Tips for creating questions and discussion starters.
Welcome to “Lesson Helps for Relief Society and Elder’s Quorum.”
Are you prepared to be a:
- Discussion Starter who engages others instead of lecturing?
- Fellowshipper who validates and empowers others instead of being the class focal point?
The principal role of a Relief Society or an Elder’s Quorum teacher for the year 2023 is to initiate discussions, where the rest of the group does the talking. Learning retention increases by 73% when people actively participate in the topic. We optimally create lesson plans that promote class discussion and spend time validating and responding as they talk. This will encourage interaction and belonging among our group.
Out of time? 5 Highlights From Select Conference Talks Already Done For You
How Do I Put A Lesson Together?
1. Prepare Yourself
- Read the General Conference talk through at least twice if you have time. The sooner, the better.
- Highlight the quotes/principles/scriptures which stand out the most to you.
- Tip: absorb the material faster by watching the General Conference video while you read and highlight. It will maximize your understanding – in the least amount of time.
2. Select Lesson Material
Avoid the temptation to cover every point in the conference talk. Otherwise, you will become a lecturer and miss out on valuable opportunities to get your group talking. Discussion allows much-needed learning and fellowshipping to take place. This is truly a situation where less “teaching” is more.
- Select your top five most meaningful highlights.
- Try to select shorter, easy-to-digest quotes/principles. A story is an exception.
- Think of each highlight as a mini-lesson or its own section.
- Consider yourself a success if you don’t get to all five highlights when you lead your group on Sunday. Sometimes I don’t even get past the first one – but the discussion experience is fabulous. With this method, five points are all you’ll ever need.
3. Create Questions & Discussion Starters
For each of the five chosen highlights, repeat this step.
- Pull out keywords from the highlight (see example below**). Questions and successful discussion starters can be created with help from the keywords. Ponder the keywords and possibly look up definitions for them. My favorite help is the thesaurus. I use thesaurus.com a lot. (If it is a verse – check out some of the footnotes too. Often, there are inspirations and great discussion material there.)
- Create 2-3 questions about the highlight. For example, ask questions about why, how, when, where, what, and who. Also, ask “Can you relate” questions.
- If possible, be prepared to share a personal story, experience, or thought on this highlight. Preferably, this is back-up in case your class isn’t talking a lot. Nonetheless, place first priority on the rest of the group using up the talk time.
**Here is an example using a quote from a talk by Quentin L. Cook.
“Our purpose is to balance the Church and the home experiences in a way that will greatly increase faith and spirituality and deepen conversion.”Deep and Lasting Conversion to Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, by Quentin L. Cook. October 2018
The keywords which stand out most for me are: balance, faith, spirituality, and conversion.
Using the seven questions:
- What is conversion? (Can you be active and not be converted?) What does it mean to deepen conversion? What would that look like if you were to have a balance between Church and home experiences? What would feel balanced?
- Why does the Church now want us to have a balance of these experiences at home? Why not just have them at church?
- How can we include experiences and habits which will increase faith, spirituality, and conversion at home?
- When is the best time you have found to study and ponder or have other spiritually uplifting moments? Do we sometimes need to schedule it in purposely?
- Where can meaningful spiritual experiences occur most often?
- Who benefits the most when we have regular spiritual experiences at home?
- Can you picture your home becoming a center of faith, spirituality, and more profound conversion? What changes would you make? (This is a “can you relate” question.)
Once you’ve thought of some questions – settle on 2-3 which you feel are best for your group.
Another way to create lesson material is to create lists of synonyms and/or definitions of the keywords. Using keywords to explore a quote further, verse, or topic can generate great discussion. For example, I might ask, “here are some definitions for the word balance. “What do you believe Elder Cook meant when he said “our purpose is to balance the Church and the home experiences…?
You can use this same discussion starter idea with any keywords you’ve identified!
Another discussion starter is asking the class to pull out keywords themselves from the highlight or quote and ask why those words are essential.
4. How To Deliver
Congratulate yourself as soon as you have five mini-lessons ready to go from your five highlights. While this article primarily addresses the basic structure of putting together a meaningful lesson – let your creativity flow. If you like to craft or bake or set up panoramas and displays – those are wonderful and stimulating ways to promote a learning atmosphere. One of my personal favorites is to bring chocolates. While in class, you can use games, role-play, mini-groups, skits, musical numbers, and any number of ways to keep the engagement level optimal. (I do stay away from videos – they tend to shut/slow the discussion down, maybe because it’s too passive.)
Here are some suggestions for successful lesson material delivery:
Suggest ground rules or extend an invite before you start reading any quote or scripture (in other words, make suggestions ahead of time of what they might find) –
For example– in gospel doctrine, when reading a verse, I often ask people to imagine themselves in that time and place. What do you notice about what’s going on? How would you feel? Does it remind you of any situation in your own life? These are subtle suggestions to be more engaged with the material.
Or I might say, “Okay, after we read these verses, we’re going to discuss the character of the Sons of Mosiah. Notice what comes up for you as we read this scripture set (or quote).”
Or “when I read this scripture before class, I wondered how Mosiah’s sons could progress to the point that they did? Notice what comes up for you as we read these verses (this quote) today, and let’s talk about it.”
Another tip, extend that invite to look/listen for the words and phrases they might find stand out for them from any given quote. Ask why that particular word, phrase, or idea seemed important.
To sum up – help them be more prepped and engaged as you study material together. It does make a difference. My favorite go-to invite is, “See what comes up for you as we read this quote…what stands out for you today?” Or “As we read this next quote (scripture) you might notice some similarities to your own life – see what comes up for you today.”
4-second rule. Don’t ever worry if you don’t get immediate responses to your questions or attempts at starting a discussion. Sometimes it takes a while to warm up. When you ask a question, wait four seconds, and if there are no volunteers, ask the same query differently or with other words. For example, “What do you suppose Elder Cook meant by balancing Church and home”? <4-second pause> “Is there a need in our day to harmonize gospel experiences in the home with experiences at Church?
Glorious Pause. You’ve had a long time to think about the material while preparing. It may take people a bit to get those thought processes rolling. Don’t let that unnerve you. If there is silence after the 4-second rule and a second prompting, stand/sit there with a smile on your face. Some of the best discussions I’ve ever led – started with a lengthy response time.
If you get into a great conversation, let it roll. This is an invaluable event at Church. The most important thing you can do is create an experience that fosters thinking and internal investigation. That’s a success – we’re teaching how to ponder a spiritual topic and have a train of thoughts. And how to relate it to our own lives and with each other. Networking is also a form of much-needed fellowshipping. Sometimes I’ll only get through a couple of quotes the entire lesson or even just one quote/verse because the dialog opened up so well.
Want to try a different lesson template? Once you have your five highlights with questions and discussion starters – go to:
5. How to get more participation.
A) Make sure others read the verses and quotes…not you. You already talk enough. Quite often, the person reading will be prompted to make comments too.
B) Be ready to share your own story or two upon some quote or another – people love personal experiences; it opens them up. People will mirror you; if you are forthcoming, they will be forthcoming.
C) Pass out reading assignments ahead of time – a week if you can. “Would you please share your thoughts on this verse and what comes up for you? Feel free to share any stories from your own life on this topic.” That ups the quality of content and sows the seeds of great discussion. Use people who don’t speak up a lot – that’s gold.
D) Respond to a class contributor like they are your best friend and you’re having a conversation in the foyer; give them some conversational feedback.
E) Validate every attempt to be involved in the conversation. Parrot back their idea or tell them what you liked about their comment. I will often say, “I loved that word you used…introspection; I’ve felt a lot of introspection when preparing this lesson.” Say their name. Refer back to an earlier comment and mention who made it. The validation you extend is engaging and memorable. Remember, people have different levels of understanding and various combinations of “line upon line.” Be conversational and try to make the best of every comment. Don’t play “guess what I’m thinking.” or ‘just one right answer.” If there is a flawed understanding, be very gentle and diplomatic. “Well, I can understand why you might view it that way…let me share an experience (or a scripture)
New tip: I see this happen repeatedly! Do not ever be concerned or annoyed by going “out of order.” For example, if someone makes a comment that covers material later in your lesson and the discussion naturally swings there – roll with it and work the quote or verse in. Don’t invalidate and shut that person’s comment down by stating that it’s for “later.” (Don’t be like, “why did you bring that up now – that messes up my lesson.”) If you want people to volunteer…be a safe person to contribute to. Turn the detour into a success for everyone.
F) Difficult people with antagonistic questions – Don’t be scared of it; turn it into a golden opportunity for more participation. People love to chime in when it gets a little heated anyway. You can say, “Let’s open this up to the group. Does anyone have a response or viewpoint on that? This diffuses the focus off of you. When invited and validated, you’ll usually find people willing to jump in on something like this.
If it is contentious, kindly invite that person to speak with you afterward, but you’d like to get back to the lesson…or tell them you’ll need to research that one and get back to them.
G) No videos. They tend to produce a passive group – if you feel you must share a video, restrict it to the beginning of the lesson.
Summary: How much should I prepare?
Out of 50 minutes, you’ll typically get about 35-40 for the lesson by the time opening/closing exercises, announcements, prayers, and hymns are done. Every quote you have someone read, and then ask questions or some other discussion starter/activity – by the time you get a few comments, you’ll quickly use up 5 minutes. If the discussion opens up at all or someone tells a story or relates an experience, or asks a question – you’ll hit 10 minutes per quote without trying to. Don’t be surprised if you only end up getting through 2-3 quotes…that’s great. This means some real conversation and contemplation are taking place.
You are ready! I’m so excited for you as you prepare to bring a wonderful experience to your group. Blessings to you always.
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