One of the few debatable challenges with the youth Sunday School lessons based on the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum is the fact that they're so memorable.
Last year’s lessons seem like they happened yesterday.
So, it has been somewhat of an undertaking for second-year teachers, including me, to study “Come, Follow Me” options and discover the same degree of freshness found last spring. As a result, I’ve chosen to make modifications for two weeks in a row.
The materials I used in Atonement-themed lessons last March were presented by my students with soul-searing, testimony-building impact. Last Sunday, instead of only re-sharing the impressive life experiences found in suggested general conference addresses, we themed our Sunday School hour as “The Atonement in the News.”
Searching the deseretnews.com database, I printed excerpts from 10 recent news stories that shared examples of people in distress using principles of Jesus Christ’s Atonement to endure well the consequences of their own mistakes, the choices of others to which they fell victim or acts of God that were understandably difficult to immediately embrace.
Each student summarized a single news story and taught a principle he or she found to be inspiring. Included were such treasured nuggets as “repentance requires real intent,” “grace is a constant source of energy,” “the Atonement of Jesus Christ empowers us,” “forgiveness is not a perfect process,” “selfless service develops gratitude for the Atonement,” “asking the masses for forgiveness on social media (or in testimony meetings) does not constitute restitution,” and more.
We barely had enough time to get through the 10 presentations because of the conversations that were sparked by the stories. The most impressive part to me was watching the teens express deep empathy for the people they were learning about, which is not an everyday occurrence in their stage of life.
The week before, one sentence in the “Come, Follow Me” lesson suggestions sparked an idea for a Sunday School game that was not your regular old Hangman. It required teamwork and brainpower to conceptualize metaphors and similes on the topic of the Atonement and has now been classroom tested by both me and my sister. The first thing we learned is that you need a big class for this to succeed. Here are the basics for those who are interested:
The Simile Game
1. Using cards from the “Apples to Apple” game, start sorting. Make one pile of red cards that are objects the students could draw Pictionary-style, such as "snow," "popcorn," "swiss cheese," "hot lava," etc. Next, sort through your green cards and pull ones with gospel-appropriate words, such as "eternal," "radiant," "important," etc.
2. Divide your class into companionships and let them choose a red and green card. (I actually gave each companionship three of each color so they could choose the best combinations.)
3. For the next five minutes, let them prepare for their "presentation" by looking up a scripture that goes with their words.
4. The end result (which obviously needs to be explained before they start studying) is:
Each companionship comes to the front of the room and can earn up to eight points:
1 point — for successfully drawing your red-card word and getting someone to guess it
1 point — for filling in the blanks of the phrase:
___________ is like ______________
(Their red card word goes in the first blank, and the second blank is filled with their choice from a posted list of Atonement-related words such as "mercy," "justice," "repentance," “grace.” I posted that easy-to-read list on the board for them to reference while studying.)
1 point — for successfully explaining the symbolic nature of their comparison to the class.
1 point — for finding and sharing a scripture that supports their comparison (this was amazing, by the way, to hear the obscure scriptures they found that really worked).
1 point — for using their green-card adjective or adverb during their explanation and testifying at the end. (This helps students rethink the words they use to explain gospel concepts.)
Bonus points — Given for successfully including one, two or three of the synonyms listed on their green card while they are explaining and testifying.
By the end of class, the students were not only completing their assignment and racking up points but also adding alternate ways to explain the simile that was being presented.
The game was very fun. Some younger students grumbled that it was a little hard, but my husband was sitting among the kids and helping different companionships put it all together, and I heard him say more than once, "I know you guys hate it when teachers dumb down Sunday lessons, so here's your chance to be challenged in church. Let's do this."
If anyone has success in using this game, or a modified version, during your lesson on Jesus Christ’s Atonement, I’d love to hear about it. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment to his column.