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Duce's Wild: The 90/10 rule in Sunday School

Published: Thursday, Feb. 28 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

The website for the new LDS youth curriculum that began in January 2013.

LDS Church

Implementing the new “Come, Follow Me” curriculum in Sunday School has turned a bit of conventional teaching wisdom on its ear.

In the past, most Sunday School teachers with a room full of teenagers would consider themselves connected and highly successful if they prompted students to speak, read scriptures, answer questions or even grunt for a grand total of at least 10 percent of the time spent together.

If this unofficial 90/10 rule used to be your goal as a Sunday School teacher, it’s time to turn that ratio upside down. Now, I believe, students should be the ones speaking for 90 percent of the class time and teachers should limit their talking time to 10 percent as facilitators and testimony bearers.

That’s it. No more, but definitely no less.

“Come, Follow Me” encourages class participation and teaching opportunities for youth, but I believe no teacher should make the assignment for one student to teach the entire lesson. This 90/10 rule applies to the kids, as well. Each one should only be speaking for a percentage of the time together — both the charismatic and the shy, those with advanced gospel knowledge and those coming for the first time.

Since January, I now consider my Sunday School lessons a smashing success if every person in the room has offered some contribution to the spirit of the lesson. With the new curriculum, it is 100 percent possible.

So here are some tips for teachers on implementing my 90/10 rule:

• Sit down. The arrangement of chairs in a Sunday School classroom matters (I think circles work best) and if you want your students to help teach, you must be one with them. Sit down and take time to look eye level at each student as you speak.

• Limit your lesson plan to a half-page of notes. This might seem crazy to some, but my Sunday lesson plan literally fills one-half page of notebook paper, double-spaced. The simple list does three things: keeps me from talking too much, reminds me to keep discussions moving and allows the spirit to guide what category to do next — scriptures, Preach My Gospel, etc. I do spend several hours each week preparing my lesson using suggested materials online at www.lds.org/youth/learn. Then, I prepare those materials to be distributed to my students.

For example, I read a suggested general conference talk several times during the week. I highlight key sentences that I want a student to read word for word and other sections I make notes for him to summarize. At the beginning of class, I hand the printed copy with highlights to a student. He and a “companion” (the person sitting next to him) ably teach the principles and add testimony of their own. Because I am very familiar with the material, I can easily provide another witness of testimony or remind a person-of-few-words to “go back and read that one part I marked, it’s just so important.”

• Never read a scripture, a quote or tell a story that a student could tell or read. Give the assignment at the beginning of class so each has a few minutes to prepare. Almost every single Sunday, sweet testimonies have been shared when a student first starts with teaching.

• Keep personal stories short and sweet. Nothing can be more memorable for students than a loving teacher appropriately sharing a spiritual insight he or she learned through experience. The key is to prepare — and here is where journal writing can be such a blessing. When you have written about a spiritual experience or insight you have gained, you have learned how to summarize it into a group of powerful words. Every student in your classroom, especially if they’re preparing for a full-time mission, needs to learn this same skill and your classroom is the perfect laboratory to practice.

In a recent lesson, a series of student-driven questions about the Plan of Salvation prompted me to tell the story of my adoption. I could have easily taken the next 30 minutes to share my story, especially because it wasn’t planned, but because I have written about it before here (or see "Child" in the February 2009 Ensign), I was able to tell the same powerful story in two minutes instead.

• Compliment your students. The more you validate what a student has shared with simple compliments, the more they will want to share again.

Please share in the comment section below how you have helped your Sunday School students become teachers in your classrooms with the new “Come, Follow Me" curriculum.

Stacie Lloyd Duce is a columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana and Utah publications. Her columns appear Thursdays on DeseretNews.com. Email: duceswild7@gmail.com

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