"Whatever level of spirituality we now enjoy in our lives; whatever degree of faith in Jesus Christ ... commitment and consecration, whatever degree of obedience or hope or charity is ours ... it will not be sufficient for the work that lies ahead. ... You and I need to be much better than we are now. The scriptures teach us that the world is now and will be in commotion. Wickedness and darkness will increase. Yet in that darkening world there will be increased divine light. The Lord Jesus Christ has a great work for us to do with the rising generation. It is a greater work than we have ever done before. The Lord is working in power to strengthen teaching and learning in His true and living Church. He is hastening His work, and He is preparing the earth and His kingdom and us for His return" ("Encircled About with Fire," Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Satellite Broadcast, August 4, 2015, emphasis added).
So How do we strengthen teaching and learning to raise us to the next level and help prepare the world for the Savior's return? One way is to help students participate in their spiritual learning every time they come to class.
17 Ideas to Invite Student Participation
1. When someone makes a comment, make sure they feel safe and appreciated. It takes a lot of courage for some people to participate, so be careful not to make someone feel embarrassed or unappreciated for their comment. Looking them in the eye and saying, "Thank you, that's a great point! It reminds me of..." goes a long way in making people feel safe to share.
2. Openly invite participation. At the beginning of your lesson, tell the class you’d love to hear their comments and questions. You may even dedicate a whole lesson to this, which is what we do at the beginning of each school year in seminary.
3. Have them discuss with a neighbor or small group what a scripture or quote means to them, how it applies to their lives, or a time when it has blessed their lives.
4. Have a student read a verse aloud then paraphrase it in his own words. That makes them think and internalize what they read.
5. Have a student read a verse aloud then tell how it applies to a certain principle, or how it applies to her life.
6. Invite students to share a personal experience that relates to the topic. When you invite participation, pause longer than is comfortable. Some people need several seconds to process their thoughts, so if you're too uncomfortable to pause, those people will never raise their hands to comment.
7. Invite a student to bear his or her testimony about a principle. Or ask a person after giving a comment, "Would you put an "I know" statement at the end of that?" For example, if the comment was about prayer, they may respond with "I know that when I spend more time thanking Heavenly Father in my prayers, I feel closer to Him."
8. When reading a passage, stop and ask questions along the way to make sure everyone follows the story or sermon.
9. Have students brainstorm ways to apply a principle and list their ideas on the board. Invite them to set a goal by choosing one item that they plan to use to improve their own lives. If they write down their goal on an index card, set an alarm, or send themselves a message on their phone, they're more likely to remember and do their goal. The next class period you could start the day asking who would like to share how it went doing their action. You could text your students with a reminder.
10. Play pass the chalk. One or two students can write on the board one way to apply the principle, and they pass the chalk to the next person until everyone has a chance to write their idea on the board.
11. Invite them to write a short journal entry to paraphrase a verse into their own words, then write their thoughts about it, and how it applies to them. You may want to play instrumental hymn music as they write.
12. Ask questions before reading a scripture or quote such as:
- Look for...
13. Ask open-ended questions after reading a scripture or quote, such as:
- What is the Lord trying to teach us here?
- What does it mean to you? How you feel about it?
- How does this scripture or story or principle relate to your life?
- Why do you think...
- What did you find...
- What do you think, In your opinion...
- Why is it, How is it...
- What is the difference...
- What are some ways...
- What life lessons can we draw from this?
- Who’s willing to summarize the story so far?
- What blessings have you seen when you have...
(Notice what three words most of these questions start with)
14. When someone asks a question, rather than answering it yourself, invite the class to give answers. Or ask the class to help find the answer in the scriptures or the manual. Teach them how to use study helps like footnotes, Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, and especially the Joseph Smith Translation.
15. What if you get too much participation from one or two people so other class members don't get a chance? You could say before asking your next question, "Let's hear from someone who hasn't shared yet today," or "How about someone on this side of the room?" or “We have time for two people to share.”
16. At the end of a lesson I sometimes invite a student to close with their testimony of a principle or truth they learned today. These have been awesome! I gave my seminary students notice when I was going to start inviting them, and told them to come tell me privately if they didn't want me to call on them. Another option is to ask, "Who is willing to stand up and share with us what you learned about prayer today?"
17. Here is a method of class participation you can use if you have an emergency with no prep time, which happened once in Relief Society. I asked everyone to pull out their paper or digital manual, and assigned a section of the lesson to each row. I gave them several minutes to silently read their section and mark things they might like to share. I scanned the whole lesson while they read, and of course prayed for guidance that we'd all say what God would have us say. It turned out awesome! As we moved through each section of the lesson, that row shared what stood out to them and their thoughts or experiences about it. Sometimes I chimed in responses and sometimes others did. At the end I summarized the main point of the lesson in a testimony and we were all well nourished by the Spirit and a great discussion.
17 LDS Quotes about Student Participation
1. “Sometimes students come to the learning setting thinking that the responsibility for their learning rests only with the teacher. They want to sit passively and have education “happen” to them. This cannot be….Each person has a responsibility for his or her own gospel learning and living, and each will ultimately be judged by how they fulfill that responsibility” (Teaching the Gospel: A Handbook for CES Teachers and Leaders, p. 13).
2. “The very process of formulating a question, raising a hand, asking a question and listening attentively is an expression of faith. This principle of seeking learning by faith invites individualized teaching by the Holy Ghost” (Elder David A. Bednar, Address to Australian Saints, April 2008).
3. “A person learns more rapidly from what he does than from what others do for him. One expert has concluded that ‘the ratio of learning is: one by hearing, ten by seeing, and one thousand by doing.’ A person does not learn nearly so well by sitting and listening to someone talk as he does by participating. He must be involved in the lesson. The secret of successful teaching, therefore, is getting a person to do something for himself” (President Monson, Favorite Quotations from the Collection of Thomas S. Monson, p. 266).
4. “As teachers, we must require our students to think... After discussing each story, we were asked questions such as ‘What does that mean to you?’ ‘How does this scripture–or story or principle–relate to your life?’ ‘How can you apply this teaching in your home?’ ‘How do you feel about it?’ I found in my own home with m boys that once I asked these questions they began to live and feel what they were being taught. We were asked to think” (Elder Robert D. Hales, “Teaching By Faith,” Feb. 1, 2002).
5. “Never, and I mean never, give a lecture where there is no student participation. A ‘talking head’ is the weakest form of class instruction... Assure that there is abundant participation because that use of agency by a student authorizes the Holy Ghost to instruct. It also helps the student retain your message. As students verbalize truths, they are confirmed in their souls and strengthen their personal testimonies” (Elder Richard G. Scott, “To Understand and Live Truth,” Feb. 4, 2005).
6. “Learning by faith cannot be transferred from an instructor to a student through a lecture, a demonstration, or an experiential exercise; rather a student must exercise faith and act in order to obtain the knowledge for himself or herself... Ultimately the responsibility to learn by faith and apply spiritual truth rests upon each of us individually... What, how, and when we learn is supported by–but is not dependent upon–an instructor, a method of presentation, or a specific topic or lesson format" (Elder David A. Bednar, “Seek Learning by Faith,” Feb. 3, 2006).
7. “We are to help students learn to explain, share, and testify of the doctrines and principles of the restored gospel. We are to give them opportunities to do so with each other in class. We are to encourage them to do so outside of class with family and others” (The Teaching Emphasis in the Church Educational System, November 14, 2007).
8. “The role of the teacher is “to help individuals take responsibility for learning the gospel—to awaken in them the desire to study, understand, and live the gospel” (David M. McKonkie, Gen. Conf. Oct. 2010, quoting Teaching, No Greater Call: A Resource Guide for Gospel Teaching, 1999, 61).
9. “When you encourage students to raise their hand to respond to a question, they signify to the Holy Spirit their willingness to learn. That use of moral agency will allow the Spirit to motivate and give them more powerful guidance during your time together. Participation allows individuals to experience being led by the Spirit. They learn to recognize and feel what spiritual guidance is. It is through the repeated process of feeling impressions, recording them, and obeying them that one learns to depend on the direction of the Spirit more than on communication through the five senses” (Elder Richard G. Scott, "Helping Others to Be Spiritually Led," Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings (2004), 55–57).
10. “One of the dangers of the times we are passing into is that we might be tempted to lower our expectations for ourselves and for those young people we serve. As the world darkens, even a partial conversion and a few spiritual experiences may seem more and more remarkable, compared to the world. We might be tempted to expect less. The Lord has given another signal, clear and powerful. It is that we can expect more, not less, of youth.” (Henry B. Eyring, “Raising Expectations,” CES Satellite Training Broadcast, August 2004)
11. “Do you know how to get the most benefit from this time together? Write down the impressions you feel. … Spiritual moments in life often come when it seems difficult to record them. Yet that special effort to crystallize in a permanent record sacred impressions of the Holy Ghost is powerfully rewarded. Begin now even if you have to borrow paper and pencil to do it.” (Richard G. Scott, BYU-Idaho Devotional, February 24, 2004)
12. “How easy it is for a teacher to respond quickly to simple questions, to close a conversation that might have ignited a sparkling and lively class discussion. . . . Few things are so agonizing for a new teacher as to want to start a discussion and then have everyone remain silent. The use of discussion, simple question and answer, is one of the basic, useful, and important teaching processes. It often does not go well simply because the teacher does not know how to ask questions or how to respond (or how not to respond) to those that are asked by the class” (President Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently , 55–56).
13. “To ask and to answer questions is at the heart of all learning and all teaching. The Master asked, answered, and sometimes chose not to answer questions in his ministry. … Some questions invite inspiration. Great teachers ask those. That may take just a small change of words, an inflection in the voice. Here is a question that might not invite inspiration: ‘How is a true prophet recognized?’ That question invites an answer which is a list, drawn from memory of the scriptures and the words of living prophets. But we could also ask the question this way, with just a small difference: ‘When have you felt that you were in the presence of a prophet?’ That will invite individuals to search their memories for feelings. After asking, we might wisely wait for a moment before calling on someone to respond. Even those who do not speak will be thinking of spiritual experiences. That will invite the Holy Ghost” (President Henry B. Eyring,The Lord Will Multiply the Harvest, [address to religious educators, 6 Feb. 1998], 5–6)
14. “The goal of gospel teaching … is not to ‘pour information’ into the minds of class members. … The aim is to inspire the individual to think about, feel about, and then do something about living gospel principles" (Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 107).
15. “Testimony—real testimony, born of the Spirit and confirmed by the Holy Ghost—changes lives” (Elder Ballard, “Pure Testimony,” Ensign, Nov. 2004, 40).
16. "[The students'] decision to participate is an exercise in agency that permits the Holy Ghost to communicate a personalized message suited to their individual needs. Creating an atmosphere of participation enhances the probability that the Spirit will teach more important lessons than you can communicate.” (Elder Richard G. Scott, "The Spirit is the Real Teacher," lds.org)
17. “Oh, if I could teach you this one principle. A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! … It is one thing to receive a witness from what you have read or what another has said; and that is a necessary beginning. It is quite another to have the Spirit confirm to you in your bosom that what you have testified is true” (Elder Boyd K. Packer,“The Candle of the Lord,” 54–55).
6 Ways NOT to Invite Participation
1. Just read the lesson from the manual.
2. Just lecture.
3. Try to impress the class with yourself–your knowledge or skills.
4. When students make comments or questions, you criticize, be unresponsive, look down instead of listening fully, tell them they’re wrong, or treat it lightly.
5. Do anything to push away the Spirit like using inappropriate language, jokes or examples.
6. Fail to center the lesson on gospel truths.
Click here for quotes and ideas for creating a Spirit-led learning environment.