A Primary Primer

April 23, 2006 | 30 comments
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I haven’t been in Primary very long, but it has been long enough to notice this: most adults could benefit from a few simple ideas that will make them much, much better at teaching a group of children.

First and most importantly, know that about 90% of children’s misbehavior is due to the fact that they are not interested in what you are doing. I learned this in a most forceful manner when I taught in the public schools; most days felt like playing whack-a-mole: as soon as I put down a problem in one corner of the room, another one would erupt somewhere else. One day, in a speech class, I was delivering a model speech to my students. It was about ten minutes long and the topic was pranks that I had played in college (which included stealing a car and filling an entire bathroom–floor to ceiling–with leaves we had raked). During this speech, not a single student moved a muscle, let alone talked or moved about. Know that if you are presenting material that is interesting to students, almost all of your ‘discipline’ problems will disappear. As a general rule, an activity that involves just sitting and listening will not interest children. There are two exceptions to this: children respond well to stories (actual stories, including scripture stories, but not theological discourses), especially when there are visual aids. Further, an activity that involves one child coming to the front and doing something while all the others sit and listen may seem different to you, but for almost all of the kids, it is functionally the same as sitting and listening.

Know your material. Children smell fear and lack of preparation and will punish you for it. They will also punish hesitation and weakness. Know your stuff. If you are telling a story–scripture or otherwise–you must be able to do it without reference to notes. Reading it once per day for a week should accomplish this. Writing key phrases on the back of your visual aids may be an acceptable trick.

Have the children’s attention before you begin.They should all be quiet and have their eyes on you before you start. An easy way to accomplish this with Junior Primary is with a quick round of Noah Says: “Noah says hop like a kangaroo . . . Noah says crouch down in a ball like a beetle . . . Noah says be quiet as a mouse . . . Noah says sit in your chair like a quiet Primary child.” (Manipulative? Probably. But it works.) With Senior Primary, simply tell them, “I’ll know you are ready to begin when I can see your eyes and can’t hear your mouths.” and then wait until it happens.

Correct misbehavior. If you ignore it, it will not stop. In fact, it will spread like a virus. A few techniques for stopping it:
(a) Make eye contact with the child until s/he notices you and stops.
(b) Remind the whole group to pay attention.
(c) Ask for the teachers’ help–either generally or specifically.
(d) Say, “I’m sorry, Devilspawn, but I can’t go on until you are quiet.” And then stand quietly until they stop.
Remember: if you ignore it, it will continue. If you act, it will stop and set the tone for the rest of the children.

Do not expect children to sit still and be quiet or to engage in any single activity for more than 10 minutes. A three-hour block of sitting and being quiet is physically impossible for many children and extremely difficult for the rest. And there is no reason for Primary to involve sitting the entire time. Get those kids out of their chairs–use any excuse, for any reason. A Sharing Time that involves no movement is highly unlikely to be successful. Move the chairs and have everyone sit on the floor for awhile. Before you begin, announce a change in seating arrangement. Have everyone sing a song while standing on one foot. March around Jericho until the walls fall down.

Think outside the box. I’m not sure when or why matching a picture with a phrase or title became The One and Only True Sharing Time, but there is no reason for this. If you need ideas, consult the back of Teaching, No Greater Call for a laundry list of different activities. Another good option is to use all of the old Friend magazines online (do a keyword search for your topic) and you’ll find a wealth of ideas.

Know the abilities of the children you teach. The Senior Primary will not be interested if you show them a picture and ask them to identify it as the nativity. (Duh.) Challenge them with scripture stories they haven’t heard before and real-life situations with a little more depth than “Molly’s friend wants to watch a bad movie. . . What should she do?” (How about: “Molly is spending the weekend at her aunt’s house and her aunt wants her to watch a bad movie and asks her if she thinks she is holier-than-thou when she says no . . . What should she do?”) On the other hand, the Junior Primary has virtually no ability for abstract thought. (True story: a stake visitor gave each child in my son’s CTR 5 class a pinwheel and explained that the priesthood is like the wind: you can’t see it, but it makes things happen. My child came running out of class saying, “Look Mommy: when I blow on this the priesthood power makes it go around!”)

Consider the children’s attention to be like a firehose: be careful where you point that thing. Simple as it sounds, if you encourage the kids to, say, all look at a picture on a side wall of the room, it will take an almost Herculean effort to aim their attention back up to you. By the same token, one the ten commandements of Primary is not that the entire class must stand at the front of the room for the entire time when a class presents a Sharing Time. More often than not, they are a huge, wiggling distraction.

Watch and learn. After being a classroom teacher, I consider myself better-than-average at teaching a group of children. Still, as I sit in the Primary room and watch how the children react to what is presented to them, I learn something every single week about what will and will not hold their attention. When you notice chaos in the room, deconstruct it so it won’t happen again. When you notice wide eyes and quiet mouths, figure out what led to it.

A final thought. Jesus, our Master Teacher, rarely did anything that engaged only one of his audience’s senses. He taught about the sabbath as his followers walked and ate, he talked about children with one in his arms, he touched people while healing them, he fed them, he compared himself to water as the Samaritan woman drew water from a well. He never gave abstract theological discourses: he told simple stories with deep messages and used everyday objects to teach eternal truths. Go thou and do likewise.

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30 Responses to A Primary Primer

  1. Elisabeth on April 23, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    Excellent advice, Julie! I wish we could copy this post into every Primary teaching manual. Especially this: “Do not expect children to sit still and be quiet or to engage in any single activity for more than 10 minutes.” Indeed. I’ve also gained a testimony of the importance of hand motions in learning songs for children ages 6 and under (which is the demographic of our Primary). Thanks for sharing this with us.

  2. El Jefe on April 23, 2006 at 8:44 pm

    Great comments. Some apply to adults too. Having done a lot of speaking and teaching in church, you can tell when you’ve lost an audience…most of the people aren’t looking at you. On the other hand, you can tell when you have them…every eye is on you. As a general rule, when you are telling a story, you have their attention.

    Tell the children stories. And don’t worry about repeating them. Little children love stories, and they love hearing them again and and again.

  3. meems on April 23, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    Excellent Excellent Excellent!

    My 2 kids are bored to tears every primary. They hate it with such a passion that they moan and fuss almost every week. Not too long ago, my 6 year old daughter, exasperated, said to me before church, “But why do I have to go? I already have a testimony!!”

  4. Deborah on April 23, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    Julie: This is excellent. I second your first comment. As one of my teaching mentors used to say: “If a system isn’t working, don’t blame the children, change the system.” Let me add an idea that might be helpful for younger children and for children of all ages with special needs (from ADD to developmental delays).

    1) During class, establish a fixed routine. It doesn’t mean you need to do the SAME thing every week, but a sense of predictability helps students feel safe and helps them know how they should behave in a given situation. For example, when I worked with a sunbeam class with a couple of needy children, class went as follows:

    1. Small healthy snack and circle time (block ran through lunch — parents alternated providing healthy snack).
    2. Active song
    3. Introduce lesson principle
    4. Tell related story (with pictures) or play related game
    5. Quiet coloring (again, related to lesson)
    6. Parent pick-up

    At the beginning of a lesson, let students know how the lesson will procede. This really helps students who have difficulty transitioning. I put it on a chart with representative pictures, and referred to it at each transition point: “First we are going to have our snack and circle time, then we’ll sing a song . . .”

  5. Susan M on April 23, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    Great post.

    I think you’ll find that the lessons in the primary manuals include things for each of the learning types–auditory, visual, and kinetic. I’m guessing most teachers only use techniques for the first two, and probably mostly concentrate on whatever learning style they themselves are.

  6. Wilfried on April 23, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    Aha, and no food. Super post, Julie!

  7. Kevin Barney on April 23, 2006 at 10:20 pm

    Very good, Julie. I can use some of these ideas with my high school age SS class; oy, what a struggle that is.

  8. Ann on April 23, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    This is the very best article I’ve ever read about how to “do” primary. Ever. And I’m old.

    Practical. Direct. Realistic.

    Brava.

  9. Bryce I on April 23, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    Sing. Lots. Then sing some more.

    Bring a guitar, harmonica, melodica, kazoo, ukelele, mouth harp, or similarly portable music maker.

  10. Blake on April 23, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    You left something really critical out Julie — Don’t call any men to lead the Primary because they are inherently incapable of doing anything to promote the well-being of children for more than 25 minutes at a time.

  11. Seth R. on April 24, 2006 at 10:08 am

    Actually Blake, there’s been a Church policy change.

    Men are no longer permitted to teach a Primary class alone. They must now teach in pairs. In wards where this is impossible, the man must teach his class either with the classroom door open, or in a room with windows and the Primary Presidency is supposed to check on the class frequently.

    I suppose the media attention on sex abuse is the motivator here.

  12. Kristine Haglund Harris on April 24, 2006 at 10:17 am

    One rule I used when I was teaching Primary (I’m NOT very good at it) was to figure that I had one minute for every year of the children’s ages for the sit-down-be-quiet-and-listen part of the lesson, and the rest of the time should be spent in related activities–acting out a scripture story, doing a word search for key words in the lesson, singing songs, etc. With little kids, you can sometimes get better results even breaking up the sit-down time into two bits, so with 6 year olds, I’d hope for 3 quiet, really focused minutes near the beginning of the lesson time, and another 3 minutes near the end.

  13. Julie M. Smith on April 24, 2006 at 10:36 am

    Kristine, that’s a good rule. A good storyteller (knows the story, doesn’t have a monotone voice, conveys energy and excitement, etc.) can usually extend that time with a well-told story with visuals (pictures, flannel board, etc.) but what you present is a good baseline.

    Blake, I’m not sure if you are joking. I don’t think men are constitutionally incapable of teaching children well (I’ve seen evidence otherwise), but I do think they usually lack practice teaching children in groups AND don’t spend the time it takes to prepare an interesting activity.

  14. Sarah on April 24, 2006 at 11:57 am

    It’s also important to find something that actually works for the teacher. Trying to force yourself into a particular mold because “that’s what Primary teachers are supposed to do” doesn’t seem to work very well. My students like my methods (and they can’t be complaining to their parents that much; I got most of the same kids back for a second year.) My favorites include changing the story so that it’s wrong, and asking for votes on what was going to happen next (we were 5-1 in favor of Abraham killing Isaac, and 5-1 in favor of Esau killing Jacob — and the one who thought that Esau wasn’t going to kill Jacob, thought that God would intervene; suffice to say that they were really surprised when Esau hugged Jacob…) Also, since they’re older (all turning 8 this year) I ask them about what works. They love the “guess which volume this book of scripture goes into” game, even though one of them is no longer guessing but actually knows most of it. They hated the “fake” stories (even the ones that are true, are so simplified — they have to be, to be only a few paragraphs long — that the kids don’t believe it,) so we don’t read those much anymore. They hated looking up every scripture (mostly because they don’t know how, and have poor control over their hands, still,) but wanted to get better at looking them up, so now we look up and bookmark two scriptures (one for the lesson and the monthly one for Sharing Time) and then read the rest of them off of the nice big printouts I make. They also no longer hate the “let’s look up the monthly scripture and then have someone read it” activity at the beginning of Sharing Time, because they’ve already gotten it looked up. And since it takes the 12 year olds about as much time to find the monthly scripture as it takes the 7 year olds to open their books to the bookmarked spot, I don’t feel like it’s cheating.

    Whenever we have trouble sitting still, I have them get up. Most kids don’t mind random/non-purposeful activities — “move to the opposite side of the room every time I say the word ‘choose’” — and I’d rather have them moving while halfway listening to the lesson, than not at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re listening more when I have them moving back and forth in response to specific stimuli, than they’d be if they actually were sitting quietly. When I sat quietly as a child, it was because my mind was off on its own adventure altogether. I perfected the “I’m actually asleep but my head is tilted so it’s looking at the podium” technique when I was 6, and my father and grandmother were up in the choir seats looking down at me to be sure I was behaving. Quiet and sitting still might not be such a great thing to be looking for during a Primary lesson.

  15. Mike on April 24, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    I can not express the degree of thanks and appreciation for this. What I would give to have this on the desktop of my ward primary leaders a few years ago. My children are now out of primary and it is too late for them. But this will be given to the current primary leaders in my ward. I nominate this as the most useful post on the blog this year.

    #3: Take action. You have no time to loose. Senior primary is the last relatively easy time with children, the lull before the storm of the teenage years, and the key to surviving it. My children were bored to tears in primary and it had overall an enormous negative influence on them. By their last year or two, primary became a toxic ordeal for them. My daughter changed her name to Jo and her best frend to Brig (then to Bob because that was too obvious). She led most of the senior primary out to play in the parking lot and nearby temple grounds every Sunday for most of a year while singing the song: “Follow the Prophet, She knows the way … ” to the kitchen to steal the treats and then run outside to the best hiding places. (During which time I blathered on clueless as the Gospel Doctrine teacher). Next followed the Nazi ram rod approach. My son won awards at grade school for excellent behavior and got kicked out of primary over 20 times before they told us, his parents, that they had a problem with him. Both of my children have been physically struck or shaken at church, which I believe is close to criminal activity. I deleted the rest of a long list of problems, but things in primary can get real ugly, in my experience.

    I would offer a couple additions. If you can’t seem to make progress on the more severe behavior problems, involve the parents early. But work as a team. Have the parents at least visit the class. Do not divide parent against their child, for example by calling the parents up hours after church and manipulating them into punishing the child for misbehavior the parent did not witness. Some teachers will lie or distort the truth about your kids to you, especially if they do not like you in the first place. Many kids know this because they experience it often. Some parents will lie and distort too, another reason to have them there as witnesses.

    When a child is physically in your charge, you the teacher are for a short time responsible for them. Parents can not magically control a rebellous child when they are not there. It can be difficult enough even if the parent is present. If you as a teacher can’t or won’t take this responsibility, you will pay in the end. Children eventually win power struggles because time is on their side and they learn so quickly; while your influence will diminish if it is not based on respect and compassion.

    I am convinced that many problems with teenage rebellion have their roots in the way children are mis-handled at the senior primary age. My kids are model students at school, but one is socially thrashing some of her YW adult leaders now, especially the ones who act like the worst of their primary leaders. I can’t do much about it. They both are no longer little children, but extremely independent thinking, without mercy and close to adults in physical size and strength. Two other teachers who take an approach that aproximates what is suggested above are loved and appreciated by them and do not cause problems.

    Finally, you may need some authoritative textual back up when certain people interpret anything they do not recognize as coming directly from the lips of the Prophet; as leading the youth astray, or wandering from the straight and narrow (minded) path, or not following the manual or some other such nonsense. (We call this “laying it on the Prophet” in my ward, which is claiming the Prophet is entirely on your side in any difference of opinion or difference in approach). It is worth remembering a David O. McKay quote, found in last year’s MP/RS manual in the chapter on Teaching a Noble Calling. It completely changed my perspective about why my children won’t behave at church. I thought it was my fault as a crappy parent and I was determined to repent and make my children straighten up.

    David O. McKay ATTRIBUTES ALMOST ALL MISBEHAVIOR OF CHILDREN AT CHURCH ON POORLY PREPARED TEACHERS. When my kids act up at church it is not usually my fault. All children are gifts and should be welcomed with open arms and feel like they are loved at church. When I started telling the teachers of my children this quote, my children seemed to stop acting up as much. This lesson also attributed to President McKay one of Lowell Bennion’s best quotes. I do not know who originated it, but David O. has far more credibility today and Lowell wouldn’t mind if we didn’t give him due credit. The Quote: WE DON’T TEACH LESSONS, WE TEACH PEOPLE (or in this case a specific group of little people called children).

    My hat is off to all primary teachers who are true to their calling. Thank you Sister Smith, you are a true sister in the gospel.

  16. greenfrog on April 24, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    *standing ovation*

  17. Mike Parker on April 24, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    Great post, Julie.

    Possible type: When you write “Consider the children’s attention to be like a firehouse,” I think you mean “Consider the children’s attention to be like a firehose.”

  18. Mike Parker on April 24, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    In a fantastic display of irony, in #17 I wrote “type” when I meant “typo.”

  19. Bryce I on April 24, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was to let young children have an opportunity at the beginning of class to tell something to the rest of the class. This serves a few purposes. The kids know that they will have a chance to tell their classmates about the frog they found in their backyard, the birthday party they went to, or the silly joke that their older sister told them without having to interrupt the teacher during class. It establishes a clear boundary — the beginning of class is kid-driven conversation, but once that is over, the teacher is in charge of what gets talked about. Every child is given an opportunity to speak at least once during the class. And the astute teacher will observe what is on the children’s minds and incorporate that information in the lesson presentation to stimulate interest.

  20. dangermom on April 24, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    One thing I wish was different about the Primary manual I’ve been using (it’s #2) is that it tends to assume that the children can read. That’s fine for the older kids, but the 2 manual is designed for children 4 and 5–and I’ve been using it in a combo Sunbeam 4/5 class, so I have several 3-yo’s. None of them can read, yet the manual meant for them constantly suggests visual aids with words. So I spend a lot of time figuring out different things to do.

    I like to use dress-up in my classes–if there’s any way to do it, I’ll bring scarves and hats and have them act out the scripture stories. Really I have too many children (11) to do it well, but at least they’re interested.

  21. Eliza on April 24, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    I have done the same thing (#19) with teaching youth and children. Everyone likes to be listened to–adults, youth, children. It really does work well, and it provides a clear boundary–the first few minutes of class are for talking about what happened during the week; then we have the opening prayer, and class really begins. And we all get to know each other a little bit each week. Many kids, especially lonely or shy ones, thrive on opportunities like that where they won’t be punished for talking about themselves, and they’re sort of “required” to in a way. Kind of like the Good News Minute in Relief Society–you don’t feel silly sharing minor good news, because you’re expected to.

    Another thing that I think is effective with youth or anyone is asking at the end of a lesson what they’ll remember from it, and turning that into a simple challenge. I’ve found that when I don’t do this, I get bizarre responses the following week when I ask at the beginning, “What was our lesson about last week?” It’s very easy for kids to latch onto one funny story or offhand comment and forget the rest. When I do ask what they’ve learned at the end of a lesson, I find that it’s much more likely they’ll remember that the following week, and maybe even complete the challenge.

    Also, having a challenge that’s the same each week, especially for older kids–in the vein of the “routine” somebody mentioned–is good. I ask my 12-year-olds each week whether they read their scriptures that week, where they are in the scriptures, if they’re understanding it, etc. They’re actually honest with me, or it seems so–many times they’ll say, “No, I forgot,” or “I only did it 3 times,” or whatever. I do this mainly because as a seminary student in high school, the knowledge that I’d need to report my progress to my teacher–she asked us about it each morning–was what got me reading the scriptures at all.

  22. Eliza on April 24, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    P.S. For memorization of scriptures or quotes or whatever, putting words to familiar tunes always works, and it’s usually fun. Maybe the Articles of Faith songs in the Children’s Songbook aren’t the best example (melody-wise), but they can still work.

  23. Sarah on April 24, 2006 at 4:02 pm

    the knowledge that I’d need to report my progress to my teacher–she asked us about it each morning–was what got me reading the scriptures at all.

    That worked really, really well with my little sister. Apparently they’re not going to mention it at Seminary graduation, but they did do it in one of the classes a few weeks ago — of the graduating seniors, she has (by far) the best Consecutive Reading record. I was shocked — she’s read her scriptures every day, at least a few verses a day, for over 800 days straight. It was because they kept asking — no pressure or anything, just asking and writing it down. I think they got one point for reading the previous day, and one point for showing up to Seminary on time (they trade their points in for things: none of the kids have turned in their points for the biggest single prize, a free day off of Seminary; they prefer the candy bars.)

    Incidentally, behavior problems might be the teacher’s fault — but they might not. If your child has gone through 8 teachers in a few months and all the other kids whine when she’s put into their class for the year, it might just be her behavior. Any given teacher in Primary is in charge of your child for approximately 40 minutes one day a week, and most of them are neither professionals nor very familiar with you or your child. Parents have the initiative in this situation.

  24. Blake on April 24, 2006 at 4:32 pm

    Julie: Just so ya know. I was the nursery leader (with sundry females) for 3 years. Turns out that no one else would do it. I found out that kids like structured lessons with lots of pictures and motions during song — and they love to play and eat grahm crackers. Mostly they like a dad to get on the ground and play cars, or rock them, or sing songs.

  25. Space Chick on April 24, 2006 at 6:31 pm

    Sharing Time at the beginning of Sunday School also works well for 16-17 year olds, otherwise they’ll chat and gossip throughout the rest of the lesson.

  26. Eve on April 24, 2006 at 9:35 pm

    The suggestions and ensuing discussion have been very enlightening. Thanks to all of you. You’ve given me a lot to think about in terms of improving as a nursery teacher.

    Just a few other ideas that have worked for me both in Primary and in Young Women.

    (1) Get to know the children or youth individually. A little out-of-class interaction and acquaintance with parents and family circumstances can go a long way. When I worked in Young Women, every month I’d spend some one-on-one time with a different girl in my class–I rotated through them all in turn. Obviously, this isn’t possible for everyone or in all circumstances, but forging connections and expanding relationships outside of class can help make what goes on inside class more meaningful.

    (2) Be flexibile. Sometimes that means modifying, or jettisoning entirely, plans you’ve worked hard on. In a talk on gospel teaching in November 1999, Elder Oaks said, “One who understands that principle will not look upon his or her calling as ‘giving or presenting a lesson,’ because that definition views teaching from the standpoint of the teacher, not the student.” That made a deep impression on me and has helped me be a more flexible teacher, willing to go where the students need to go instead of grim-facedly “getting through the material.”

    (3) Laugh at what can be laughed at. Not all misbehavior can, and of course clear limits are necessary, but a good sense of humor, mostly about yourself, is essential to life in Primary or Mutual. Just as “children smell fear and lack of preparation” youth smell taking yourself too seriously.

  27. Heather Oman on April 25, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    #4-

    Deborah used these methods when she taught sunbeams in our ward, and I was in the Primary Presidency. She was like a magic elixer. Once those 3 year olds had a predictable class time, they were P-E-R-F-E-C-T. And she had some tough kids.

    Thanks, Julie, for this post. Jacob HATES primary, and I always feel like I’m torturing when I make him go. His biggest complaint? “It’s BORING!” I sat in once, and you know what? He was right. Total snooze-a-thon. Even I felt like wriggling in my chair.

    The best sharing time I’ve ever seen was when a woman brought in ingredients to a recipe for sugar cookies. The older kids read the ingredients, the younger kids added them (she had them add the wrong things), stirred, etc. Everybody was totally captivated. Then she talked about how when we don’t follow God’s laws, things can turn out wrong. Then she handed out real cookies, of course, which I know not everybody thinks is a great idea, but the kids sure loved the whole thing, from beginning to end.

    I’ve always said the best people need to be in primary. It’s such a challenging calling, and so important. Again, thanks for the tips.

  28. Kaimi Wenger on April 25, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    Great post, Julie, and I’ve liked the comments that have followed, too.

    I love working in Primary. (I don’t have a Primary calling right now, and that makes me sad, although EQ and SS are fun).

    I think a main key is not being afraid to laugh at yourself. Or to get involved in the activity. If you’re hopping on one foot, the kids will, too. If you’re excited, they’ll be excited too.

    Preparation helps, and so does using your creativity to do things that are a little different. Recently, I’ve done Jeopardy a few times with the kids. It’s not hard. You just need a chalkboard and a set of questions; you can make up the questions yourself. Categorize them (Prophets; Restoration; Book of Mormon; etc) and line them up in difficulty; the kids love it.

    Also, I second (third? fourth?) the many people who have talked about getting kids moving. That’s not hard, either. You’re reading about Nephi and the Brass Plates? Have each kid grab her scriptures, and go on a journey through the hallway and back to the primary room. And so forth.

    The kids can tell if you’ve spent time and effort trying to put together something they’ll enjoy, versus if you’re just reading out of the book. Time spent preparing, or just brainstorming ideas, is time well spent.

  29. CS Eric on May 3, 2006 at 1:40 pm

    When I was growing up, I hated primary because it was so boring. So my main goal when I was called to teach was that the kids would have fun. I didn’t care much whether they remembered anything about primary, except that they remembered at least one thing each week and that they enjoyed it.

    The structure that worked for me was this:
    First, the lesson, usually by telling it, using pictures or having the kids act out the story. Some of the kids had the scripture videos, so they knew the story from that. Looking back, a lot of the first part of the lesson was also the “show and tell”, but I didn’t care, because one of my goals was that they enjoyed primary.

    Next, the game or other activity. Sometimes it was boys against the girls, sometimes randomly split by where they sat. Usually it was something like Jeopardy, or some other memory game, where all of the answers came from the lesson. One of the funnest was a bean bag toss. The incentive to pay attention to the lesson, then, was to win the game. Sometimes it wasn’t a game, but they drew pictures or colored ones I brought.

    Finally, the treat. I know, the guidance is (or at least was) that treats were only for special occasions. But the class decided that anytime they could get through a whole lesson was a special occasion, so that’s how we justified it. The other rule was that there was no treat if one of the more popular kids teased or picked on the “nerdier” ones. One of the reasons I hated primary was that I was usually the smallest and youngest one, and got picked on a lot. It wasn’t going to happen when I was in charge.

    The kids learned the structure pretty fast. If we didn’t finish the lesson part, no game, no treat. If we didn’t finish the lesson and the game, no treat. Sometimes I bent the rules, especially if we were having fun during the activity. But more often than not, if we ran out of time, the treat went back home with me, so they knew I stuck to the rules. The rule on picking on the other kids was absolute. Peer pressure worked tremendously well for me in that case–nobody wanted to be the reason they didn’t get the treats.

    It’s almost a shame that I enjoyed teaching primary that year a lot more than I ever did when I was the student.

  30. Idahospud on May 8, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    When I taught Sunbeams, their favorite thing was to “teach the lesson”–retell the scripture story–using the flannel board and figures I’d bring. Each one wanted a turn, and I had many parents remark that they couldn’t believe how well their children were learning the scripture stories. We also did a lot of acting out the stories with dressups. Good times.

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