Tips for Teachers: Pinch hitting with scripture highlights

pinchhitterIt seems like too many times this year I’ve sat in a class (Elder’s Quorum invariably) where the teacher confesses complete lack of preparation. It’s a deflating experience. I look forward to reading some of yours in the comments!

Similar to the unprepared teacher is the absent one. I’ve had to pinch hit a few times this year. Luckily I’m a gospel doctrine instructor and so I’ve used already-prepared lesson plans. This is better than the usual go-to solution: reading straight from the manual and asking the class to share “personal experiences.” “Does anyone have anything to add to that? No? OK, moving to the next paragraph.”

But let’s say you’re supposed to pinch hit and you don’t have old lesson materials you can reuse. What do you do? What have you seen done?

Here’s one possibility:

Ask class members to open their scriptures to a book you like, or one that has been the subject of a recent lesson, and look for things they’ve underlined. (This may be trickier with electronic scriptures. I don’t know how many people mark those up. I am tied to my paper editions.) Then facilitate the discussion from there. Did anyone else underline the same excerpts? Nearby excerpts? Why those excerpts? What does this suggest about reading scriptures individually? In groups? Etc.

Granted, depending on your class this could turn into an utter disaster. I’ve had some positive experiences with it, though. If you have better ideas for pinch-hitting lessons (hopefully more than “I looked up Ben Spackman’s lesson outlines at Patheos” [or Kevin Barney’s, or Exponent II’s notes, or the Mormon Women Project notes, etc.], although in many cases those folks come in handy) please share them here, too.

[For more of my Tips for Teachers, see the links at the top of this post.]


  1. When LDS added notations to the cloud so that they were stored on your LDS account and not locally on your device I went through and transferred all my notations from my scriptures into my Gospel Library app. It’s much easier to use for me and cross referencing between scriptures is much more convenient too. Paper is just too complicated to manage.

  2. What a terrific idea—mining the personal connections to meaning collected in our printed scriptures. The only thing worse than an Elders quorum instructor confessing his ignorance of the lesson material is a High Priest group instructor confessing the same.

  3. Just a thumbs up for the electronic scriptures. Since moving over to the electronic scriptures, I have really enjoyed the “extra room in the margins” for my notes. My electronic scriptures are getting loads more personal comments than my paper scriptures ever did (or could). So depending on which book or chapter was selected for discussion that day, I might be in a fair position to discuss my thoughts about those scriptures. (I might also note that personal scripture study is much more productive for me now when I am reading a chapter that was previously marked up with my comments.)

  4. I love the idea of turning to the scriptures in the event of a unplanned lesson. Just pick a bit you’ve been thinking about from your recent personal study and dig in as a group. Read slowly, asking lots of questions along the way. Make it a contest to see how few verses you can get through in the time allotted.

  5. I’ve never had to do this (R.S. just doesn’t have no shows), but if it ever happened, I’d do something similar to what you suggested but add in a few other things. I’d have class members google the passages, especially the original root language of the words, cultural significance (where possible), other scriptures that may be similar, talks in GC using the same words, etc. Technology makes it so much easier to do a lesson on the fly and if the teacher has a good relationship with the class, it could be a lot of fun.

  6. Speaking of disasters, try this one. You are recently called to the high council and assigned to conduct stake business in the Spanish branch on your first Sunday. You manage that okay, despite not having spoken the language much since your mission 15 years earlier. Then the branch president says, “our gospel doctrine teacher hasn’t shown up. Could you teach today?” “I can try,” you respond, “what lesson?” “2 Nephi – the Isaiah chapters. Thanks so much.”

  7. I always think of a friend who when asked what she did as a primary teacher simply said, ‘We analyze the text!’ There is so much value to analyzing a text of scripture together, I think often, even more valuable than something that is planned. Thanks for the post!

  8. Hangman using any church-related word.

  9. Jack Hughes says:

    I also very much enjoyed the flexibility of cloud-based scripture highlights and notes, until I realized there is nothing stopping the Church from using that data in any way they see fit. Be careful what you put in there, as the Strengthening Church Members Committee is watching.

  10. Delete your lucky numbers from your scripture notes, people!!!

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