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Recently I had a discussion with a group of about 30 young men and young women about what they want out of their gospel classes. Their answers were fascinating. While they gave a variety of answers, their answers generally fell into the following four categories:
- Thoughtful doctrinal discussions based in the scriptures.
- More personal experiences and testimonies from their leaders.
- Additional opportunities to participate in classes, including the opportunity to teach all or part of a class. (Many young men are already teaching in their Aaronic Priesthood quorums. However, youth can also teach in their Sunday School and Young Women classes as appropriate.)
- Help learning how to use technology appropriately.
In my calling in the Sunday School general presidency, I’ve been blessed to see some outstanding youth teachers. In this article, I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned that address the requests of these youth.
1. Thoughtful doctrinal discussions based in the scriptures
As teachers of youth, the most important thing we can do is help the youth learn pure doctrine from the scriptures and words of the living prophets. Doctrine and Covenants 42:12 and 52:9 teach us that we are to teach from the scriptures and the words of the prophets because that is where we find the doctrine.
The youth I met with said that they don’t want to be entertained. Rather, they want to have profound doctrinal discussions about the scriptures. Too often they told me that their in-class scriptural discussions are superficial and rarely result in them learning something they didn’t already know. We took time to analyze several scriptures and discover together the truths contained therein. I didn’t give them answers. I simply asked open-ended questions that helped them uncover the truth for themselves. As we did this, the Holy Ghost taught them and their excitement to learn the gospel grew.
2. More personal experiences and testimonies from their leaders
At the same time, the youth need their teachers and leaders to share their own personal experiences in these discussions about how they learned a truth or overcame a challenge when they were young. The youth I met with told me that hearing these experiences help them relate better to their teachers and leaders, give them hope they can overcome their own challenges, and help them apply the truths that they are learning in their own lives.
3. Additional opportunities to participate in classes
The most effective youth teachers come well prepared to class, but they also help their youth to be prepared. They do this by giving the youth assignments and by involving parents. For example, in preparation for the following week’s lesson, teachers can invite the youth to read the lesson or key scriptures, study a general conference talk, or ponder a question. During the week teachers can send reminders to help the youth remember to do these things. Teachers can also let parents know what they will be discussing in class and ask them to study the topic with their youth. These can be wonderful topics for family home evening, family scripture study, or even discussions at the dinner table.
Encourage lots of participation. The best way to do this is to ask inspired, open-ended questions (questions that require students to explain rather than give a yes or no answer). These should not be leading questions that look for a specific answer, but rather questions that cause students to think deeply and discover the truth for themselves. Good teachers give the youth time to answer these questions by allowing for silence. This can be uncomfortable for teachers, but letting students think for 60 seconds can allow the Spirit to teach them. I have found that this method often results in youth discovering profound truths.
One of the best ways to encourage participation is to have the youth teach all or part of the class. In fact, as they are ready, the youth need to teach, as it helps prepare them to be missionaries, parents, and leaders in the Church. It may have been at least in part for this reason that in Doctrine and Covenants 20:46–47, where the Lord reveals the duties of priest, He listed preaching and teaching first. Having the youth teach works best if parents or leaders can work one-on-one with the youth to prepare the lesson.
4. Help learning how to use technology appropriately
Teachers can help the youth learn how to use technology appropriately and encourage more participation by having the youth use their mobile devices in lessons. For example, teachers can put the youth in small groups and have them research gospel topics in class, study general conference talks, or watch Church-produced videos related to the lesson.
I recently saw a teacher put the students in her class in pairs, have them look up and read a talk from general conference, discuss key principles found in the talk, and then briefly present what they learned to the class. It was very effective. At a minimum, youth can follow the Come, Follow Me lesson outline on their mobile devices and read the listed scriptures and quotes.
God expects much of our youth. They are often far more spiritually prepared than we assume they are. As the group I met with told me, we can expect more from them. I promise that as we do so the Holy Ghost will be the real teacher, our youth will be strengthened and find joy in learning the gospel, and both teachers and youth will be edified together (see D&C 50:22).