Teaching Our Youth

I have a reputation of being an excellent teacher–of adults. My experience teaching youth is far less extensive and much more of a mixed bag. I’ve taught some lessons that have killed in that environment, but I’ve also substitute taught seminary where the kids were barely awake and nothing I could say would get through to them.

My most extensive run at teaching the youth was when I was the high school age SS teacher a few years back. There were five kids in the class (we covered all four years of high school because there weren’t enough kids to split into the normal two-year age groupings). I was excited when I got the call; I thought this was an opportunity for me to make a real contribution to the lives of these young people.

It was the beginnning of a new curriculum year on OT. My first lesson was one where I go over how the OT is structured, where everything fits together and why. It really was a great lesson that the adults would have cut off an arm to have participated in; but the kids simply weren’t interested. I was not prepared for the amazingly high level of jadedness that existed in that particular classroom.

The parents of these kids were well aware of their jadedness. The father of two of them actually suggested I might need to ratchet up the controversy to get their attention. So I taught an entire lesson on evolution, and another on whether a universal flood is scientifically tenable. I had been a science geek in HS and I would have killed for lessons like that, but these kids were just as bored as ever, and I got no response from them.

So I quickly determined that I would have to change tactics. I started by bringing food in every week, and once a month we had a class party. My next step was that I gave up on teaching formal lessons. Rather, we just talked–about anything they wanted to talk about. I would slip into the conversation religiously based ideas and discussion, but it had to come up naturally in the course of conversation so it was all rather random. But that was the only way I was able to reach them. Over time I began to build a pretty good rapport with those kids, but then our ward was consolidated and that was that, the experiment was over.

My limited experience teaching youth makes me fear for their futures in the church. Many of the kids I taught made no secret of the fact that they were there only because their parents made them come, and as soon as they went away to college, they were outta there. And that in fact seems to be a pervasive phenomenon; so many of our young people quickly lapse into inactivity as soon as they leave home for school.

So the purpose of this post is to get your ideas. What are we doing wrong in our teaching of youth? How can and should we approach this particular task to make it more effective? What has worked for you, and what has crashed and burned? Please share with us your secrets as to how to reach this most difficult demographic in the church.


  1. Let the Baptist preacher jump in and teach some of the seminary classes. I live right across the street from the local high school on the West side of Idaho Falls.

    I bet it would stir a lot of interest. It would be a novelty for the kids forced to go to “cemetery” (or some of the other words, newer words, that they use to describe the program).

    An alternative perspective is always fun in a public school.

  2. I don’t really have any secrets to share. I was a teenage convert, and your description of your experience in youth Sunday School mirrored my experience. My Sunday School class was a bit unruly and we chewed through four teachers in a six month period. I found it monumentally frustrating. My time in the YW program was a challenge for me because I was serious about the church and they made fun of me for it. It was only my personal conversion to the gospel that got me through. I started attending the adult Gospel Doctrine class and Relief Society when I was 17, and it made all the difference.

    I think stressing personal conversion to the gospel, personal revelation, and personal prayer and scripture study is the key. I don’t have any suggestions on how to do that for someone who isn’t already seeking, but if the youth are converted, they’re much less likely to fall away once their parents aren’t making them go.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Todd, that’s actually not a bad idea. Once I asked a Muslim guy to teach a lesson on the Five Pillars of Islam to our priests group. I could have taught that lesson, but hearing it from a practicing Muslim made an impression on those young men.

  4. Kevin,
    I think, to some extent, you just had bad demographic luck. The two times that I’ve taught youth Sunday School, the kids have been generally quiet but interested.

    One of the hard things, I think, was the age spread. When my wife and I first got married, we taught a youth Sunday School class that ranged from kids who had turned 12 a month earlier to kids who were 17 and ready for college. The 17-year-old is now a good friend, and was a lifesaver in the class because he’d always speak if nobody would answer. But if I aimed the lesson on his level, there was no hope for the 12-year-olds. And if I aimed at them (which I often did), he wasn’t being challenged.

    The next time I did it, there were two SS classes, one for middle-schoolers and one for high-schoolers. I taught the older group (although nothing as good as what you taught), and it was much easier to find a level at which to teach them.

    What I tried to do was in every lesson to teach them one fact that they didn’t know and to help them feel the Spirit for a few minutes. And I let them know that was my goal. It wasn’t perfect, but it often went pretty well.

  5. Oh, one other thing–I tried to send out an email every Wednesday with a couple questions or thoughts about what the class would be talking about. I think it helped–the kids could have a couple answers prepared and had at least considered the fact that a lesson would happen on Sunday. Plus they loved the fact that as often as not the emails would come at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning (because I’m sure their parents, being older than I am, weren’t usually up that late).

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Sam B., I’m sure you’re right that the demographic bouncing ball was a big part of it. I had substitute taught the kids in past years and usually had a really good experience, which is part of the reason I was so flummoxed when nothing I tried would work with the later group.

  7. Thanks for confirming the idea, Kevin.

    But I don’t think teaching the strengths of evolution would be the fascinating issue for the youth. Tbey are already taught this.

    Let me and the seminary teachers do a series on the subtle hypocrisy of religious moralism (no matter one’s religion). And let all the agnostic teens outside of the Church groups join in on the discussion. It could be a huge hit.

  8. Rameumptom says:

    I think that the kids need more spiritual experiences in their lives. They are entertained by the rest of the world and taught that knowledge is a boring thing, unless it is given in a way that pleasures them (food, video games, talking about their interests, etc).

    I agree that we are losing many of our youth to the evils of the day. Especially when many of the evils do not seem to be evil, even by LDS standards. It is why we recently had the good, better, best talk in Gen Conference.

    Elder Holland once said in a stake leadership meeting I attended that we need to have our pulpits on fire. And he said in a “Teacher Called From God” that if we teach with the Spirit, we won’t be able to keep people away.

    Eventually, our wards are going to have to get away from the pattern of having everyone take a turn at speaking in Sacrament every year, to one of having the most spiritual and powerful speakers teach frequently from the pulpit. I would place my three best/powerful teachers in Gospel Essentials, 15-18 year old Sunday School class, and in Gospel Doctrine.

    I would ensure that all teachers went through an in-depth and quality Teacher’s Prep class, prior to teaching. Each would be expected to read, Teaching No Greater Calling, at least once a year as a refresher.

    But in most of our wards, that just ain’t gonna happen. Sadly, we place teaching below handling the crises and the entertainment issues in the ward.

  9. I am currently Young Men’s President, and before that I taught SS to the High School Kids, and In the my wife was YW president, etc etc. All told, I have been involved in a calling with the Youth every day for the last 6 years.

    Basically, this is the summation of my experience:

    My Successes:
    1. Tell Interesting Stories with strong “punchlines”.- Teens Know the Praxis and the “doctrine” of the church. They want a good story that keeps them interested. But The Story better have a point or you end up in a tangent.
    2. Focus on Brotherhood/Sisterhood and Unity. As a Combined Teachers/ Priests Quorum we decided this was the most important thing to us, and it has been awesome the transformation. Once I said this was our goal, almost like Magic, all my young men started getting along.
    3. Let you Youth tell you what they want to do and do it. Ask them what they want to learn about, ask them what they want to do for mutual, ask them what activities they want. They may not know, so you can give them ideas, but don’t do anything they say they don’t want to do, because they won’t come. The most successful mutual I had in terms of people showing up was letting my seniors have a heavy metal concert the Tuesday before Halloween. (We rented Sumo Suits)
    4. Be willing to spend your own money. The Church doesn’t give a lot of money to these programs, and you can either fund raise, or fork up the dough yourself. We do a little of both, but in my neck of the woods, fund raising almost costs more than it earns.
    5. Bring Food. Every week I bring food, not as a bribe, but as a way to let the kids know I care. 3 hours of church is a long time, Teenaged boys need food to stay attentive.

    My Failures:
    1. Letting the Young Men teach the lesson is a necessary thing, and the youth want to do it, and they want to lead. But you have to call them and remind them to prepare and to bring the bread and to do their callings. You have to mother them. I am not very good at that. Also, when the Youth teach, the lessons aren’t very good, so get used to the idea. (The Youth teach 2 times a month in my Quorums)
    2. Involving the Innactive Youth. I have no idea how to do this. Most (not all) of them are innactive because their parents are innactive or their parents are, dare I say it, not very involved in their kids lives. Most of them were innactive before they turned 12, and aren’t coming back. Others come to mutual and not church. Still others come because their family makes them. I try to focus on the last group the most, and give them reasons to come of their own accord.
    3. Dealing with disabilities. In my Teachers/Priests Quorum, I have 10 young men. 2 are Autistic, 2 are bi-polar/adhd, and 1 is schizophrenic. Yes the church has it’s little disabilities site, but It’s not enough. I think about Kevin’s Brother every lesson I teach, and I try really hard, but the youth pick on the Autistic kids, and It is hard to not be dismissive when the young man interupts the lesson for the tenth time to stutter out a question about whether he can go trick or treating on halloween even though he is 16. (Answer is always “ask your parents”, even if they asked “Can I smoke crack?” I’d answer “ask your parents.”)
    4. Racism, Sexism, Politics- Where I live, every young man is a republican, so we get a lot of anti-democrat stuff. I swear the parents must be doing the clockwork orange thing with Glen Beck. Nothing disuades them. I talk about political neutrality. I pretend to be a democrat (even though I am Independent and apolitical) but I don’t know how to lovingly nip this in the bud. The same goes with Racism and Sexism. To my Young Men, they are just jokes, but when a third of my class is Mexican, joking about them being illegal always makes me nervous. Joking that the last thing we want in the white house is a black man looking for change sounds funny, but worries me. And yes I know every teenaged Young man thinks jokes about women being barefoot and pregnant are hilarious, but It drives me batty. The Balance here is letting them know I don’t like it, but allowing them to be themselves, unless I absolutely have to stop them.
    5. Stake Activities. My Young Men don’t like these.
    6. Involving the Young Women. The Young men sometimes like this, and sometimes don’t. It’s a hard balance, and it is really hard to coordinate with the Young Women leaders unless you are close to them.
    7. Tangents. Get used to tangents. Teenagers live in a world of not thinking for them selves sometimes, but just repeating sound bites. If you say “unicorn” be prepared to hear “Charley the Unicorn” start to end. If you begin a small tangent or are funny, be ready for the rest of the lesson to go into insanity.
    8. Dealing with other leaders. Lots of other people are not like me. They think I am leading wrong and think I am evil because mutual starts late, and my young men wander into young women to say hi to the girls and we have lessons about dead baby jokes or whatever. It is hard. Also difficult is when you are the young men’s president you are supposed to know what is going on in deacons, teachers, priests, 11 year old scouts, young womens, and at the stake. I suck at that.

    That is enough for now.

  10. Rameumptom says:

    I also think Pres Packer’s encouragement that we ‘teach the doctrine” is a big key. We get so caught up on commandments, that we do not teach them the important things.
    Kids roll their eyes when hearing about chastity, WoW, or tithing for the millionth time. But if taught as a doctrine, and how it relates to Christ’s atonement, or how it relates to our spiritual progression, it makes a difference.

    Also, we should focus on the things Joseph Smith focused upon. All roads lead to the temple, which has the sole purpose of bringing us into the presence of God. Perhaps if we refocused the kids into seeking their own one-on-one relationship and experience with God, perhaps some of them may take us up on such a valiant and noble cause.

    Instead, most wards teach at the lowest common denominator, which breaks up the gospel into small and unconnected components. There is no rhyme nor reason for much of it.

  11. Oh, and even the good kids don’t like getting up early for seminary. I seriously would rather have it at 9 at night than 6 am…

  12. Matt W.,

    No way man 9PM way too late. I know I’m the outlier. . .but I never had a problem with my 3 years of early morning seminary. . .I had fun time. Mine started at more like 6:30 though not 6am.

  13. Jennifer in GA says:

    I don’t think the youth get bored with the lessons as much as it’s almost *always* presented in the same way over and over again. It gets stale. The last few years I was the YW president anytime I had to teach I rarely used the manual. Instead, I took the material straight from the Resource Guide that supplements the manual. Those talks were often more “up to date” and relevant than the platitudes the manuals used over and over again.

    I really wish we could diversify what we are teaching, rather than everything having to be correllated. I teach at a preschool affliated with a non-LDS church, and see a lot of the Sunday School classes they are offering and I’ll admit it makes me down right jealous sometimes. The in-depth study guides the classes get make our little guide we get in Sunday School at the beginning of the year look downright pitiful!

    I also think a little diversification might help those youth who are struggling with the gospel. I’ve seen too many young men fall away because all they hear about is going on a mission. Serving a mission is a worthwhile goal, but the fact is not every young man wants to do it, and it’s not because they are unworthy. I think it would be great to have a Sunday School class, kind of a mission-prep thing for those youth (both guys and girls!) who are interested in and/or seriously preparing for serving. For those who aren’t at that place yet, there could be a class focusing on more specific subjects, other than just “the New Testament” or “the Book of Mormon”.

  14. From Sam’s #4 – “What I tried to do was in every lesson to teach them one fact that they didn’t know and to help them feel the Spirit for a few minutes. And I let them know that was my goal. It wasn’t perfect, but it often went pretty well.”

    That’s exactly how I approached Senior Primary, Sunday School and Seminary. I flat-out promised the kids that when they left the classroom after each and every lesson that they would know something they hadn’t known before – and that most of the adults in the ward didn’t know. I stuck to the lesson focus and scriptures, but I made sure we looked DEEPLY at something that would give them an understanding that even their parents might not know.

    It worked really well. I had some kids talk with me weeks and months later about some “new” thing we had discussed in class.

    I second, especially, Matt’s suggestion to get input from the youth. When I taught Seminary, I often (at least once every other week) had a Friday where instead of scripture games we had an open discussion about whatever they wanted to ask – no limits, unless a question or discussion started getting too sexually explicit. I told them to ask me those things privately if they really wanted to talk about them. When youth know you will answer openly and honestly (and critically without being negative), I’ve found most of them open up.

  15. I just want to add that the “jadedness” generally is a result of NOT learning new things in their classes. Once they see that there is new stuff to learn, most of them lose that jadedness. (and by “new stuff”, I don’t mean “controversial” or “fringe” or “speculative” stuff. I mean deeper stuff – stuff that makes them understand the scriptures and/or the Gospel better and how it actually applies in their real lives.)

  16. I really agree strongly with Ray’s last paragraph in #14. I commonly have a ask Bro Bell anything during lessons. In fact I have done it on Friday in Seminary.

    The kids usually love this kind of open exchange. They actually will pay attention and ask numerous follow-up questions.

    My favorite one was a 10 minute discussion of Southparks version of the translation of the BOM. They always ask questions about polygamy, BC etc.

  17. I’m with Rameumptom, in a couple of ways.

    First, when I taught the deacons quorum a few years ago I got tired of the lesson manual. So I did a 13-week series on the articles of faith. I had a lot of fun looking for connections and ways the ideas in successive articles build upon ideas from preceding ones, and I think the young men really liked the presentation of some kind of superstructure tying all these concepts together.

    Second, I follow this general pattern, especially when teaching a lesson: Teach, Testify, Invite, Promise. Teach until the Spirit comes, Testify of Christ and the principle(s) under discussion, Invite the listeners to come unto Christ and heed the principle(s) under discussion, and Promise the appropriate blessings that follow obedience to those same principles. The whole point of a lesson or a talk is to get each listener to have an experience with the Holy Spirit. If I don’t accomplish that during a lesson, especially with youth, I say I failed.

  18. Jennifer in GA says:

    Oh man! I *love* the idea of a thriteen week study of the Articles of Faith.

  19. Norbert says:

    I just got back from presenting at a conference for future teachers on these very topics, so some quick points:
    *It’s not just church. Teenagers by their natures project pessimism and lethargy because they know that’s cooler than enthusiasm. (Honestly, it is.) Don’t take it seriously. Meet it with humor and a belief in what you are teaching. I have students going to Harvard and Oxford who complain about how lame school is. I smile at them.
    *I think pandering to them is the wrong approach. Having parties during Sunday School makes them aware that you think Sunday School is basically crap, reinforcing what they already believe. Be frank with them, as a person. If they are hurting your feelings, say it straight and firm. But I like Matt W’s point about food in the third hour.
    *Don’t be controversial for its own sake — be real. The teenager’s best-honed skill is the ability to smell bs in an adult. Teach personal applications in your own life or someone you know, and then to theirs. If there isn’t any, don’t teach it.
    *Get to know them. When I taught youth, I always started by asking something about their week — What did you do this week that you were proud of? What was disappointing this week? What are you looking forward to? etc. It often took a quarter to half the lesson, but that’s OK, because …
    *You’ve got to mix it up. The average kid has an attention span of one minute for every year they are old. So in general youth Sunday school, that means a new activity every fifteen minutes … switch the learning styles around: listening, watching, doing.

  20. Lulubelle says:

    I was called to teach a very difficult Sunday School class of 15-16 year olds. They had gone through numerous teachers and had a couple kids that were known to make teaching the class nearly impossible. And here’s what I did…

    1. Stories stories and more stories. Detailed stories. Every speech writer knows that the ‘only’ way to engage an audience is to tell great stories. And that’s what I did. My stories were sometimes funny, made fun of me, showed that I wasn’t perfect (and even took joy at making my Sunday School teacher cry when I was younger). It really let them know me, made me seem ‘real’ and approachable and established a great connection with them).
    2. I read the lesson once, closed the book, and taught from my past experiences and outside sources. I would get facts from the Internet, examples of current people, statistics and studies. For example, if I was teaching reasons to follow the WoW, I gave statistcis of people not caring for their bodies and early mortality rates. I taught that living the WoW was far more than no tea, coffee and cigarettes, but eating right, too (and so much more). It was a mini health lesson. I find the manual lessons absolutely horrid, boring, filled with the most canned platitude stories. I just couldn’t teach off of them. The results were that my lessons seemed fresh, relevant, interesting, different.
    3. I brought treats every Sunday except Fast Sunday. I baked them. I experimented with different cookies and bars. I let them request their favorite of Lulubelle Treats and that’s what I’d bring the next Sunday. They loved me for it and couldn’t wait to come to my class. On Easter Sunday, I baked a variety of stuff… muffins, cookies, bars, and passed around mini plates. And we chatted while we ate.
    4. While they were eating, we would start off the lesson by going around the room and everyone sharing something interesting that happened to them that week.
    5. After the ’round the room’ time, I would ask one random question of the week and we’d go around the room answering it. Like… What’s the best movie you’ve seen in the last 6 months and why? Or… What’s your #1 dream job? Or… If you could go anywhere in the world, your safety guaranteed and price not a worry, you would visit where and why? It got everyone talking and established a connection among all.
    6. Gospel Games. After a lesson, I’d sometimes play Gospel Games, and the LOVED it! They were all centered around things we had learned. Like Bible Bingo. Book of Mormon charades. Who wants to be a Book of Mormon Millionaire? It got them moving and doing something different. Points were given. Winning teams or individuals got to pick out next week’s treat.
    7. I used gospel concepts hooked to real world appliations. Like the story in the Book of Mormon about when Christ was crucified in the Promised Land mountains and cities were destroyed. I started off the class by asking them to name some big US cities. Then some big US mountains. Then I randomly crossed off some big cities like NYC, Vegas, LA, Atlanta. And I said that it was like we were sitting here one day, big earthquake, and the next thing we know these cities are gone. How would we react? Stunned, fear, chaos, how to take care of our basic needs, etc. It brought the lesson and what happened home. It made it real.
    8. I absolutely refused to pass along platitudes or faith promoting stories that never seemed ‘real.’ Many of the stories in the manuals feel like someone at HQ made up the stories with little imagination. They felt contrived to me and I think they do to these kids today.
    9. No boring questions that receive the expected boring/canned/expected answers. While growing up, I HATED the questions that you could answer by any of the following responses: Pray, read your scriptures, fast, listen to the spirit. Yawn. Questions I ask need to be something they need to really think about. Like: “Have you ever had a friend who betrayed you? What if she acknowledged what she did. And apologized. And you forgave her. Would you trust her again? I mean, really, would you tell her another deep secret knowing that last time she told the world? Why would you? Or why wouldn’t you? And here’s what I did when that happened to me one time.”
    10. If the kids got unruly, I let them. One time I said, “Hey guys. I love you. But you are totally annoying me today. That said, you cannot be as bad as I once was. So I forgive you. You’re not into this lesson. So tell me, what would you rather talk about? But it has to be church related. No subject is off limits.” And they sometimes wanted to talk about why they should have to wear garments one day. Or why was it necessary to wait until they should date at age 16. And that’s what we would talk about.
    11. I asked open ended questions that got some good discussions going. Like… What is your single biggest temptation from your peers? And then we’d open it up to discussing how they handled it, what worked, what didn’t, etc.

    And the result was that I taught this group for 3 years. The worst kid in the group one day came up to me, put his arm around me and said “You are the best teacher ever. I love coming to your class.” A few years later, his mom came up to me and thanked me for teaching that class. She said the only thing that got him coming to church was my class. He felt accepted and not like he was looked down on or resented by his teacher. I know church can be hard for kids and I don’t beat them up for feeling that way. Sometimes that goes a long way in keeping them engaged.

  21. Why don’t you give the students a survey (anonymous) and ask them what their questions about the gospel are? Maybe every Friday you could say, “Someone asked…?”
    On the survey, you could have them fill-in-the-blank “I want to strengthen my testimony of ______.”
    You could put, “I’m not sure if the Church is true. True or False”
    Have lots of doctrine, help them feel the Spirit, have treats, have a little humor, have a little fun, let them know you GENUINELY care.

  22. Kevin,

    As someone just barely called to be a Deacon’s adviser and zero experience working with the Youth, thanks for bringing up this discussion.

    Although it sounds like I’m justified in my anxiety I appreciate all the good suggestions.


  24. What I would have done to have a teacher like you when I was growing up. Our SS classes really need to be like that, because after about 12-13, everyone is jaded.

  25. rondell says:

    I currently teach the Mia Maids in our ward. One of the things I am sick of is teachers of youth telling our kids that the world is terrible and evil and we have to be extra vigilent or it will eat them up. What ever happened to opposition in all things??? If we are focusing on the evil and terrible things in the world — telling our kids what they shouldn’t be doing, they’re going to get sick of the whole thing and become jaded. If there truly is opposition in all things, doesn’t that mean that there is a helluva lot of good things in the world. Shouldn’t we be taking time to understand their world and help them recognize how to enjoy life and take advantage of the incredible things they get to take part in?

    If we continually give them the should nots and focus on the negative, how can we expect them to not be pessimistic and jaded. If we show some optimism ourselves as we include some of the good things around us and we teach in a way that allows us to help the youth see how the concepts apply to their lives personally, they will be more optimistic and pehaps less jaded.

    KB, I have to agree with the others that the age span probably had a lot to do with the problems you experienced. We were consolidated with the other half of your ward and we got a great group of teens who, in general, are a lot of fun to be around.

  26. I think my YW just really wanted to have their opinions respected. When a Laurel taught the YW lesson, the girls were always better behaved than when an adult taught it. Teenagers think they are already grown up, and if you treat them as if you think they are, too, many times they will behave that way.

  27. I taught early morning seminary one year. I called a parent whose child was being disruptive to discuss the situation. She said it was because I was boring. True, but even so . . .

    That year I tried to follow the lesson plan, but they wanted to sleep and I wanted them to learn something. It was a hard year for both of us. I wish I had been confident enough to do what you did Kevin. It would have saved a lot of angst for me and the kids.

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    I remember when I was young often feeling patronized at church. So when i teach youth, I try hard not to teach down to them, but to treat them as peers and (try to) teach them the way I would adults.

  29. esodhiambo says:

    There are so many great suggestions on this thread, but I feel very strongly that there should be NO FOOD outside of the nursery and Sacrament at Church. Face the ugly truth:it IS a bribe. And it is against Church policy. And it is messy.

    Also, teachers need to get out of the business of answers and get into the business of questions.

  30. I’m 15 and in one of those crazy Sunday School classes, and here is what some of my teachers have done before/what I wish they’d do:

    1. Bring candy every week. The best is when you bring starburst or tootsie rolls or something like that – and every time you answer a question well, you get a candy. You can make them put it in a sandwich bag if it’s Fast Sunday or something. Although some people don’t like the idea of food, it has brought up some really good ideas and stories in our lessons, because there is incentive to give good answers.

    2. Allow some time to talk at the beginning of class – one of my favorite teachers allowed each person in the class to tell a story/what they had done in the past week. (Yeah, that usually only works in small classes, but everyone pays attention afterward.)

    3. Don’t require a lot of scriptures to be read – no one pays attention to them anyway. Summarize them if you must.

    4. Expect to teach a lesson you didn’t prepare for – ask for questions, and if the discussion shifts, let it. Otherwise everyone will be mad at you.

    5. Always start with a good story or something interesting. Once you get us focused, we can usually stay pretty focused. It’s just once we’re hearing the same basic stories about some prophet’s childhood or something that we get really bored.

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    Que, thanks so much for sharing your perspective from the pupil’s side in the trenches.

  32. Being a teenager is hard. I think all our SS teachers struggled. I was in 3 different wards.
    I wasn’t particularly interested because I had such a good foundation from home so the few specific details of a lesson never seemed very important.
    Socially, I was learning not to be shy but I felt far more comfortable at church than at school so I made every effort I could to interact with my peers during SS. I figured the teacher could take care of herself/himself. I was fairly cooperative though.
    I was the new girl once so that managed to change the dynamic of some kids who would always go to Burger King who instead starting coming to class, although I did head out to BK once I believe. Also, a new teacher starting bringing food which also helped out. He just talked and talked (I loved the BYU stories, but his getting engaged story worried me and so I wasn’t surprised when he later divorced) and I actually remember a specific lesson he taught once! So his style worked well. Better than the constantly quitting/leaving-the-room-crying ones of years before.

  33. 29–Could you point us to the source stating that food outside of nursery and Sacrament meeting is forbidden by Church policy? I’ve never seen that written anywhere. I would like to condemn 2/3 of my ward next week for their consumption of Cheerios, fruit snacks, and chewing gum, but will probably need some copies of the policy in case the wicked take the truth to be hard.

  34. #33 – I know where it is (that food is not to be consumed in carpeted areas), but I’m not going to point you to it. It’s the speed limit of church policies – understood by the “authorities” but rarely enforced. Most of us value our lives too much to tell the auxiliary presidents to eliminate the food – and the kids in our ward would riot if the bishop stopped giving them candy after the meetings to come to his office and shake his hand.

  35. Scott B says:


    Exactly. (I hope it was evident in my #33 that I think eating food in Church is about as benign as it comes; though maybe I still am suffering from poor sarcasm-in-writing-itis).

    More to my point in disagreeing with (29), whether or not giving treats to the youth is a bribe or not is also largely irrelevant to my decision to bring treats for bringing scriptures, meeting goals, etc… Sure–it’s a bribe; but being a bribe does not make it a bad idea. Nearly everything we do in life could be construed as a bribe–we work so our employers will give us money, we pay taxes to keep the IRS out of our lives, and we do the dishes so our spouses don’t kill us. Are these not also “bribes”?

    If I can get a room full of teenagers to read their scriptures weekly, and all it costs me is a few peanut butter cups, then I say that’s a deal made in heaven.

  36. Left Field says:

    No food in carpeted areas? Yikes! That eliminates ward dinners in the cultural hall. At least we still have our annual crawfish boil in the park.

  37. I have been thinking about this a lot myself recently. As a 17 year old, I have seen quite a few good and bad teachers. The best Sunday school teacher I have ever had was just released (and luckily called to be an advisor to the Priests quorum) and the new one is universally decried as boring. After pondering on the matter, here are my conclusions:

    1) The good teacher told stories. The bad teacher doesn’t. Every lesson, no matter what the subject, the good teacher had a personal experience to tell. Only about 2/3 of the time did they actually have to do with the lesson. (A corresponding ratio involved the antics of his 3 year old daughter.) As a rule, the stories tended to be funny, and they were always told at the beginning of the class. I imagine they served the dual purpose of capturing the attention of the class and creating a connection between the teacher and his pupils.

    2) Don’t do scripture chains. The bad teacher spends 1/3rd of his lesson on them. I cannot think of more than two times where the good teacher did so. Much better is to find one or two really good scriptures and teach them at a very in-depth level. Dissecting one verse always makes a larger impact than having the class read 20.

    3) Challenge the kids. “Sunday school answers” should not be tolerated. If someone answers “pray” reply back- “For what?”, “In what way?”, or “Why?”. We teenagers are more intelligent than you think. Most can have a real gospel discussion- you just have to force them into it. “The good teacher did this. The bad teacher likes the easy answers. Again, when given the option to critically examine an issue vs. having a platitude drilled into our head, we will take the first option every time.

    4) Don’t go controversial. We have enough of that at school, and odds are your personal opinion on evolution, floods, politics, ect. will end up ticking someone in the class off. While such discussions are interesting, they don’t do much in the way of spiritual edification. And that is the entire point, right?

  38. 51vintagemodel says:

    If #37 was really written by a 17 year old, I’ll kiss my cat!
    “universally decried”? What 17 yr old talks like that? And if you really are 17, I apologize and declare you to be a genius! Such insight is rarely seen in one of such age. But what I really wanted to say was that when I was called to teach one of those mostly 13 yr classes where a lot of them turned 14 6-9 months before January, and the girls wouldn’t even come to class because the boys were so horrid (they still won’t at ages15-16), and not a single priesthood holder will keep teaching or take the class, as I was being set apart I heard a voice in my head (no, I’m not THAT crazy) telling me I needed to bring them food and they would behave better. Which they did on most occasions ( that word looks misspelled). But I always reminded them that I wasn’t their mom (praise the Lord!)(yes, I said it out loud) and made them clean up after themselves. We had a lot of fun, but I wouldn’t let them get too far off track, because while I feel the manuals are dated, I believe that the subject matter, being approved by the church, is what Heavenly Father wants them to be taught and I feel a great responsibility to the kids to do that, and I told them that too. I’m not saying they were great for me or perfect angels, but we actually had lessons and some of them escape into my class still when they can, and they enjoyed class. We played games –team games are best, they like competition, had object lessons, science experiments as object lessons, activities like making cards or bookmarks while listening to the lesson (or they could just sit there if they didn’t have sisters and weren’t used to the craft thing), watched videos, or part of them (church videos) and so on and so forth. I tried having them teach the lesson–they would volunteer, I would call and remind them, and they wouldn’t do it –they either forgot or stayed home that Sunday, so that doesn’t work too well. But we had pretty good classes, and the Presidents manual can be boring to teach from sometimes. Now I’m back to it and looking for further info or material when I saw this blog. I liked the idea of going deeper into the spiritual aspect and less into the lives of the prophets, although we play President Jeopardy every so often, and that’s ok. Thanks for all the ideas!

  39. Eventually, our wards are going to have to get away from the pattern of having everyone take a turn at speaking in Sacrament every year, to one of having the most spiritual and powerful speakers teach frequently from the pulpit. I would place my three best/powerful teachers in Gospel Essentials, 15-18 year old Sunday School class, and in Gospel Doctrine.

    I think that’s a terrible idea. It basically reduces the weaker members of the ward to not giving talks or lessons.

    Sometimes, your best teachers need to be the Scoutmaster. And sometimes they need to be the EQ president. Or the ward clerk. Or a ward missionary.

    The best teacher I personally know in the Church is a life-long primary teacher. I’ve never seen 8-year-olds so well-prepared for baptism as the years he taught that class.

  40. @51V:

    You should kiss your cat. Of course, I have no way to substantiate the claim that I am 17, and I like to think that the general quality of my writing on my blog hides my age. (For awhile the tag-line ot my blog was “World affairs from the perspective of your average-day 12th grader.” I removed that after a reader advised [correctly, from what I can tell] that it would cause more harm than it would traffic.) But I know plenty of people my age who write as well (or better) than I do. Somewhere between applying to Georgetown University and analyzing A Farewell To Arms for a tenacious AP Lit teacher, one gains the skill to write with clarity.

  41. I can believe T. Greer is 17, because I was 17 two years ago, and that’s kinda what I was thinking too.

    I particularly agree with 2 and 3…although I think 3 should be in a way that actually brings home the points that the scriptures would have made.

    I’m a bit torn, because I remember back then feeling that I didn’t have inadequate contact with the scriptures beyond personal study and seminary, but at the same time, I hated lessons of reading scripture after scripture.