How do you teach people to not Suck and not be Boring?

December 16, 2008    By: Matt W. @ 8:36 am   Category: Life

I am currently Young Men President in my Ward, and in order to give the Young Men ample opportunity to learn to teach by basically rotating the responsibility of who teaches each week from person to person. (We do combined Priests and Teachers, so there are 8 guys between 14 and 18) I’ve been doing this for about 6 months now, and teaching hasn’t really improved much.

We currently have 3 rules:

  1. Don’t Suck
  2. Don’t be Boring
  3. When paraphrasing a scriptural story, don’t attribute the curse words to members of the Godhead

While the third rule was instituted due to a specific lesson, the other two rules have existed from the beginning, and I even gave a series of lessons prior to that on leadership and then on teaching a lesson. I think it is time to revisit the topic though, as my initial lesson used the following basic concepts (which I will now explain why those concepts haven’t worked out so well)

Use media- YouTube clips, power point presentations, pictures, etc, are great ways to get your audience’s attention. The problem though is that most Young people or old people do not have a laptop they can bring to class to show YouTube clips or power points, or a computer/printer with which to obtain pictures.

Be Personal- Personal experiences can bring us into unity and drive home applying the gospel with one another, but my Young men either don’t see how to apply their personal experiences to the Gospel topics at hand, or don’t really have relevant personal experiences.

Teach things that are new and exciting or in new and exciting ways- take the topic and apply it apply it in a new and interesting way. When I first starting working with these guys (when the 18 year olds were 14) as a Sunday school teacher, and they wouldn’t pay attention to me, I stopped our second lesson together and I said, ok guys, what can I do to make you give a crap about what I’m saying, and they told me to teach them things they didn’t already know. So I spent hours every week trying to figure out things they didn’t know, and figuring out ways to talk about the atonement, or self-deception, or interdependence, or whatever I could think of that would keep their attention. Some were successes, others failed, but the basic idea held. My Young Men don’t know what they don’t know, and since their sources of learning are all the same (Seminary, me, etc) they aren’t learning new things in relation to the Gospel on their own.

Now I think these are the topics I need to focus on

  1. Don’t be apatheitc, actually be prepared, think about the lesson before class (ie- don’™t be lukewarm)
  2. Don’t EVER read from the manual in class
  3. Make your lesson have a point and make that point sticky
  4. Cut in and take control
  5. Teach by the spirit

So I need your help.

Anyone know of any good youtube clips, or pictures, or stories which show good and bad examples of teaching?

Also I am open to suggestions on how to teach this lesson. Think of it this way, the future of the church depends on it.


  1. I suspect you are heading into this with faulty assumptions about teaching Matt. We seem to think that anyone and everyone can be a really good teacher with just a little effort. My experience tells me otherwise.

    Why should teaching be different than, say singing or playing basketball or whatever?

    If you wanted all of your boys to be good singers I am pretty sure that assigning them to sing solos on rotating weeks and giving them instructions like “1. Don’t suck, and 2. Don’t sing out of tune” wouldn’t be much help. Some have the talent and some don’t. Or if you wanted the young men to be good basketball players the instructions “1. Don’t suck, and 2. Don’t turn the ball over” would not suddenly give them Jordan-like hoops skills.

    Of course the problem is that teaching others is a really valuable method of learning so leaving all of the teaching to the people who have the most natural talent is probably not the best solution. Maybe you could ease up on the boys and have them cover a section of scriptures within a lesson for 10 minutes rather than be stuck with the whole 40 minute lesson. That way they could seek out their own niche.

    As an analogy, some guys discover they can’t shoot or pass the basketball but they can help the team by setting screens. Maybe your guys will find a similar useful niche within the art of teaching.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 16, 2008 @ 9:10 am

  2. My suggestion is closely related to Geoff’s —

    When my mother taught me to teach, she actually TAUGHT me to teach. She had me help in her Primary class, giving me a single concept or section of the lesson to teach, with her being responsible for the rest. She talked with me beforehand about how I would present the material, sometimes had me practice it with her as an audience, and offered suggestions on when to show a picture or how to put something relevant on the chalkboard.

    It’s a lot more work for you, but would be more productive in the end, if, rather than turning over the whole lesson to a boy who doesn’t know how to teach, you would meet with him for a couple of ten minute sessions during the week, once to assign him a part of the lesson and discuss ways he might present it, and once to go through a dry run with just the two of you.

    Good luck. You’ll be doing them (and their future classes) a great favor if you can actually help them learn how to teach.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — December 16, 2008 @ 9:29 am

  3. Just a heads up, your links are missing.

    I agree that the youth often get the feeling they know everything there is to know about the gospel because they hear the same things in every lesson. If there was more to know, at least some teacher would dig in, right? Not so much. The one I have a hard time with is coming up with good personal stories. I notice that good teachers almost uniformly have good stories, so start writing down everything funny that happens to you I guess and figure out ways to work it into a lesson.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 16, 2008 @ 9:31 am

  4. Geoff: That is a good point, which is why I think this lesson on “How to not Suck” is so important to go back to.

    Also, as to having the Young Men only go for 10 minutes or so is absolutely fine, as we don’t ever get 40 minutes in young men, due to Opening exercises taking 15 minutes and then the time it takes to clean up the sacrament table. Generally, we have 15-20 minutes. If the Youth went for a 5 minute lesson and we quit early, I’d be fine with it. But you make a good point that I probably do need to tell them that.

    Here is basically what the trend has been the last few weeks.

    I remind the person assigned to teach the lesson they are up on the Sunday preceding the lesson. I call them on Saturday and remind them. I also send them an e-mail, if they have an e-mail address, containing the lesson, even though I gave them the manual on the previous Sunday.

    They show up and tell me they are going to wing it. The lesson consists of them reading a line out of the manual, saying “We already know all this. This is boring.” and so on.

    My wife says that they need more good teaching modeled to them, so I should teach more often, and let them watch me teach. I currently have either myself or the Teachers advisor teach once a month. Maybe I should up that to twice a month?

    Comment by Matt W. — December 16, 2008 @ 9:36 am

  5. Ardis: As I noted to Geoff, I am not even sure if they don’t know how to teach or if they just don’t think they need to put time into it. I’ve had a lot of success getting them to come to mutual and be more involved by giving them partial say in the planning process there, but Sundays have been a struggle.

    Maybe I’ll just ask them what they think would be better and how they think the lessons could be better.

    Jacob J: What links? Did I screw something up again? (I have lately had a bad run of screwing up wordpress) I struggle with sharing the personal stories I come up with, because they are pretty dang personal.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 16, 2008 @ 9:48 am

  6. Matt,
    While your modelling a good lesson for them can’t hurt, I also doubt it will help significantly. All of your boys presumably go to school and all of them presumably have had at least a couple good teachers over the course of their schooling, so presumably a lack of good models isn’t the problem.

    The problem is, when they’re listening to a lesson (if they’re listening to your lesson), they’re not thinking about the effectiveness of your teaching; they’re thinking about what you’re teaching. Or, to expand on Geoff’s analogy, when I was learning to play jazz saxophone, my teachers didn’t stop at, “Listen to Coltrane.” Yes, my listening was essential, but they had to offer me exercises so my fingers could (some day) do what Coltrane’s did, and they had to explain about my mouth cavity and proper embouchure. And they actually looked at it and corrected it.

    Teaching isn’t any more natural than playing sax. My wife has her Masters in education, and there’s a crazy lot of pedagogical theory and practice out there. Although it would take a lot of work on your part, Ardis is right that, if you want the boys to teach a good lesson, you need to meet with them personally a couple times, help them put together the lesson plan, explain techniques one-on-one in more detail than don’t suck, and give constructive feedback after they’re done.

    I currently wouldn’t have time to do that. And if you don’t (which wouldn’t reflect poorly on you), all of the boys are probably better off if you teach and don’t subject them to failing teaching/teachers. But if you do have time and inclination, you could provide them with invaluable skills.

    Comment by Sam B. — December 16, 2008 @ 9:58 am

  7. Matt, they *don’t* know how to teach. They read the basic outline in the manual and it’s very familiar — therefore boring — and they don’t know how to make anything new and interesting (non-sucky) out of it. That’s why they need coaching on how to find a story or remember a personal experience or discover a new angle or apply the principle to their real lives in ways they never thought of before.

    Effective school teachers don’t just hand out textbooks to first graders and tell them to start reading and doing arithmetic without teaching them how. Even natural athletes need coaches to drill them on good performance of the basics and to teach them new techniques.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — December 16, 2008 @ 9:58 am

  8. My sons are in the young men’s program and they used to give them 15 minutes to teach but have since gotten away from that. Energy and interest is what you are looking for and quite frankly you can’t have that in more than 1 or 2 out of a dozen boys. Don’t push so hard unless you really want to communicate to them that they suck. Them being involved is more important than the presentation. My boys started giving lousy talks and lessons by the time my oldest graduated he was very good at it. But it was more the comfort from doing then it was coaching or training.

    I have taught teacher inservice (training) for several years and watched the attendance in GD and other classes. There is no relationship between attendace and the lesson presentation sucking. The more exciting teachers do not have better attendance than the those who make people feel comfortable getting involved. If you set the bar at exciting then the boys may not feel encouraged then you get no participation and lower attendance. It is very rare that my boys come home and can answer what the priesthood lesson was about unless they taught it (withing 15 minutes of the lesson). I always taught that less is more prepare 15 to 20 minutes for a 30 minute lesson and let the comments drive the rest of it or the kids to talk about what is on their mind. People get so over prepared that it is more about your thoughts or lesson then it is about the boys learning or attending. We have 8 priests and 2 attend and they have one of the most engaging and non sucking teachers in our ward. He does not get the boys very involved and they get preached at plenty.

    Comment by Jerry — December 16, 2008 @ 10:05 am

  9. Ardis:

    Another few thoughts your comment raised for me:

    My Youth don’t want me to go visit them a few extra times a week. They aren’t really in a position to willingly admit they have a problem with being a teacher. They would rather just not put effort into it, because our class is a rough group and won’t pay attention anyway. (We get some good lessons here and there, but few are really great lessons as far as paying attention)

    A big issue for me as Young Men’s President has been a question of boundaries. I am not the parent. What is and is not over the line of what I am supposed to be doing as Young Men’s President? Your Mother taught you to be a great teacher by taking an active role in your life, as I hope my wife does for my girls (She is the superior teacher of the two of us) and I will try and support that in any and every way I can. I don’t think it is appropriate to talk about the personal lives of my Youth online, but in a generic sense, what’s the rule of thumb?

    Comment by Matt W. — December 16, 2008 @ 10:09 am

  10. I had the same job years ago. This is just my opinion.

    They are never going to teach a lesson as well as you will . They simply lack the maturity to do so.

    Don’t be so hung-up on teaching the lesson itself. If you can get just one principle in during the time spent, you are doing well. This may not be true with all classes/students.

    At this point in their lives, it would be more important to teach them how to be young men. Meaning, how to treat young women, what they can expect in the real world, how/why to repent when the do screw-up, as surely most of them will, etc.

    Comment by CEF — December 16, 2008 @ 10:09 am

  11. Jerry: One thing you said really struck me. “Don’t push so hard unless you really want to communicate to them that they suck” I think I need to push a little, give a lesson on teacher improvement, but I don’t want to communicate the above. How do I do that?

    Comment by Matt W. — December 16, 2008 @ 10:17 am

  12. Matt,

    If memory serves, you served as AP, correct. Without a doubt you saw some missionaries who could teach investigators well, who didn’t need the discussion outline, etc. And then you saw some who, for whatever reason, just didn’t get it. They couldn’t take a simple principle and relate it back to the investigator in an interesting way. It’s basically the same thing. So I agree with Geoff. Teaching/Public Speaking is a skill many people are born with.

    But I applaude your efforts.

    I even gave a series of lessons prior to that on leadership

    I’m also going to state that leaders are born and not made, and those that say otherwise are usually trying to profit on trying to make people leaders (I’m looking at you, John C. Maxwell).

    What we need to be teaching is not leading but following (discipleship) which is really the first principle of leadership. If we had better followers, we wouldn’t need so many leaders.

    Comment by Tim J — December 16, 2008 @ 10:18 am

  13. Sam B.- I can’t decide whether I have the time or inclination. Here is what I am thinking. Maybe I could do a lesson once a month on pedagogy and teaching the Gospel, under the guise of “Someday you are going to go on a mission, teach Gospel Doctrine, serve in the Church” and this is what you do. Is focusing on the basic skills in that setting of value? (And could I come up with 12 good lessons on teaching that my class would pay attention to?)

    Comment by Matt W. — December 16, 2008 @ 10:23 am

  14. Ardis(7)- You have an open invitation to come teach anytime. More seriously, you are right, they don’t know how to teach. But how do I make them want to know?

    Comment by Matt W. — December 16, 2008 @ 10:25 am

  15. I am reading all these comments with great interest. I’m Priest’s Quorum Advisor in our Ward, and we rotate teaching among the priests, too. Even the most active and engaged of them still barely prepare. And often their “lesson” consists of opening the manual and reading a statement and then sarcastically asking the group, “How do you feel about that?”


    Comment by Hunter — December 16, 2008 @ 10:38 am

  16. Tim J: while we are all born with talents, We can all improve upon our skills and get better, with a little effort. One of the coolest things about my mission was watching kids who couldn’t even bear their testimony without sounding like morons get the skills and the confidence and comfort so that they were master teachers by the end. The difference is missionaries teach the same things over and over and get good at it and have lots of time to learn those skills.

    Maybe I should spend more time teaching these guys that they should go on missions… (We’ve had 1 Young Man go on a mission in the last 5 years)

    Comment by Matt W. — December 16, 2008 @ 10:40 am

  17. Don’t be so hard on yourself or the kids. You might be surprised on how much you’re getting across to them. They might be surprised, too. I’ve been involved with YM on and off for more than 30 years and it’s always gratifying and sometimes more than a little mystifying the lessons they remembered and why.

    One quick word about the manual. Use it. Maybe not word for word, but use it. At least as a guideline and major resource. I thought I could do better, but my lessons were always better when I tried to teach what I was called to teach. Same for the YM.

    Comment by Yet Another John — December 16, 2008 @ 10:41 am

  18. Yet Another John: I am a proponent of using the manual, but I think it should be used to prepare the lesson. If you take the second to look at the manual in your lesson, you lose them. That’s my experience.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 16, 2008 @ 10:45 am

  19. I agree with others who said that not all of these guys can be good teachers, no matter how well you teach them, how bad they want to, and how hard they try. But I bet those who want to and are willing to do the work can improve. Nobody can become Michael Jordan, but pretty much everybody can get better at free-throws. So it’s worth some effort to help them along. It’s just that success shouldn’t be guaged by having non-sucky and non-boring lessons, but by having less sucky and less boring lessons.

    Comment by Tom — December 16, 2008 @ 10:45 am

  20. Matt,
    I think your suggestion would have at least some value; I’m not sure how to quantify it, though. And I am by no means an expert on pedagogy–it’s something I need to figure out better over the next few months and years. It honestly couldn’t hurt. (Although I’m not sure about the frame–if only one boy has gone on a mission in the last five years, it would seem easy, from a teenage mindset, to blow off any lesson, the importance of which appears predicated on the idea that he’ll go on a mission.)

    Comment by Sam B. — December 16, 2008 @ 11:10 am

  21. Sam B.- I actually think most of them won’t go on missions, so I mainly just want to figure out how to give them all the experiences I had on my mission without them going. That’s probably impossible, but you know what I mean.

    CEF- you said I should spend time teaching the Young Men to be Young Men. They get Seminary every day, Sunday School, Family Home Evening, Sacrament talks, Daily Scripture Study, and Mutual. Can’t we aim a little higher for a 20 minute period? Yes I’m aware that they don’t all get all those things, but at the very least, if they make it to Young Men’s then they already got 2 hours of church.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 16, 2008 @ 11:33 am

  22. Matt,
    One thing that may help is teaching your young men how to learn. We do a great job of teaching our young people how to memorize and regurgitate information but we don’t do a lot to teach them how to learn…meaning taking information and applying it or using it to synthesize a another concept. Yet, this is exactly what we need to do when reading the scriptures and gaining a greater understanding of the gospel. This also helps make you a better teacher. I have found in teaching in the Young Women’s program that getting them to answer open ended questions and then guiding them through a synthesis helps them grasp new aspects related to “old”, “boring” concepts. Now, it took them awhile to get used to a different style of learning but they do get it eventually.

    Comment by pennym — December 16, 2008 @ 11:36 am

  23. Matt be positive and complimentary the day they give the lesson and instruct on weaknesses on weeks that none of them are teaching and your are. That way no one is in the heat of the moment and they are not as vulnerable when the issues come up. My guess is most of them make the same mistakes and can be all addressed together.

    This is one of the youth sports coaching items I learned no negative comments ever on game day. Later when there is no adrenaline or vulnerability they are not as likely to to take it personal. Also I guess this goes without saying but spotlighting correct behavior reinforces it. My boys took to this teaching they really liked it so don’t quit on it. It is just about the only my oldest ever said a word at church.

    Comment by Jerry — December 16, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  24. I am very unfamiliar with the idea of the youth teaching each other. Growing up in YW, and even now as a YW leader, WE do the teaching and having a girl teach would be a very rare occurrence. Why are you making the boys teach? They certainly are not going to learn to be good teachers from each other. In fact, it is widely said that Priesthood lessons are generally badly taught (no preparation, etc) which sounds exactly like what you have described about your boys.

    They are lowering the bar for each other. The more one sucks this week, the more the next can suck next time. You cannot build up upon a hole–you need to be teaching excellently AT LEAST 3 times of the month and maybe have boys teach once a month if it is for Duty to God, or something.

    Teaching them to use You Tube will not help them on missions or in other Church venues as they cannot use You Tube clips in Sacrament meetings. I think it would be wiser to introduce Socratic seminars–basically a method of discussion based on open ended questions. You can take any topic and explore it this way. I encourage you to model this for them.

    Regardless of the name of their quorum, I do not believe they will feel the spirit through teaching badly themselves or hearing others teach them badly.

    Comment by ESO — December 16, 2008 @ 12:11 pm

  25. In most cases the young men need to be taught. Sure, they need some experience teaching, but being taught is key. My guess is that they need to hear certain things coming from you – even if they heard it before.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — December 16, 2008 @ 12:46 pm

  26. I actually disagree with the notion of teaching something new. I think that is one of the great follies of gospel teaching. The key, imo, is to teach with the Spirit, because then the Spirit can teach things that are new.

    That, of course, doesn’t mean that there aren’t some skills to learn, but seriously, the basics really are pretty basic. I think one of the problems with kids this age is exactly that they try too hard, or expect something flashy. Help them understand that to truly be effective missionaries, the key is the Spirit.

    Perhaps you could do some reading in Preach my Gospel and/or Teaching, No Greater Call for ideas about good gospel teaching. ??

    Comment by m&m — December 16, 2008 @ 12:50 pm

  27. I’m with ESO.

    It’s been 20 years since I’ve been in the Young Mens program (as a young man or otherwise). I don’t ever remember teaching a single lesson.

    Has the program changed to where they now need to be involved in the teaching?

    Comment by jm — December 16, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

  28. Some random thoughts:

    One of the most effective ways to learn is to share something of yourself. How you feel, what you think, and yep, personal experience. What do you remember about SS class last week? What the teacher said, or the comment that you made?

    The trick is to make the class a safe place for class members to risk sharing. It can take weeks or even months to get to that point.

    Kids think we adults always know what we are doing. Especially those who are authority figures. So we can use that to our advantage a little bit. The leaders need to be committed to making class a place where no one gets teased or ridiculed or excluded. Leaders need to spell it out– “this class in not like school, you are safe here. No meanness allowed.”

    If they feel safe and loved, the spirit can be there. Then provide opportunities for them to participate in ways that don’t put them on the spot or make them too uncomfortable. And when they do take the risk and share something– don’t praise them about their skills– instead just tell them you felt the spirit when they spoke.

    God wants us to succeed with his sons and daughters. We just hafta do things His way. I’ve probably had more direct help from the spirit in behalf of others than in my own more selfish requests.

    Comment by C Jones — December 16, 2008 @ 1:18 pm

  29. I’m a YW leader right now. The best lessons I’ve seen are where the teacher asks questions of the girls that they care about. I agree that meeting with the boys several times throughout the week might be effective but would be a huge, and probably unreasonable, time commitment for both you and the boys.

    What if instead you required them to prepare three questions that they were going to ask in their lesson ahead of time? They could email or text them to you or something. You could email back some suggestions on how to improve the questions.

    Most young men (or women) won’t do it, of course. You could also take one Sunday or mutual night where you talk about teaching with questions, have each boy choose which lesson they’re going to teach, and prepare three questions right there. Then you could email them back with suggestions the week before to get them thinking about it again.

    Comment by Gina — December 16, 2008 @ 1:44 pm

  30. Jacob J: What links?

    When I read this sentence I thought some of the “this” words were supposed to be links:

    For example, in a lesson on marriage I used this: For a lesson on vision I used this clip: For a lesson on decision-making, this:

    Comment by Jacob J — December 16, 2008 @ 5:15 pm

  31. m&m,

    I actually think the idea that we shouldn’t teach new things is one of the greatest follies of gospel teaching. So, I guess we are on opposite poles for this one.


    By the way, we had the priests teaching lessons and the stake president (brilliantly) laid down the law that the leaders should be teaching at least 3 of 4 Sundays. The problem you describe were very much the problems we had. But with Tim J, I applaud your efforts.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 16, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

  32. Jacob, oh yeah, crap. I thought I’d taken that out. (It’s out now)

    Comment by Matt W. — December 16, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

  33. Ask questions that invite discussion or at least multiple answers, rather than questions that require (or appear to require) a single right answer. Questions that start with “What are some of the…”, “What are the different ways in which…”, “What are some of the reasons why…” and “What are your thoughts about…” are great questions.

    There are a few major problems with the ‘single right answer’ questions (or questions that simply sound as though they have a single right answer). Class members tend to not answer such questions in case they give the wrong answer. Worse yet, their fears are realized when they do volunteer an answer and are told (however gently) that they’re wrong — at which point, they’re either embarrassed or angry, and so quite possibly are other people in the class who were going to give that same answer.

    Case in point: I taught a Gospel Essentials lesson a few weeks back on enduring to the end. Rather than ask, “What does it mean to ‘endure to the end’?” — which could sound as though there was a single right answer — I asked, “What are some of the ways in which we ‘endure to the end’?”. We had a mixture of active members, less active members, newly baptized members, and non-members in the class, and we had a great discussion.

    For what it’s worth. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — December 16, 2008 @ 9:47 pm

  34. I actually think the idea that we shouldn’t teach new things is one of the greatest follies of gospel teaching. So, I guess we are on opposite poles for this one.

    oooo…so tempting to start a quote war on that one, Jacob. :)

    Or perhaps we ought to define what is meant by ‘new.’

    Comment by m&m — December 17, 2008 @ 1:27 am

  35. I should have included my thoughts on that. I am talking more about making teaching an intellectual exercise alone, or neglecting basic gospel truths (which really end up being the key to the mysteries) — like rolling one’s eyes at another lesson on faith, or repentance, or what have you.

    I think the concern about ‘sharing something new’ often puts too much on the teacher (“but I don’t know enough to teach!” can be a copout — most people with testimonies can teach if they will do so with their hearts and not try so hard to be the center of the teaching experience) and not enough trust in the Spirit.

    That’s not to say that there is never room for new perspectives on gospel truths. But I think teachers who aim to ‘teach something new’ can often end up trying to take over too much of the process rather than let the Spirit do the teaching.

    Don’t know if I’m making sense….

    Comment by m&m — December 17, 2008 @ 1:33 am

  36. m&m,

    From my perspective, there are plenty of new things to teach about faith, or repentance, or what have you. Even if it is as simple as telling a personal experience about faith, rather than the quote in the book, you are adding something new. Or if you’ve recently been looking at leadership and self-deception and can see how it ties into repentance, that can be a new thing. If something is interesting and exciting and new to you, chances are it is going to be interesting, exciting, and new to the people you are teaching.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 17, 2008 @ 6:24 am

  37. There are a few key things to making teaching useful.

    First: The teacher must know the material, and know it well. Second-rate knowledge provides for second-rate teaching. Why do most talks on tithing include: “10 cents out of every dollar…”? Or talks on the Word of Wisdom/chastity, where the youth roll their eyes because they’ve all heard it before? It is something all saints know and understand, but no one has taught them anything beyond the basic mechanics.

    Second: The teacher must seek for the highest common denominator, not the lowest. Rules that include “don’t suck” seek for the lowest common denominator. To inspire, a person must be inspiring. And that comes from experience, training and development.

    Third: You Tube and etc., are nice, but tend to distract rather than enhance a lesson, if not used properly. The idea is not to entertain, but to engage. Have the young men make their own You Tube videos concerning the lesson at hand, rather than just finding a few that might be relevant.

    Fourth: Topics and Questions must engage them, challenge them, and make them think. Rather than ask how many dimes for tithing, ask them about the spiritual experiences brought about by tithes, or why ten percent and not 15 percent, or how it ties into the atonement of Christ.

    Fifth: If the teacher isn’t interested and excited about the subject, neither will the listeners be excited.

    Most of things are issues of teaching/training. Personally, I think the Church is two-faced when it comes to training teachers. We say “Teaching, no greater call”, but only have inservice once a quarter, and it usually is about how to help nursery kids color within the lines.

    Stakes should organize true teaching programs, to train ward specialists, who can then take it to their units. Does it take time? Of course. But to what level do we wish to have our teaching?

    Elder Holland stated in a “Teacher Come from God” (Ensign, May 1998)

    We must revitalize and reenthrone superior teaching in the Church—at home, from the pulpit, in our administrative meetings, and surely in the classroom….

    I heard him state once in a stake conference priesthood leadership meeting that we need to have our pulpits “on fire” as in days of old. We don’t have that anymore. No wonder high priests fall asleep in meetings! And no wonder the youth are bored.

    Comment by Rameumptom — December 17, 2008 @ 9:24 am

  38. Matt, I applaud your desire to do something meaningful. While not everyone can be a great teacher, anyone with certain basic qualities can be an adequate teacher. I would definitely do more modeling for them, and make them aware of the modeling. Modeling good practice with adolescents is a waste of time if they don’t know what they’re looking for, so point out what you plan to do before you start teaching a lesson. Assign them to teach a lesson using specific techniques or achieving certain goals so they become aware of those.

    If you are serious about doing this, I recommend The Elements of Teaching. It’s more about ideals and principles than techniques, but it is really excellent. I think a lot of the principles in the book could apply to church teaching as well as professional teaching.

    Comment by Norbert — December 17, 2008 @ 9:29 am

  39. 36 –
    I think ‘teaching something new’ then is not always a bad thing. :)

    I still think the teacher ought not to feel the pressure to do that, but rather focus on bringing the Spirit. If that is done by ‘teaching something new’ — like sharing a thought, testimony, or experience, then sure. “On fire” as was mentioned before requires moving, powerful teaching and testifying, not more ‘new’ information per se.

    What I have been thinking of when I refer to new is those who primarily want to make a class an intellectual experience, who come with materials that leave the boundaries of the church materials, and are trying to ‘wow’ the class without really focusing on the Spirit.

    I’ve just been amazed at how many times I have learned something new when the ‘same ol’ stuff’ (or what some would say was the same ol’ stuff) was being taught. The Spirit is our best ally.

    But I know now I’m just repeating myself.

    Comment by m&m — December 17, 2008 @ 12:47 pm

  40. m&m,

    I’m glad you contained your temptation to start a quote war since then I would have been revealed as a heretic for not caring about whatever quote from Oaks or whoever you were going to use.

    I’ve just been amazed at how many times I have learned something new when the ’same ol’ stuff’ … was being taught.

    The fact that the Spirit can teach us even when a bad lesson is being given does not vindicate bad teaching.

    I am 100% in favor of talking about faith and repentance and have posted on both topics (I am not called as a teacher, so my posts are as close to lessons as I get). I have never posted something that simply repeats the five basic points make about repentance in the hundreds of lessons I’ve had on repentance over the years. I think it is simply a fact of nature that people get less out of lessons if they are not challenged to think. Telling people the same stories and sharing the same “insights” year after year does not challenge people, it puts them to sleep.

    I am talking more about making teaching an intellectual exercise alone

    Certainly we shouldn’t have a purely intellectual exercise all the time. By the same token, we shouldn’t say deep sounding but ultimately meaningless things all the time either. We need a mix of devotional, intellectual, orthodox, controversial, touching, obscure, new, old, etc.

    We need all these things because people are different and we care about uplifting everyone. It is wonderful that you are inspired and motivated by a certain kind of presentation. I think we should keep that kind of presentation in the mix. But I hope you will acknowledge that yours is not the only true and living personality. Other people are uplifted and motivated by a different kind of presentation and we should put those in the mix as well. That means we need some portions of time devoted to the intellectual. Remember, this is supported in the scriptures, best books and all of that.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 17, 2008 @ 1:09 pm

  41. I’m glad you contained your temptation to start a quote war since then I would have been revealed as a heretic for not caring about whatever quote from Oaks or whoever you were going to use.

    So, you think I think you are a heretic, huh? That doesn’t start us off on a very good foot, does it? Let me see if I can clarify what I am trying to say. (And it’s not that you are a heretic.)

    Telling people the same stories and sharing the same “insights” year after year does not challenge people, it puts them to sleep.

    For the record, this is not what I was advocating. And this is rarely what I encounter in my classes at church. I find teachers able to teach the simple doctrines while leading fresh and meaningful discussions. But they don’t have to bring in “new” material or exert themselves trying to “teach something new” to do it.

    So, the following is not what I am advocating, either.

    By the same token, we shouldn’t say deep sounding but ultimately meaningless things all the time either.

    Is this what you experience in gospel teaching? If so, I’m sorry. (I wonder what you think ‘deep but meaningless’ looks like.)

    But I hope you will acknowledge that yours is not the only true and living personality.

    Jacob, I never meant anything of the sort. This isn’t to me about personality, and I’m not trying to pit “my personality” against anyone’s. It’s about what I think we are taught about good gospel teaching.

    Perhaps I should clarify that I LOVE learning new things, btw, in general. But I don’t think gospel classes are the place to pull out sometimes-obscure, unofficial, mostly intellectual, not deoctrinal stuff (what I was defining as ‘new’ fwiw.) (EVEN IF I LIKE IT, which often I do.) There is plenty of newness to be found in simplicity, imo, and I feel that that is what we are regularly being reminded of.

    But really, there are many ways to look at and talk about the same scriptures in different ways (for example, I am reading Lehi’s dream again and, again, am seeing things I never noticed before; same with Ether 12). And so often, different people with different personalities can bring so much ‘newness’ to a class if they are simply given the chance to share. Sharing a new thought or insight or feeling or experience with the scriptures and gospel principles is not the kind of thing I was talking about.

    Something I think is also really important to remember is that teaching in the Church is really more about facilitating discussion than imparting new knowledge per se. The gospel classroom setting is not meant to be a one-way thing. I think too often teachers have the perspective that they are supposed to get through some quantity of material, or teach ‘some new thing’ instead of realizing that they are really supposed to create an environment where everyone can feel the Spirit and feel invited to share…it’s often in the mutual sharing that ‘new’ things can be learned. (I love the role of teacher/facilitator because I learn so much from the people in the class). That requires skills of facilitation, question asking, etc. that are important, and that can be practiced and taught.

    I see too many people who are intimidated by teaching because they think it’s about brainpower or knowledge. While of course some foundation of gospel knowledge is important, teaching in the church is a different process than just imparting facts and knowledge — it’s not about teaching new information. And the reason I react (maybe too quickly…sorry) to the whole notion of ‘teaching something new’ is because I think it’s too easy for teachers to do too much and not let the classroom be a discovery experience through discussion and such.

    But I certainly am not advocating the extremes you have presented, so I wonder how much differently we *really* see things. I hope this helps explain a little more what I am thinking.

    Comment by m&m — December 17, 2008 @ 1:46 pm

  42. Matt, from your #5, it sounds like your boys don’t even care about what they are teaching. It’s impossible to teach something well if you aren’t interested in it. I don’t have any suggestions on how to improve that (i.e., how to increase their interest level), but it seems that any teaching methodology focus is wasted effort until they are vested.

    (If this is a repeat of a previous comment, then I apologize; I didn’t read through all comments.)

    Comment by BrianJ — December 17, 2008 @ 2:51 pm

  43. m&m,

    I really am a heretic. I didn’t think you were accusing me of being one; I was just saying that my heretic status could be revealed were a quote war to break out.

    For the record, this is not what I was advocating.

    Of course you were not advocating telling the “same stories and sharing the same ‘insights’ year after year.” Just like no one was advocating making classes an “intellectual exercise alone” when you said we shouldn’t do that. I picked a phrase that was equally extreme and equally un-represented on this thread as a parallel to your phrase of what we should not do.

    This isn’t to me about personality

    I am contending that it IS largely about personality. People tend to be moved more easily by a certain kind of presentation and a certain kind of content that works for them. You expressed that you are often taught by the spirit when the “same ol’ stuff” is being taught. I think this means one of two things:

    1. You are saying that the spirit can teach us even if the lesson is not being effectively taught -and/or-
    2. You are offering this as evidence that sharing the “same ol’ thing” is the thing teachers should do because it leads to spiritual learning like that which you testify to having received.

    If you mean 1., then I agree with the point, but I would hasten to add that the fact that the spirit can teach us in the midst of an ineffective lesson does not vindicate poor teaching.

    If you mean 2., then I am arguing that this is not evidence of a universal truth about teaching, but rather, it is a reflection of your personality and what type of presentation works best for you.

    Something I think is also really important to remember is that teaching in the Church is really more about facilitating discussion than imparting new knowledge per se.

    I don’t agree. I know lots of people who agree with you, but I know lots of people who disagree too. You can declare the true purpose of Sunday School as being discussion, but I don’t see any reason I should be compelled to accept your declaration. It is called Sunday “School” after all. If we sit in hours and hours of lessons through our lives and we never focus on imparting new knowledge, I feel this is a shame and a disservice.

    But I certainly am not advocating the extremes you have presented

    Nor am I advocating the extremes you have presented. I said in #40 that “We need a mix of devotional, intellectual, orthodox, controversial, touching, obscure, new, old, etc.” Do you agree?

    Comment by Jacob J — December 17, 2008 @ 2:59 pm

  44. People tend to be moved more easily by a certain kind of presentation

    For example Jacob cries everytime he watches Toy Story.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 17, 2008 @ 6:31 pm

  45. Nor am I advocating the extremes you have presented.

    Fair enough. I should have been more careful about my thoughts. Sorry about that.

    I also want to clarify something. My *personality* loves intellectual discussion, and lots of ‘new things’ (as I have tended to define them here). It’s actually part of why I enjoy blogging. I enjoy exploring things that really can’t be explored in church classes…thinking about culture and context and history and other stuff that is usually outside of the scope of gospel classes. In almost any other setting, that is what I would champion and resonate with.

    What I am talking about and advocating here reflects something different — my conviction about what I think we are taught about gospel teaching. I think the manuals are simple and repetitive for a reason. I think they encourage teachers toward discussion and application for a reason. And even as I think often our classes fall short of their potential (I’ve certainly been bored in my share of classes, too), I still believe that gospel classes are unique and that I think we are being encouraged to pursue teaching in the church differently than we might be elsewhere.

    I understand some may disagree, or may think I’m missing something. And I’m not sure I am capturing fully how I feel about this (for example, Jacob, I don’t think my experience falls into either one of your two choices, but I’m not sure how to explain more what I’m thinking).

    I also think the success of the discussion/application process depends on the combination of a teacher’s skill with with the willingness of people to really open their hearts and share. I happen to live in an area where people are open, willing to share, and deep thinking. And teachers have often tended to be well-read and articulate. When teachers respond to that (rather than either cling to the manuals or try to over-teach), then some pretty amazing things can happen.

    But again, a large part of my natural personality would tend toward more complex, knowledge-imparting classes. But I think that those who crave that kind of experience (again, I understand that desire) are bound to find themselves disappointed because that is not the way I think teachers are taught to teach in the church. And I believe that is purposeful. And I have, if you will, gained a ‘testimony’ of how I believe we are being encouraged to teach.

    Your mileage may vary, of course. :)

    Comment by m&m — December 17, 2008 @ 9:45 pm

  46. m&m: I think the manuals are simple and repetitive for a reason.

    This is a certainty. The question is whether it is a good reason or not. Or more importantly, if God wants church manuals to be simple and repetitive (thus leading a lot of church teaching to be simple and repetitive) or if he simply puts up with it.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 17, 2008 @ 11:53 pm

  47. I’m entering the discussion late and I haven’t read all the comments, but as I was putting up the link to this post on my sideblog it struck me that you probably say these rules out loud to your YM, and that it would be unlikely that a YW leader would e-v-e-r word them the same way for YW. And that got me thinking about the codes of niceness that infuse YW. Uber-niceness, actually; even sweetness, cotton-candy sweetness. Just a random thought on the highly gendered cultures of the same youth program in the same ward.

    On another note, a couple of weeks ago I mentioned to the Laurels that I knew the Priests took turns teaching the lessons. I said maybe they should have a crack at teaching now and then, since they will undoubtedly have to do so in future callings and practice makes perfect better. They rejected this idea, said they thought it was evidence of failure of the YM leaders to prepare. “You don’t want us to think you are lazy, now do you Sister J?” one asked me. A very telling comment. Goes back to #25 – youth need to be taught and they look to us for guidance, direction, and weekly spiritual nourishment. They don’t get that from their peers necessarily.

    Comment by jeans — December 18, 2008 @ 6:56 am

  48. Geoff J @ 46: right on.

    Comment by jeans — December 18, 2008 @ 6:59 am

  49. jeans,

    You made me think of the perfect solution. The priests should take turns teaching the Laurels and vice-versa. This would give them a good reason to care about looking stupid and being a terrible teacher. Having been motivated thusly, Matt can swoop in with some timely teaching advice.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 18, 2008 @ 11:39 am

  50. Ha Matt – Great Post.

    I’m the Scoutmaster in my ward. Every Tuesday night after tons of prep work and anxiety, as drive to the church with my sons – they always challenge at the last minute -“Dad- will tonights activity be boring?”

    In one minute in the car – I find myself making radical changes to my plans as we drive up to the church building. Never fails.

    Comment by Bold California — December 21, 2008 @ 10:36 pm

  51. For anyone interested, here is what we decided as a group.

    The Young Men decided our number one priority should be unity and brotherhood and everything else should focus around that.

    They still like teaching lessons and will teach twice a month. (1st and 3rd sundays) I will teach on the 2nd Sunday from “Teaching, No Greater Calling” (That was the Bishoprics’ idea) and my Secretary and 1st Councilor will trade off teaching the 4th Sunday.

    We are going to use selected lessons from the Aaronic Priesthood Manual, but are skipping around, so we can focus on the more interesting lessons.

    And I am never going to say “Don’t suck and Don’t be boring” ever again.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 30, 2008 @ 9:02 am

  52. And I am never going to say “Don’t suck and Don’t be boring” ever again.

    Never say never. You get to sit through one of their lessons every other week, so it could get quite tempting.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 30, 2008 @ 2:39 pm

  53. This is a great topic.

    I have posted a video that will improve your Quorum instruction and any Sacrament Talk.
    Check it out over at

    I believe is the best how-to-teach video available. It is 45 minutes, and done by an MIT Professor and it is well worth anyone’s time.

    Comment by J Golden — February 9, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

  54. better link

    Comment by J Golden — February 9, 2009 @ 4:53 pm

  55. J Golden,

    Well, I gave several hours of lecture this week so I watched the videos to grade myself and see if there were some ideas I could use. Overall I feel pretty good since I used most of the techniques he talks about, but there were some good things I picked up as well. I like his comments on stopping. It is kind of funny that I don’t think is was a particularly great lecture, but it still had some good stuff.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 13, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

  56. Jacob,
    I agree with you. It seems clear that he has an excruciatingly boring personality. To me that is what makes his lectures so interesting. You can see how he uses his techniques to make his lecture tolerable, or even good. You can only imagine how dry and boring he would be had he not taught himself these techniques. He just is devoid of charm or energy. If a natural speaker can learn his techniques I think you’ll have a dynamite presentor. Sounds like you are well on your way.

    Comment by J Golden — February 17, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

  57. i’m not going to lie, i didn’t read the replies to the post, but, i have always wanted to use the 3 parts from indiana jones and the last crusade where he has to go through the 3 tests at the end to save his dad and all that junk. you know, “only the penitent man will pass. a penitent man is humble, a humble man kneels before God… KNEEL (blades swipe over his head and behind him as he rolls forward.)” oh man…

    i recently returned from a mission in July, and i always told Elders and Sisters in my zones and districts to just be themselves. Don’t be a robot, add your personality into what you are teaching, and teach it how you see it.

    i love the blog, BTW.

    Comment by trevor — May 9, 2009 @ 1:30 pm