easier for them to contribute to the discussion if they have their manuals in front of them and are familiar with the material. They may even find that they are more receptive to the promptings of the Spirit and more willing to share their own insights. You might also suggest that class members discuss the lesson with their spouse, roommates, or friends before and after class. That way, they can continue to see implications for their lives.
Each time you plan and teach a lesson from one of the books in the Teachings of Presidents of the Church series, you are building something of eternal worth. In a time when men and women need the steadying, anchoring words of God’s prophets as never before, it is your great privilege to build faith in the Lord, to build understanding of His gospel, and to build strength of spirit to follow His teachings today.
“Being a teacher is wonderful!” says Patricia Arancibia de Moya of El Labrador Ward, Santiago Chile Vicuña Mackenna Stake. “If we prepare to give a lesson in the right way by seeking the guidance of the Spirit through prayer, our knowledge of the Savior grows. We feel how beautiful the gospel is. And when we bear our testimonies to the people we teach, we are able to touch their hearts because the Holy Spirit testifies to each of them of these eternal truths.”
“The goal of gospel teaching today … is not to ‘pour information’ into the minds of class members. It is not to show how much the teacher knows, nor is it merely to increase knowledge about the Church. The basic goal of teaching in the Church is to help bring about worthwhile changes in the lives of boys and girls, men and women. The aim is to inspire the individual to think about, feel about, and then do something about living gospel principles.”
President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 107.
“Education—particularly spiritual education—is constantly stressed by the Lord. We cannot be saved in ignorance, but the Lord can only reveal light and truth to us as we are prepared to receive it. And so it is incumbent upon each of us to do everything we can to increase our spiritual knowledge and understanding by studying the scriptures and the words of the living prophets. When we read and study the revelations, the Spirit can confirm in our hearts the truth of what we are learning; in this way, the voice of the Lord speaks to each one of us. As we ponder the teachings of the gospel and apply them in daily living, we become better prepared to receive additional light and truth.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Marvelous Are the Revelations of the Lord,” Ensign, May 1998, 32.
“Many of the inspired teachings of our modern prophets are compiled in Teachings of Presidents of the Church, our course of study for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society. The timeless doctrines and principles included in these books are fountains of divine wisdom and guidance. Wise teachers in wards and branches will not substitute their own subjects and wisdom but focus on these inspired teachings and their application to current circumstances and challenges.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Give Thanks in All Things,” Liahona and Ensign, May 2003, 96.
For additional help, see Dallin H. Oaks, “Gospel Teaching,” Liahona, Jan. 2000, 94–98; Ensign, Nov. 1999, 78–80.
How have you benefited most from the Teachings of Presidents of the Church books? We are looking for ideas, suggestions, and experiences that will inspire others to enjoy fully the blessings of studying and applying these resources. Please send your submissions to Learning from the Prophets, Ensign, Room 2420, 50 East North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84150-3220, USA; or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your complete name, address, telephone number, and ward and stake (or branch and district).