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Focus on People, Not Lessons

“Focus on People, Not Lessons,” Teaching in the Savior’s Way (2015)

“Focus on People, Not Lessons,” Teaching in the Savior’s Way

Focus on People, Not Lessons

“A gospel teacher, like the Master we serve, will concentrate entirely on those being taught,” said Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “His or her total concentration will be on the needs of the sheep—the good of the students. A gospel teacher does not focus on himself or herself. One who understands that principle will not look upon his or her calling as ‘giving or presenting a lesson,’ because that definition views teaching from the standpoint of the teacher, not the student. Focusing on the needs of the students, a gospel teacher will never obscure their view of the Master by standing in the way or by shadowing the lesson with self-promotion or self-interest.”1

Seek to Understand Those You Teach

The gospel is for everyone, but no two people are exactly alike. Look for ways to understand the backgrounds, interests, talents, and needs of the people you teach. Ask questions, listen carefully, and observe what learners say and do in different situations. If you are teaching youth or children, ask their parents for insights. Above all, pray for the understanding that only the Spirit can give. The more you understand those you teach, the better you can help them see how the gospel applies to their individual lives.

Questions to ponder. Who among those I teach do I need to understand better? What can I do to better understand him or her?

Scriptural example. What does John 21:1–17 teach about the way the Savior understood Peter and taught him what he needed to know?

See also the video “Know and Love Us” (

Christ and rich young man

Prepare with People in Mind

Sometimes, in preparing to teach, teachers may want to reuse a lesson or activity they have used in the past without thinking about how it applies to the current group of learners. This approach often does not take into account the unique needs of class members. When you prepare, let your understanding of the people you teach guide your plans. To reach different learners, you may be led to use music, make an assignment in advance, or share an analogy about something a class member is interested in, such as sports. Christlike teachers are not committed to a particular style or method; they are committed to helping people build faith in Jesus Christ and become more like Him.

Question to ponder. How could I change my teaching plans to meet the unique needs of someone in my class?

Scriptural example. How did the Savior’s teaching approach meet the particular needs of the people He taught? (see, for example, Mark 10:17–22).

young women in class

Don’t Try to Cover Everything

There is much to discuss in each lesson, but it is not necessary to cover everything in one class period in order to touch someone’s heart—often one or two key points are enough. As you ponder learners’ needs, the Spirit will help you identify which principles, stories, or scriptures will be especially meaningful to them. He may also inspire you during class to alter your plans, leaving some points for a later time in order to discuss principles that are more important to class members now.

Question to ponder. How can I show those I teach that I am more interested in their learning than in completing a lesson?

Scriptural example. What do I learn about teaching from the pattern described in Doctrine and Covenants 98:11–12? (see also D&C 78:17–19).

For the Discussion Leader

Share and counsel together. Begin by inviting teachers to share recent teaching experiences and ask questions related to teaching. Make sure that everyone who wants to share has an opportunity to do so; this is more important than covering all the material in each lesson.

Learn together. Invite teachers to discuss one or more of the ideas in this section.

Practice. Ask one teacher to come to the front of the room. Invite the others to ask questions that will help them learn about the interests and talents of that person. Then discuss with the teachers how this information might influence the way they would teach the person at the front of the room. Ask the teachers how they could apply this exercise to their preparation and teaching.

Prepare. Decide together on a topic for the next meeting, and invite teachers to prepare.