Teaching Psalms

I spent a bunch of time at the library reading Psalms and trying to decide what was the best way to teach the kids the Psalms. I’ve mentioned before that I didn’t like how little time the Seminary manual spends in the Psalms. The lesson schedule gives 4 lessons to cover the ENTIRE books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. I just feel that is unacceptable. Not only do the Psalms help us relate more with our Christian brothers in language we can all understand, these are the books that kids will mostly likely turn to for comfort out of the Bible. I feel they are so valuable. Not only that, but the Psalms are quoted more times by Old/New testament prophets than even Isaiah, according to BD, quotations. We should follow their example and pay more attention to them, IMO.

This lesson was very easy to prepare once I picked out the Psalms I wanted the kids to focus on. I gave each group 2 psalms:

Psalm 51, Psalm 23 – Zone 1

Psalm 22, Psalm 127 – Zone 2

Psalm 8, Psalm 110 – Zone 3

They read these Psalms for their reading the night before class. The day of class, I set up the chairs in 3 groups (no tables) and wrote the following questions on the easel:

  • What do you think is the overall theme of this Psalm?
  • Which verse(s) do you think best illustrate that theme?
  • Zone Leaders, assign your members to read some of the footnotes in this psalm. How did the cross-reference deepen your understanding of these words? Be ready to explain important passages and insights to the group.
  • Describe a situation where you might reference this psalm. How could this psalm help you in that situation?

Opening song was “The Lord is My Shepherd”, of course :)

As introductory material, I read to the kids the “Studying Psalms” section from the student study guide aloud to the class and showed them BD, quotations. I explained also that one of the reasons that psalms are quoted so often is because they are songs. Just by mentioning a few words of the psalm, the listener would remember the overall feel of the song and be able to understand the message of the speaker much more deeply. I started singing Rebecca Black’s “Friday, Friday”. [groans] I told them just two words, and they were able to instantly recall emotions and ideas and imagery associated with that song. Quoting the psalms had the same effect.

Also pointed out how frequently the psalms are quoted in BD, quotations. Isaiah, too.

The kids went to their groups and began answering the questions in their notebooks. Due to an EXCEPTIONALLY late start this morning (chatty, distractions, announcements, etc), we were only able to cover 4 during class. I will finish up the others tomorrow.

My students were already excited about the psalms from previous experience, so this was pretty easy. Plus the verse about the unicorns helped :) We also talked about the passage in Psalm 22 “my god, my god, why hast thou forsaken me?” What imagery would that have evoked in those who heard it as Jesus said that on the cross? I pointed out a few verses that might have been brought to mind. I could see several of the kids chewing on that in their minds.

For tomorrow’s reading, each student was assigned their own psalm to read. Now that they knew how to read and analyze the psalm, I asked them to go home and apply what they learned to their assigned psalm. I also exhorted them to go beyond the “easy” footnotes –> the ones with words or definitions or JST quotes, and to read some cross-references. Tomorrow we’ll share what we learned.

In case you’re interested, the psalms I assigned to individual students were: Psalm 118, Psalm 24, Psalm 141, Psalm 142, Psalm 2, Psalm 18, Psalm 17, Psalm 130, Psalm 40, Psalm 7, Psalm 56, and Psalm 61.

We will cover a total of 18 psalms in two days. Not bad, me thinks, but just a drop in the bucket. I saw some kids reading extra psalms. I hope they get hooked from this little taste.

I came up with this lesson on the psalms because I want the kids to learn to analyze and share what they learn. I could tell them what I think, but it’s better for them to learn to read and form their own understanding of these scriptures. I don’t want them in the habit of expecting leaders to spoon feed or entertain them. They can read and analyze and share their own insights on gospel passages — AND they will find they get a million billion times more out of lessons that are personal to them. The only way to get to that level of personalization is if every student participates and shares. The Psalms are particularly easy to let the kids practice digging deeper on because of their length and the ease of material.

I’ve been thinking about how lately I haven’t been using the manual too much. It’s not that I don’t look at it. I (almost) always do. Student guide, too. It’s just that I think that we can do more to involve students in the learning process than those lessons typically allow. I’m trying to figure out ways for them to share what they know. I can correct or push them a little deeper when the situation allows, but when THEY find what’s important to THEM, I feel like they learn so much more than if I tell them what I thought was important, even if I’m reading with them in mind when I prepare. Plus, I think the idea that they have something to share about the gospel — that they can read and comfortably share something spiritual and meaningful — will be of great value to them on their missions and later in life. They will develop personal testimonies of the gospel instead of hearing mine over and over.

I pray these ideas are working as effectively as I feel like they can. I know that God can make up for the areas where I fail. I have a tendency to be a bit of a radical (I’m sure you’ve noticed) , but I really do try not to rebel inappropriately. I have such great hope for these young ‘uns! And I do feel it’s working. I wish there was some way to quantitatively measure success in Seminary, though….