Planning a Sunday school class requires at least two activities: knowing your stuff and knowing your student.
Know Your Stuff
In order to teach well one needs to do more than facilitate learning; one needs to know one’s subject intimately. Horace Mann writes: “knowledge should not only be thorough and critical but it should be always ready at command for every exigency, familiar like the alphabet, so that, as occasion requires, it will rise up in the mind instantaneously and not need to be studied out with labor and delay.”
If the subject is the scriptures, then the scriptures should be known well. For most Sunday school teachers this might not mean knowing the original languages, but it means a familiarity with the Bible to the extent that one is consistently able to answer student’s questions, point to larger contexts for specific texts and run through the main points an author is trying to make.
Know Your Students
Many who know what they are going to teach may struggle to know those to whom they will be teaching. But this task is no less an act of study than the first. What do you know about your class? How much, for example, do the class already know about the Bible?
There are other things, besides the educational level of the class, that you might want to know. For example, what is the temperament of the class? Are they rowdy, passive, quiet, cynical? What do you know about their spiritual maturity?
It is difficult to predict what one’s class will be like until they are in the room. However, it might help to speak to the teachers who taught your class last year. They probably have plenty of advice for you, insight into the individuals’ lives and tips for engaging them in the learning process.
What trends in youth culture have you been looking at? Knowledge of the cultural context your students inhabit allows you to connect content to context. This both helps students engage in the material, but also allows you to make specific applications to their lives.
You are also not the only teacher in their lives. What schools do your students attend? If your class is made up of primarily Christian private school students, it will be quite different from a class filled with public school students.
You may also want to know something about the home situations of the students. Are the parents going to church? Do some come from broken homes? What kind of emphasis do parents have on education in the home?
Know your Shepherd
Of course, none of this counts much without knowing the source of all you teach, the Teacher of the class. And as you teach, students will gather from your commitment to what He has to say on matters that it is to him you turn to know anything. And that is probably the best learning outcome a student can have.
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