How to get students talking and discussing the lesson is a major problem in many Sabbath School classes around the world. Students tend to sit and stare rather than discuss. Try these ideas and see how they work for you.
Learn to ask questions. Questions need not be, should not be, only those asked in the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. Extra questions should clearly relate to the subject matter of the week’s lesson and make the practicalities of Christian living stand out. Pose questions that call for more than yes, no, or other brief answers. Ask how and why questions calling for explanatory answers that probe beneath the surface of the topic.
Don’t make questions too long or involved. Avoid compound questions that require two or more points of information. Never ask trick questions by which members giving answers in good faith might be embarrassed by exposing the incorrectness of their responses. The nontalkers are carefully observing how you treat those who do answer questions. If they see anything sarcastic or sly in your manner, they may never speak in class.
Don’t be too quick to answer your own questions. This is a common problem most teachers don’t realize they are creating. Taking a significant pause after asking a question is an excellent way to elicit an answer. Encourage class members to ask questions of their own—for the purposes of group discussion, not for your expert answers. Come to the rescue only when necessary.
Affirm. Give warm affirmation to well-focused answers, and never outrightly label any answer as wrong, even if it is! When a contributor’s idea is off base, suggest a text to look at with the class and search the Word for the answer. Never demean any class participant by responding derisively or disrespectfully. Remember that you are there to represent Christ, not to act like a talk show host who uses jibes and insults to spice up the program. Build trust.
Here is another point about affirmation:
Don’t try to improve on each member’s answers. You may repeat or summarize what a member says, or ask for clarification. But it comes across as an offensive and egotistical practice always to try to top what others have said with something that seems (at least to you) more scholarly or profound. Try instead to commend the person for his or her good insights. Then move on to the next point. If a participant has not made his or her answer clear or is not satisfied with the way it came out, give him or her a little extra time to clarify.
Don’t cut off anyone who is in the process of trying to express a thought. Your patience and courtesy build trust—and participation.
In summary, teachers should not do more than about 20 percent of the talking. Remember, your aim is to facilitate communication and interaction among Sabbath School members. Ellen G. White confirms this: “It is not the best plan for teachers to do all the talking, but they should draw out the class to tell what they know. Then let the teacher, with a few brief, pointed remarks or illustrations, impress the lesson upon their minds” (Counsels on Sabbath School Work, p. 115).
“Let the activities of the scholars find scope in solving the problems of Bible truth” ( ibid., p. 114). Here are four effective Bible-learning activities that require class members to do something besides being passive:
Agree-disagree exercises are nonthreatening and involve everyone in the key issues. Prepare a series of opinion statements based on the lesson. Supply paper and pencils, and have members number from 1 to 5 each statement. Read a statement and have members respond by circling a number (1 = strongly disagree; 5 = strongly agree). The statements should be penetrating, challenging the higher thought processes. These statements then become the basis of class discussion.
Bible paraphrasing helps learners discover meanings and implications. Have learners rewrite a key text from the lesson in their own words. Allow about five minutes for the activity. Have volunteers read their paraphrase.
Neighbor-nudging helps keep the discussion alive for the entire class session. Each class member is asked to discuss with a neighbor a thought question for two or three minutes. Then ask for a response from each pair.
Depth Bible encounters lead class members to examine their lives in relation to the Scriptures. Select a key verse from the lesson that calls for a change in thinking or lifestyle. Ask members to respond in writing to this question: If I took this Bible passage seriously, what changes would I have to make in my life?
IN A NUTSHELL
Kurt W. Johnson
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists