Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » James E. Talmage: A Short Course on How to Teach a Church Class

James E. Talmage: A Short Course on How to Teach a Church Class

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 12, 2012

From 1926 –

To Class Leaders

A few suggestions to teachers, conductors, or leaders of classes in our auxiliary organizations may be of good service.

1. Be well prepared. This admonition applies to both teacher and members. Lessons are to be specified and pre-assigned, and thorough preparation is essential to the success of the class session. The aim, purpose, and scope of the lesson should be carefully surveyed and every topical phase of the subject be given its proportionate time. Without ample preparation the teacher cannot be master of the lesson or of the class; equally so, if lacking in preparation the pupil or member is unable to take part in the lesson with best effect.

2. Keep clear in mind the difference between a class lesson and a lecture. In a class every member should be an active participant, the teacher acting as leader or director; at a lecture there is one speaker, while the audience or congregation comprises hearers; though, of course, questions may be invited after the completion of the lecture.

3. The foregoing consideration leads to the well established rule among well-trained instructors – that the teacher should not talk too much in class. His ability as a teacher is shown by the interest he arouses and maintains among the members, inspiring and even impelling them to take part by question, answer, or comment.

4. The teacher’s questions should be definite and clear-cut. Many a teacher beclouds the meaning of his question by supplementary queries, and this course often leads to confusion in the minds of members. If the question be not clearly understood it may be restated, and, if necessary, in somewhat changed form, but the question before the class must be unmistakably clear.

5. Avoid the habitual repeating of answers. Such repetition may be advisable or even necessary at times, as when the response has been given in so soft a tone as not to have been heard by the class at large; but members as well as the teacher should speak loud enough to be heard by all present.

6. Avoid direct questions – such as can be answered by Yes or No. An inattentive member may give either such answer with a fifty per cent chance of being correct though the question has taken him by surprise. Direct questions are sometimes though very seldom necessary.

7. So frame each question that the answer may be truly responsive. If the teacher desires to know, for example, which members of the class have studied a topic previously assigned, his question should take such form as “Who of you have studied the subject?’ rather than “How many of you have studied the subject?” The latter form calls for the specification of a number; and, assuming that the response is made by uplifted hand, the teacher should do the counting if he desires an answer as to “how many?”

8. Give equal opportunity to all members. Not infrequently teachers call upon but a small few to answer questions or otherwise take a speaking part in the exercises, and generally these few are the ones who are known to be the best students. The backward or hesitating member should be encouraged to respond. There should be no select or favored few in the class, who are either called upon or allowed to figure so prominently as to repress or overshadow the more timid or less aggressive.

9. State the question before naming a member to answer. if the one who is to reply is named before the question is put, or the request made to read a specified passage, he is immediately called to strict attention, while other members, knowing that they are not personally concerned, may remain in a state of partial inattention.

10. Keep to the subject. It is a fault with many teachers to introduce, or allow some forward member to bring in by query, topics that are but remotely connected with the subject of the lesson. Incidental questions or comments may be worth consideration, but this is to be deferred until the lesson is finished. Every lesson should be a well defined unit as to the subject-matter.


1. Be well prepared.
2. Distinguish between lesson and lecture.
3. Refrain from talking too much.
4. Make your questions definite and clear-cut.
5. Avoid the habit of repeating answers.
6. Avoid direct questions.
7. Frame the questions so as to elicit a responsive answer.
8. Give equal opportunity to all members.
9. State the question first, then call for the answer.
10. Keep to the subject.


  1. Very succinct, very useful suggestions.

    Comment by Amy T — September 12, 2012 @ 7:37 am

  2. “…members as well as the teacher should speak loud enough to be heard by all present.

    Hear, hear! Our gospel doctrine class is always taught in the chapel, with a few people in the center, and everyone else around the edges and back. We have a few folks who are habitually low talkers (ala Seinfeld), and one in particular who speaks even lower for emphasis. Being at advanced middle age, I am somewhat hearing challenged, but I’m not the only one who asks for these folks to speak up or for the comment to be repeated.

    Nice short list, ought to be required reading for all church teachers.

    Comment by kevinf — September 12, 2012 @ 10:25 am

  3. Good refresher course. The current “Teaching, No Greater Call” manual does offer the opposite advice of #9, on the grounds that the class will get a better answer if the individual knows in advance.

    Comment by The Other Clark — September 12, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

  4. Excellent!

    Comment by David Y. — September 12, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

  5. As a Ward Sunday School President I really like this.

    Ardis, could I please get reference to this?

    Comment by Niklas — September 13, 2012 @ 7:32 am

  6. Niklas, I’ve send it to the email address you left with your comment.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2012 @ 9:46 am

  7. I’d like the reference to this, too. This is absolutely fantastic. Too many called to teach in the church feel they need to be professionals, sometimes to such an extent they prepare extensive Powerpoint presentations. #2 flies in the face of that line of thinking.

    Comment by Rob W. — September 13, 2012 @ 2:42 pm

  8. It was published in the Millennial Star, 22 July 1926, 456-57 (probably originated in one of the Church magazines in Utah, but I found it in the Star).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

  9. I think if every class followed #3 and #10, there would be a lot more discussion of the gospel, and less of the culture. That is hard though, especially when teaching Primary, when children do need help learning how to implement what they are being taught.

    Comment by Julia — September 14, 2012 @ 11:42 am

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