Help Me Teach With Inspiration

You knew it was inevitable.  Within weeks of joining a family ward, I was assigned to corrupt the youth.  Okay, not actually assigned–apparently I "volunteered" to teach early morning Seminary, and let’s just say that no one has actually prescribed corruption.  We’ll see what happens. 

In all honesty and all BCC snark aside, the person most afraid of "corrupting" these kids is me.  I’m feeling a tremendous sense of responsibility.  Everyone who knows that I’ll be teaching Seminary has, at some point, related to me their very vivid memories of Seminary; whether that experience was positive and spiritual, or rather a negative stumbling block in their spiritual progression.  The point is, they all remember.  They remember the crazy things that their teachers said, they remember the lessons they learned, they remember feeling the spirit, they remember being included or marginalized.  They remember Seminary.  For good or ill, Seminary has been a tremendous formative experience in many church members’ lives.  I want for these kids to have the most positive, the most supportive, the most spiritually uplifting, the most helpful Seminary experience possible.  And frankly, I’m overwhelmed. 

One hour a day.  That’s a lot of time.  That is more time than they spend with scout masters or young women’s leaders.  Honestly, that is probably more time, per day, discussing spiritual matters than they’ll spend with their parents.   I’m being asked to be a surrogate parent here, a spiritual aide to their families.  But, there is also something precious about this time.  Only one hour before they get sent off into rough and tumbly, often demeaning, teenager-land.  I get them before they get to high school.  I get to pray with them and sing a hymn, and talk about the scriptures, and hopefully, hopefully help them feel the spirit.   Then they get worn down with stress and worry and school and friends and gossip and activities and  hard, hard teenage drama.  Then I get them again the next morning.

I know I need to love them.  That’s clearly the first order of business here.  But that’s not the hard part…I already love them.  Apparently that innate love and concern came with the job.  I’m more concerned about maximizing those precious hours I have.  I have some lesson plan ideas forming, but want all the input I can get.  I want your good memories and experiences and ideas.  We’re studying the Book of Mormon this year.  I want them to feel the fire I felt during my freshman year at BYU when I first really grasped the Book of Mormon.  I want them to love it, and know it well enough to turn to it for comfort and guidance. 

What Book of Mormon lessons do you remember?  What teaching techniques are particularly useful in working with teenagers?  What activities are manageable, but useful in elucidating the meaning behind stories:  a Lehi’s dream art extravaganza?  a King Benjamin write your own speech-fest?  A get your mission call along with the sons of Mosiah?  Day to day, how can you get the kids to respond to the text?  Are they too young for the socratic method?  Is journal writing time useful?  What are your ideas?   


  1. My advice: don’t tell them that you can’t stand Captain Moroni. Oh wait. I did that! (Much sackloth and ashes.)

  2. Karen, this almost makes me wish I were a teenager again, and living in your ward! I’ve had two experiences with seminary, as a student and as a teacher.

    I wasn’t a very good student. I usually came in late, then put my head down and slept until the bell rang. When I was a senior, the teacher took maybe 10 minutes one day and engaged me in conversation, and I was hooked.

    As a teacher, I found journal writing very helpful. Is your class a mixture of 9th – 12th graders? The socratic method is a GREAT way to approach teenagers, because their answers will tell you what is important to them, but the difference in age can make it complicated.

    For a lot of (most?) people that age, adolesence is a terrible time. They have all kinds of questions about their worthiness, and think that if only they were better people, they would have stronger testimonies. You can validate their desires, and also help them learn to be patient with themselves.

    Good luck with it all – I’m sure you will be a great teacher!

  3. Mark, thanks so much. I actually have only juniors, from two different wards. I’m thinking that’s a good age. Old enough for critical thinking skills, but not seniors, so not as much attitude!

    How did you use the journals? As a way for them to summarize points just talked about? Did you keep and read them as a kind of assignment book, or just let the kids use them for whatever?

  4. I have had the opportunity to teach early morning seminary several times…quite a few years ago.

    I tried to offer memorable, manageable, measureable challenges, with rewards! My students always liked to be “bribed” – rewarded.

    We had scripture chase groups, the winning group at the end of the month went to breakfast with me and I got a sub for the class. Then I would re-mix the groups.

    We had donuts every Friday….kind of a relaxation, answer off the wall questions, fun games etc. for the last half of class.

    You’ll love it, teenagers are great, you’ll change lives – literally, and when they see how much you love them, they will respond and love you…more than you deserve.

  5. Karen, we had the students use journals to record their reactions to the text and thoughts/feelings about what they were reading. They were free to write whatever they wanted. It was gratifying to notice the change that happened in a couple of cases. One young man wrote, about 1st Nephi: “This sucks, I hate it!”, but by 3rd Nephi he was writing things like: “I wonder if God hears my prayers? I hope so.” As I said, very gratifying.

    Just a caution – I had to work very hard to stay out of the confidante/confessor role that is more suited to the bishop. As you noted, a seminary teacher spends more time with our youth than the youth leaders or bishop, and often even more than the parents. If they like you and trust you, it is natural they will want to confide in you. I had to develop some guidelines for myself so I could head off the conversation when I could see it was becoming too personal.

  6. Karen,
    I just taught seminary last year. It was really hard. At the time I was working part-time and doing grad school full-time so I wasn’t getting to bed until after 2:00AM usually. I had three students, one of which came 30% of the time, one came 50% of the time, and one that came 95% of the time. It’s tough to motivate yourself to spend almost three hours a day (hour class, hour prep, 45 min travel) every day for one or two students. We had a great time, and it was nice to get to know these kids so well, but it would have been nice to have been able to spread it around a little more.

    The situation was hard on the students as well. When there’s only one or two of you you have to be on every single day. As a teacher I have nobody else to ask questions, nobody else to look at. I talked with my own seminary teacher (a good friend) and he said that there are some Sundays that even he doesn’t want to pay attention in Gospel Doctrine… and that’s once a week! Poor kids, it’s 6:30 in the morning…

    When I first got the call one of my first thoughts was, “how can I be ‘in’ with them, how can I be ‘cool’?” I guess it was just natural instinct, to want to be able to understand and relate to them, to better apply the scriptures to their lives. Then I thought about my seminary teacher and frankly, he was the least cool guy I knew. But the man was humble, he understood the Gospel and lived it, and taught with the Spirit. And he was willing to be a friend. We would go play racquetball together on Saturdays… me and my dorky seminary teacher, who knew? But he remains a good friend, he went to my sealing.

    All that being said, it was a great experience and I think that it went quite well. We had some wonderful conversations, at times we had the Spirit, we all grew and learned, and I think we are all better people because of it.

    Oh, and you’re lucky to be teaching the Book of Mormon. When I was first asked to teach the bishop said I’d be teaching the BoM and I got really excited, started preparing myself for it, thinking of all these wonderful things I’d talk about and then at my first CES meeting I found out it was New Testament. Not that there is anything wrong with the NT, I just have a special feeling about the BoM and was mentally prepared to do it so it was a bit of a letdown.

    One of the things that I was going to infuse into my lessons was how the BoM helps us know God better. I wrote a post about it months ago here. (even though it says there are no comments, there are).

    Karen, this is a wonderful call and I’m very excited for you. It is incredibly difficult, but well worth it. The kids don’t know how lucky they are to have you as their teacher. Best of luck.

  7. Gosh, after reading over that comment it makes it sound like a downer. That’s not the case, I had a tremendous experience and so did the kids. Furthermore, I was happy to teach the New Testament and was glad that I did.

  8. This is a big commitment, Karen. Bless you.

    My advise is skewed toward students like me, but I was in the minority in all my religion classes. I wanted to be engaged, questioned, and pushed. I loathed EFY-type pseudo-spiritual entertainment. I have always had a very sensitive saccharin meter. Even though I wasn’t one, I wanted to be treated as an adult.

    I was also the guy that never did homework, but did well on tests. So any sort of task oriented projects were ultimately ineffectual (i.e., uncompleted). I’m not saying that I was right (I was way to arrogent and uncompliant), but there may be someone like me in your class.

    I was in a small class of 3 or 4 (for the entire highschool). The idea of having donughts with them instead of sleeping would have been offensive.

  9. I turned down an invitation to teach seminary last year. I occasionally wonder about what I am missing. My mother-in-law taught seminary for four years and loved pretty much every minute of it (of course, she doesn’t mind being a substitute teacher in junior high, either).

    Once a week donut devotionals are a must. See if you can come up with forty ways to relate the gospel to Krispy Kremes.

  10. No Rusty, it didn’t sound like a downer it just sounded honest. The good thing about my situation is that the church is about 10 minutes from my house, and I have 10 kids in my class, all reportedly completely active. Which is a bit of a miracle. Also, I only have to teach four days a week. On the fifth day a scripture mastery specialist from the stake comes in and does scripture mastery with the kids…she also keeps track of their individual reading.

    I know that the 6:05 call time every morning (minus one) is going to be really tough on me, especially since I just started a graduate program yesterday. (Classes two nights a week.) I think this is going to be a really tough year, and I think that knowing how tired I’ll be is part of my anxiety looking towards teaching. It’s just that I can’t do anything about tired. I can do something about being a good teacher.

    don, I’m all about the bribes. I’ve been thinking about having “trivia for your breakfast” games every week or so. It would be a good review for them to have to recall and repeat answers to simple questions, and we all know food is such a good motivator. I like your breakfast with the kids while a sub comes in idea. I’ll have to play with that.

    Mark, thanks for the warning about the confessor role. I hadn’t thought about that, but it could be an issue. I’ll have to keep an eye on that.

  11. Karen —

    I didn’t convert until I was 20, and would also love to come to be in your class. One thing that my friend who taught seminary this past year did was to not have early morning seminary one day/week and instead held the class one hour before YM/YW mid-week activities. Ours are on Wednesday and this gave everyone a little break from early mornings in the middle of the week. The class on Wednesday night also included home study kids and provided an opportunity for more unity among the youth. Don’t know if this would would with your school schedule. They also had a “Muffin Monday” thing which everyone liked.

    Good luck, you sound like you will be a great teacher!

  12. I am with J Stapley: I wanted to learn the scriptures, and not just be entertained. But my experience was different; I grew up in the Salt Lake Valley, and the earliest I ever had seminary was second period. It was my last class of the day my senior year, and I skipped it if all we did was play games or watch videos (of course it was filmstrips back in the day).

    I also agree with Mark (#2)–ask questions. Teenagers can be hard to read, but they will let you know how they really feel once they know you care. All in all, I think that is the thing I remember best about seminary: the teachers who really cared.

  13. Julie in Austin says:


    I try to convince early morning teachers of this: you can’t just ask questions and expect answers to come rolling at 6am. It just doesn’t work. You need to dress it up a bit–but just a bit.

    Write your questions on strips of paper and hand them out. Give them time to find/think of the answer and go around the room.

    Play Jeopardy.

    If you have a chart (i.e., comparing Abinadi and Christ), cut up the chart and have them assemble it properly as if it were a jigsaw puzzle.

    Do case studies where you have them enact real-life situations. Two fake telephones are tremendously helpful for this. One student ‘calls’ another to invite him to an obscene movie. One student calls another to explain why she won’t attend a party on Sunday. One student calls another to tell a coach to stop demeaning a teammate. Sometimes, you make up the scenarios. Sometimes, have them make them up based on the passage.

    Do anything you can think of (scripture marking exercises, moving to ‘stations’ around the room–anything) so you aren’t just sitting and talking all day everyday.

  14. Generaly, professional teachers these days divide their classes into 20 minute chunks (to maintain attention). As an example, maybe first 20 minutes is reading/discussing story of day. Second twenty minutes could be group/pair reaction to story or scripture, or maybe journaling. Third twenty minutes presentations or discussions of scripture in relation to own life.

    Seminary may be better with 15 minute chunks. Although I personally loathe group/pair work, I do think it is imperative that every student have the chance to talk every day, and some may not want to talk in front of the whole class.

  15. I really didn’t get much out of early morning seminary as a youth except going (which is of value in and of itself), and I don’t think I did a great job as a seminary teacher, either. I am simply NOT an early morning person. It would take a lightning bolt. Actually, it would just take a change in my biological clock. Or a rescheduling of seminary to my peak hours (say 9 – midnight). Just don’t kick someone out of seminary for doing make up in class. That may be the only time she can do it ’cause she simply can’t get up any earlier and be sane all day! :-)

  16. Robert O. says:

    Thinking back on my early morning experiences, two things stand out. The first was that our teacher was a master of the Socratic method. Questions, questions, questions. But not the silly reiteration of what was just read type. You can get through any hour if you have a couple of well thought out questions. Secondly, application was key. The “like unto us” got a bit old, especially when accompanied by that Sounds of Zion soundtrack but our teacher had an ability to translate 2000 year old history into modern ethics, morals, politics, etc. Best of luck. The early morning teachers, along with bishops, are the unsung heros and deserve all the help they can get.

  17. A large class sounds fabulous. I did two years of Seminary in a class of less than 3 (the first year was me, and a brother and sister pair — the second year, the sister had graduated, so it was just me and the younger brother,) and we met once a week.

    Stuff we did that I liked: having something to snack on while we talked about the Gospel (note — do NOT hand out sticky buns and then ask people to thumb through their scriptures,) getting generic scripture stickers (mostly pictures of Christ) as a reward for participation, etc. Stuff that I didn’t like: pointlessly following the stuff in the lesson manual even when it made no sense or didn’t apply or we already knew the answer. Seriously, the three of us started answering nearly every question with “you know, Churchy stuff.” If asked for elaboration the answer was “prayer, read the scriptures, go to church, follow the commandments.” I know they’ve rewritten the manual but meaningless answers fit easily into the book we were working with (we filled everything out as homework.) In general when I was a teenager I hated “spiritual Hangman” games, and thought that any time we used a video it was because the teacher was lazy.

    By the way, kids are smart and know more than you think they do and WAY more than they are willing to admit. I’ve seen the kids (7 years old) in my Primary class answering (and asking) questions in ways the kids in my Young Women/Sunday School classes never could (and they stay on topic better than their parents do in RS/Gospel Doctrine.) If you give them the tools, make them feel like it’s okay to be smart, and know your stuff, you’ll get a lot more out of them (and they’ll get more out of the whole thing.) At least, in my experience.

    And I hate early mornings too. I work 11am to 8pm and feel like I’m getting up early to get to work on time. Any time we turned the lights down I was snoozing (which may explain why I had little respect for our videos…)

  18. I am a convert. Converted in my early 20’s, so, I never got to attend Seminary. Like Robert suggested, using the Socratic method seems to work well with teenagers – I have used this method successfully with every one – from Valiant 8’s in Primary, to adults in Sunday School and Gospel Essentials.
    be a bit unothordox, try new things, make hem do little projects, etc,- this will keep the Seminary kids interested and engaged, and they will, remember you and what you taught, years later. Best of luck. Dont worry – you will make a great teacher

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