My teacher friends gave me zillions of great ideas for use during individual lessons. I will go through my notes and try to list them here. This will follow the rough order that a class might take.
DeAnn puts a table by the door of her classroom where students sign in each day. The table has a sign in sheet, pen, and clock on it. The sign in sheet is a narrow lined sheet with a box for the student's name, time of arrival, and a check box for if they read their scriptures. When it's time for class to begin, DeAnn marks the sheet with a wavy line to indicate that students who arrive after class begins are tardy. She says this method holds students accountable for their attendance, reading, and tardiness. I like the sign-in idea and made a similar sheet, with one exception. I didn't put a check box for whether they read their scriptures or not -- I used a Yes / No. I would like students to actually respond "no" when they haven't read, for further accountability. You can download my roll sheet here. UPDATE: I have changed my roll page a little. Now, at the top I list a few things that the students might need to get from their cubbies before class starts. There's a place to check ___ scriptures, ___ marking pencil, ___binder, ___ bin (markers, etc), and ___ other. It isn't perfect, but it helps the kids get their materials together before class.
Choosing the Prayer
To avoid the problem of one or two students always volunteering to give the prayer, Rob used this method to give everyone a chance. He painted Popsicle sticks, one half red, the other half green. Then he wrote every student's name on a painted stick. These sticks go into a jar or cup with the green side up. During opening and closing exercises the class president picked a green name out of the jar to give an opening or closing prayer. Then the Popsicle stick was returned to the cup, red side up, so that that person wasn't chosen again until every one had a chance to pray. UPDATE: Check out the article on the Prayer Bucket here: http://www.mormonshare.com/lds-activity/the-prayer-bucket
Rob chose a song from the hymnbook and had members of the class play and conduct the music. If students weren't all singing, he had the class re-sing with ALL the verses. When this happened with A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief, the class quickly fell into line. Some teachers have the students describe their favorite hymn or Primary song as part of a get-to-know you exercise. The class then sings that song. I'm going to try asking the kids to teach us their favorite song for 2-3 days. They will explain to us why it's their favorite hymn, and then they will conduct the song any way they wish. I hope it will encourage them to support each other with the music... UPDATE: As it turned out, the solution for our music issues was much easier than I supposed. A user commented in the blog and suggested that we have the kids stand to sing. It totally worked! The kids sing louder and participate more! We also use the Church Music Player at http://www.lds.org/churchmusic to provide our music. It highlights the words as it moves, you can transpose to a more singable key, and you can adjust the tempo. The Church Music Player has a "coolness" factor that makes it fun, too. It has been a God-send for us.
Brent assigned kids in his class to give devotional each day for an entire week. He gave them suggestions on what they could present on, like stories from Church magazines, Scripture Mastery passages, etc. 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. DeAnn teaches her students that a devotional must include three things:
- a personal experience that includes FITs, or Feelings, Impressions, & Thoughts.,
- a scripture, and
- 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 ...", "This is important because ...", etc.) You can support the Duty to God program by integrating those topics into your devotionals. Find out to integrate the new Duty to God into Seminary here.
UPDATE 2011-2012: I don't use an assigned devotional talk in my class. I use Everybody Writes or other group activities at the beginning of class to get everyone sharing their experiences about the gospel because I don't think that talk-devotionals are the best thing I can do for my students' time. I plan to spend a lesson on how to prepare and deliver talks so they don't miss out on that skill, but I don't personally do the talk thing. It's not required, fyi.
UPDATE 2012-2013: Update, now I do use devotionals, and I think I've figured out how to help my students give better than average devotionals.
Daily Scripture Mastery
Rob and DeAnn like to use scripture mastery every day during their lessons. DeAnn uses the popular Magic Squares method to review SM scriptures. Magic Squares includes actions, rhymes, and keywords to help students learn all 25 references for the year. Every day, DeAnn has the class president read a scripture mastery verse. The students chase to see who is the first person to find it. The first person says, "One", second: "two" and so on until everyone finds the reference. Then the person who got the scripture first -- "one" -- gets to come up and choose a treat. He or she rolls a pair of dice, and they can choose to use the number from either dice or the sum of the dice to allow another student to pick a treat. Say a student rolls a two and a three. They can pick student who said "two", "three", or "five" to pick a treat.
From Jayna's games:
Supplies I buy: 3X5 index cards, a spiral notebook per student, markers, at least 25 poster boards, dice (one per student), several dry erase poster boards/black electrical tape. (other things might be needed for individual games).
Before school starts, I make several sets of laminated cards. There are 50 cards per set: 25, each with one of the SM references; and 25, each with key words (or “magic square” rhymes). I make each set a different color. I also make 2 grids on dry erase poster boards using electrical tape. I can reuse the grids for all kinds of games (even permanent marker eventually erases off, so the electrical tape solves that problem). Each grid is 5X5 (4 inch squares) (takes about 20 feet of tape).
The first few weeks: I concentrate on teaching the “Magic Square” and rhymes. (Use the grid you made!) To locate the “Magic Square” login on ldsces.org, click on teacher resources, click on additional resources, click on CES conferences (past), click on teaching helps, click on Janice Lee Griffith Tate—Magic Square. [These instructions don't seem to be working any more. I will post Magic Squares when I can get the info ~Jenny] Assign each student a SM to “own”. (I’ll do Exodus 20, since it’s so long). Each student makes a large poster with their SM written out. Each student draws a picture to help us remember their scripture—try to incorporate reference. Have the students mark each SM in their own scriptures.
After the 3rd week, I concentrate on one scripture mastery per week. I spend 5-10 min. per day on a short activity to help the students understand and memorize this SM. Once a week or so, I play a longer SM game (20-40 min.). It’s a good idea to do these longer games on different week days (not just Fridays). During this time I concentrate on learning the key words and references for all 25 scriptures or concentrate on several SM that we have learned thus far. Activity short cuts: 1. Have the students do as much of the preparation as possible. They might make game cards or write up “quizzes” for the activity. 2. Have a master answer sheet for yourself. (I wrote the key words or rhymes under each scripture verse). Laminate this so you can mark it up with dry erase markers and then reuse it for a different game. Use this master list for clues to the games (i.e. for jeopardy, don’t take time to write each clue out on the board, just assign point values on the big grid and then mark the corresponding questions on your master answer sheet.)
Current Event Moment
Brent likes to read stories from the newspaper to his students and apply them to gospel teaching messages. He doesn't do this every day, just when a story strikes him. Sometimes these current event moments related directly to the lesson, and sometimes they did not. Here are some examples of articles or sources he used:
- http://newsroom.lds.org/ - updated frequently and has articles about church members around the world. http://mormon.org/people/find/ - I'm a Mormon videos or stories
- http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2004/11/24/dolphin_newzealand041124.html - this story is about dolphins that surrounded a group of swimmers and protected them from a great white shark attack. Who are the "dolphins" in your life? What are they trying to protect you from?
- http://unofficialnetworks.com/hikers-fall-yosemites-vernon-falls-31851/ - hikers ignored signs and fell off Vernon Falls at Yosemite. What warning signs are in your life? Are you heeding them?
Tardies and Early departures
The Seminary handbook says tardies are not supposed to be equated with absences. In our stake flagrant tardiness (more than 12 tardies a term) can result in loss of Seminary credit. Our teachers treat early departures like tardies.
When one girl kept leaving her class early, DeAnn spoke to her to find out what the trouble was. The girl said she was having trouble getting to school on time every day, so DeAnn quickly volunteered to move Seminary's beginning time back 10 minutes to 6:00 AM to accommodate her. :) Miraculously, the girl was able to start getting to school on time.
Help Students learn to Apply the Scriptures to Their Lives
All of the teachers I spoke with said this was essential to having a good lesson where students were engaged. I like what Paula said: "The Spirit soared when I was studying and trying to find application in their lives for the lessons we were studying. God will bless you!"
Point out the Spirit
When you're about to teach something that touched you, say so: "I felt the spirit very strongly when I read this" or "Pay attention to this phrase -- it struck me as I was preparing". Here's something on this from Becoming a Great Gospel Teacher by Eaton and Beecher:
[What keys have you found] to be particularly effective in inviting the spirit into the classroom? Make a direct invitation. ... [P]rompt students with a simple invitation, such as, "As you read the next few verses on your own, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Note words or phrases that the Spirit seems to highlight for you."
Other teachers give an invitation like this:" As we study the scriptures today, be sure to have a red pencil handy. Underline those things that the Spirit is bringing to light for you..."
I have use the phrase "listen with your spiritual ears" (while making an earmuff type gesture with my hands) for years. I really can't tell you why it helps the kids focus, but it does. And it doesn't seem to take any explanation; they seem to get what "spiritual ears" means without me explaining it. If I think I'm losing the group during a parable type story, I'll interrupt myself and say, "Are you listening with your spiritual ears?" -- not in a scolding way, but in a remember-this-is-a-parable, be-a-gospel-detective kind of way.
My seminary teacher friends say plan to take breaks every now and again from teaching to go visit another teacher's class. You'll get lots of ideas about what you can do to improve as a teacher, and the break will help keep you sane.
Expect Lesson Flops
They'll come. Pick yourself up, or if it was especially terrible, contact a seminary teacher friend to talk to about it. It will get better!
Things I've Learned
There are a few things I've learned about teaching Seminary that may help you.
The 10-minute Warning
In my class, the kids are picked up by the school bus about 5 minutes after class lets out, so I can't afford to run over. A few times I got flustered by discovering that I'm running over with half of my lesson left to cover. I hate that! The conclusion of a lesson is where we really have a chance to push our points home and bear witness of the truth -- I don't like having to rush or miss it. To solve this problem, I set my phone to make a little alarm sound when there are 10 minutes left in class. With a 10 minute warning, I can wrap up a section and then summarize with a decent conclusion. No more getting flustered at the end of the lesson. The ten-minute warning alarm helped so much! As for the alarm being distracting -- it probably was the first day or two. After that, it was no big deal, especially when the kids saw that it was keeping us on time every day.
Electronic Scriptures in Seminary -- go for it!
I am the only teacher that allows electronic scriptures in our area. I had only a few that used the electronic versions, but that number increased through the year. I think that it's incumbent on teachers to help students learn to use their smartphones and other devices appropriately during class. Banning electronic scriptures all together never gives us a chance to teach correct, appropriate use of smart devices. I think we can all use a lesson in smart device use -- just look at all the adults around you texting and surfing and playing Angry Birds during sacrament! I think allowing electronic scriptures worked for my class because I explained the rules beforehand and also because I am not technology-stupid, and the kids know it. I would not recommend that you allow electronic scriptures with Seminary students if you have never used them yourself. Be sure that students understand that the things they mark or make notes on electronically can be backed up to lds.org and found or referenced on any device they link with that account, or simply online. Electronic scriptures can really enhance study (they make the footnotes so easy to follow!) and there's no more reason to worry about losing your scriptures and years' worth of notes. Here's how we did it:
- At the beginning of the year, I explained to students and their parents during my home visits that I would allow electronic scriptures ONLY if phones were switched to airplane mode before entering class. I made it clear that even one instance of texting during class meant that student would loose electronic scripture privileges.
- I required use of the Church's Gospel Library App for iPhone, iPad, or Android. No other scripture apps should be used.
- A few times during the year I reiterated that there was absolutely no texting during class. I'm sure some of them got away with it, but the one time I caught a new move-in with his phone out texting, I shut him down publicly and quickly. In his case, he didn't know the rule yet. But shooting him down and using The Voice (you know, the Mommy Means It don't-touch-that-expensive-thing-you're-eying Voice) helped the others remember I was dead serious about not texting.
Acknowledge when you make a mistake
One day I blew off a student who asked a question during class</a> because I was having a difficult time keeping the rest of the class on track. The next day I told the class what I had done and that I shouldn't have blown her off. We spent the next few minutes answering her question.
I acknowledged the problem and fixed it, which goes a long way to keeping a good class culture and for modeling good leadership skills for students.
In my seminary class I tried very hard to encourage students to ask questions about the gospel. I suggested that they write down their questions and bring them to class. I was always so happy when someone would come with a question! Sometimes I could answer right away during class and did so. If it was a rhetorical question that I could work into a lesson (like "Why are there so many weird things in the scriptures?"), I mentioned the name of the student while I covered that material. If they came with questions I couldn't answer during that lesson, I kept them and handled them first thing on the next day. I found that being able to say "Julie has a question about such-and-such," really helped out with the student participation an interest as well. Another thing: I answered weird, disruptive questions, too. Actually, I should say that I had the students answer weird and disruptive questions. When a student would ask a question intended to throw me off or to be ridiculous, I would shift gears and say something like this: "Okay, Let's talk about that. Do you really think that's what this meant? What do you [the rest of the class] think? What does this really mean? Why do you think so?" I didn't try to scold silly questions, but I tried to use them to help everyone focus back in on our topic. I feel it's very important to me that students feel like they can ask questions and not be ridiculed for it, so I even answer silly questions. After all, what seems like a silly question to me may really be something important to that student. Generally, they are just trying to be funny, but I find I can keep the disruption to a minimum by just answering the silly questions. They don't have the effect that Disruptor Student was intending, and I think it helped cut down on these type of intentionally disruptive questions in the long run.
Require other students to pay attention when other students speak
You know that I use the acronym SLAMM to remind my students to look at the speaker during class. Sometimes students would talk over each other while another student was making a comment. When ever this would happen, I'd motion for the speaker to stop, and then ask the class to SLAMM that student. I stopped the class until everyone directed their attention to the student speaking. SLAMMing is important not only for helping students pay attention to the teacher, but to pay respectful attention to each other. At first I was stopping behavior this because I think it's disrespectful, but I found that it created a classroom culture where every person understood that each person's comments mattered. I -- the teacher -- wanted to hear what student had to say, and what was more, I wanted the other students in class to be able to hear what their friends had to say. I feel like it helped create a classroom culture where everyone felt they had important and valued ideas.
Embrace the Chaos
After reading the above, you might get the impression that my seminary class operates with a military-like precision. It doesn't! On Mondays, the kids were always silly and full of energy. It was all I could do to keep them focused. Tuesdays, they were always very droopy. Wednesday-Friday, they settled into a semblance of normalcy. I don't ask for silence in my class, and I don't expect them to sit still like little robots while I pour the gospel on them. I want them active and participating, which means that sometimes we are a little silly. Sometimes we even *gasp* laugh hard (like the time my tongue got twisted and I said that the Spirit doesn't speak in a loud voice like a thunderCRAP -- I'll never live it down). The gospel is joyful, and I hope that my classroom has a joyful feel to it. We don't shy away from spiritual thoughts and questions, but I hope that we are able to be joyful while we discuss important things.