In the Church, we often desire and encourage discussion. But discussion without structure can create a meandering or surface-level lesson. Elders quorum and Relief Society classes seem to be especially prone to this pitfall. How can Relief Society and elders quorum teachers—with general conference talks as the subjects of their lessons, and without the prescribed lesson plans of days past—lead an engaging class discussion?
The answer is quite simple: ask good questions.
The best questions evoke:
- Past experiences
- Personal insights and
- Genuine emotions
For most of us, coming up with these kinds of questions may not be intuitive. One Leading Saints listener, Dave LeFevre, shares his advice for generating discussion through thought-provoking questions. He suggests using any of the following question-based class structures—or coming up with your own.
Question-Based Class Structures
- Find other talks about the same topic and assign a few people to review them before class. During class, ask each of these people to summarize in at most three sentences what messages resonated with them from their respective talks. Then open the discussion to further insights.
- Pick three quotes from the talk and print out several copies of each. Break up the class into three groups, assigning each group one of the quotes. Give the groups 20 minutes to come up with a way to teach the talk in five minutes. After 20 minutes, have each group teach the class, and then summarize what all the groups said at the end, adding your own thoughts or insights.
- Break the general conference video into one-minute or less segments and put each segment on a slide in a PowerPoint. After each video, include a slide with a discussion question. Work through the PowerPoint until the end of the class.
- Invite one or more members of the class to come prepared to share a personal story related to the talk’s topic. Start the lesson by presenting the main message of the talk, and then turn the time over to the storyteller(s). Invite additional comments from other class members.
- Invite three or four members of the class to read the talk before class and select one paragraph that is meaningful to them. In class, have them share the paragraph and why they picked it.
- Introduce the topic with a quote from the talk, and then have everyone open their scriptures to find one or more scriptures related to that topic. Ask for volunteers to share their scriptures and why they selected them. Invite other members to chime in if they found the same scripture and have them share their insights.
- Before class, make a numbered list of thought-provoking, one-sentence quotes from the talk. During class, pass out Post-It notes and pens to the class members. Read each quote along with its number and tape the quotes horizontally across the top of the chalkboard as you go. While you are reading the quotes, have class members write down the number of the quote that stands out to them along with the thought or emotion that came to their minds as you read the quote. Once you’ve read all the quotes, have everyone come up and put their Post-It notes under their respective quotes. Everyone can then “walk the wall” together, reading what others wrote. You can then begin a discussion of the quotes in whatever order makes the most sense: for example, start with the most popular quote, ask a class member to pick a quote, or go through the quotes numerically from left to right. Ask class members to share what they learned from their own writing as well as what they learned from reading what others wrote. You might also point to specific notes and ask who wrote them and what they meant, and then ask who else in the class relates with the idea.
- Combine any of the above ideas. For example, break the class up into three groups and assign one group to find related scriptures, one to find related quotes from other talks, and one to come up with a personal story. Allow time for the groups to perform their “work,” as well as time for a presentation and discussion of the findings of each group at the end.
Tips and Tricks
Don’t be afraid to test out some questions with a couple class members ahead of time to get feedback. Over time, you’ll discover the types of questions that work best with your class.
Start with easier questions, like “Who has seen this principle in action?” or “Who remembers how they felt when they first heard this talk?” Then work your way up to the harder, more personal questions. For example, “How can we more fully live this principle within our ward?” or “What is one goal you would like to set after today’s discussion?”
Don’t be afraid to read the room and call on people who look pensive but who are reluctant to talk. Avoid letting 90% of the comments be made by 10% of the people.
Giving quieter people assignments a few days before the lesson will give them time to think about the talk ahead of time and avoid feeling put on the spot.
Don’t be afraid to fail! Teaching is as much a learning process for the teacher as it is for the class participants.
Brooklyn Bird is a student from Evergreen, Colorado, attending Brigham Young University Law School in Provo, Utah. Her experience in Church leadership includes a full-time mission in Sweden as well as various callings within Relief Society presidencies and activities committees. Upon completion of her law degree, Brooklyn plans to use her writing and speaking skills to advocate for immigrants and refugees. Along with writing, she loves running, reading, playing violin, cooking, and spending time with her husband, friends, and family. Her desire to lead by following the Savior is what brought her to Leading Saints and keeps her passionately listening to and sharing Leading Saints messages.