The First Week of Class

During the first week of your Seminary class you’ll be setting a pattern for your classes and taking care of some housekeeping items. Here are some tips for your first week that I’ve collected:

Establish patterns

Begin class on time the first day. If you plan to use a scripture journal or scripture mastery games, sing, or hold daily devotionals, start those from the very first week of class, hopefully beginning the first day.

Behavior Contract Option

My friend, Jen, teaches Institute. On the first day of class she and her students prepare a contract: “What I Expect of You, and What You Expect of Me.” Here’s what her class came up with:

Here’s what they expect from me:
1. Always come with a smile
2. Come prepared to teach by the spirit
3. Keep the class on topic
4. Let them know what lesson was coming up

And what I expect from them
1. Bring their scriptures, how can you learn from them if you don’t have them
2. Come prepared to participate. Take a look at the next lesson
3. I’m here to be your “guide” through the Old Testament, you are each others best teachers, help one another.

Everyone then signed the contract. Jen suggests that you keep this type of contract short — only a few items.

The plan of salvation lesson

The pacing guide suggests that you to spend two days teaching the plan of salvation during the first week of class. The veteran teachers I spoke with said they don’t spend that much time on it. One teacher uses some laminated word strips and circles (just like the one you’ve seen drawn on the board a million times) and asks her students to arrange them in the correct order. Then they discuss. The manual has enough lesson material on the plan of salvation to spend several days on this topic. One friend told me he had a strong impression not to teach the plan of salvation but did anyway, and the lesson was a flop — it was just a few days after the father of some students had died in an accident and the lesson just didn’t work for that group at that particular time. Follow the spirit and do what seems best.

Demonstrate how you’d like devotionals to be given

My friend Rob gave the first few devotionals in his class to demonstrate the kind of material he wanted covered, length, and caliber he expected during devotionals. He would give a devotional himself every how and again throughout the year as well. My friend DeAnn teaches her students that a devotional must include three things: (1) a personal experience, (2) a scripture, and (3) a power phrase. First, the student writes the scripture reference they will be discussing up on the board, and everyone in class turns to it. The student then delivers their devotional, ending with a power phrase. A power phrase is one that includes the words “I believe this because…”, “This is true because …”, “I know this because …”, “I feel this is important because …”, etc. DeAnn also teaches her students to share FITs during devotional, or Feelings, Impressions, & Thoughts.


It’s essential that you do your very best to establish (and enforce if necessary) any rules you’ve set up for the class during the first week. Don’t allow cell phones on the first day if you have a no cell phone policy. Don’t allow talking while you or others are speaking. Remind your students to SLAMM (Sit up, Look at the speaker, Apply the Scriptures in their lives, Mark their scriptures, and Make relevant comments). Teach Like a Champion’s Doug Lemov says use the minimum intervention required to stop an undesired behavior. You might put your hand on a student’s shoulder, say their name, pause while speaking, establish eye contact, use a gesture (like two fingers pointed at your eyes to remind students to look at you), etc.. Do your best not to disrupt the entire class or interrupt your lesson to correct behavior. Lemov also says never, ever talk over the class. Use a regular voice. Wait for students to SLAMM before you continue. More on how to implement this technique is available in the teaching techniques section, or in Teach Like a Champion.

Make a Joyful Noise

Singing at 6:00 AM (or earlier in some areas) can be a painful experience. Music can set a spiritual tone for our lessons, however, and is an essential part of Seminary class structure. Here are some ideas for incorporating music into the classroom. When my friend Rob’s students weren’t all singing, he had them re-sing the hymn, including ALL the verses! Kids quickly learned to sing together the first time. DeAnn asks a student to play piano and conduct the music, and says she’ll bring donuts to class if another teacher in the building says they heard her class singing.

One idea is to ask students to lead the class in their favorite hymn. Each can share why this is their favorite hymn and conduct the music that day. Since they’re the leader, we’ll sing it any way they want it sung — fast, slow, standing, in parts, etc.

We don’t have any pianists in our group, so we use the Church Music Player to play our music.  It’s great because we can adjust the tempo and key if necessary.  We’ve even practiced parts a few times just for fun.  It plays hymns or Primary songs. Our whole class loves this.

Seating Charts

If your class is bigger than 4-5 students, a seating chart is a very good way to help with behavior issues. Even the Teaching guide for Seminary students suggests that we use a seating chart: “Having assigned seating can help teachers learn the names of students quickly, separate students who tend to visit during class, and organize the class for small group work or scripture mastery exercises. “. Watch the students during your first week of class and see if you can figure out students who you should put together or separate. DeAnn always seats her class boy-girl-boy-girl…. She also rotates the seating chart quarterly or as needed. This works very well for her.

I group my students in zones of three or four students.  I also change up seating every quarter or so, as needed.  I don’t worry about gender, but I do try to spread out the Freshmen among the zones at the beginning of the year so that older students can model good behavior and teams will be evenly matched during games.

Scripture Overview and Scripture Finding Tips

You should probably take some time during the first or second day to review the background of the scripture you’re studying. For example, with the Old Testament you could review the title page, where the history of how the King James Version came to be is recorded. (This is useful information if you live in the Bible belt where people quote that scripture in Revelation about not adding to the Bible. It’s easy to understand why that’s a mistaken idea if you understand where the Bible originated. )

Also, review tips on how to read scriptures. Apply them to yourself, restate them in your own words (I call this the Jenny Smith Translation), look for footnotes, use the Topical Guide, use the Index, use the Bible dictionary, use the maps, read the chapter headers, look for the paragraph markers to find complete thoughts (Bible), diagram the verse (yeah, just like diagramming sentences in school. it really helps!), mark the action words, cross reference, look for themes across multiple verse, look for repeating ideas, etc.

The First Day of Seminary – Anxiety

Shauna at Seminary at Six AM has written a great article about tension and anxiety on the first day of Seminary. She compiled a great list of ideas that can help students and teachers feel more comfortable on the first day of class.  Check it out!

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