When I taught seminary, a few times a year I used to love to give a “silent” lesson, and over the years I realized how much the students loved them. Not only did they add variety to our classroom experience, but it gave whatever topic we were studying a special memory and feeling and the kids would talk about that lesson the rest of the year.
What is a silent lesson? In a nut shell, it is a lesson where the students are silent. The lesson is designed in a way where the youth are engaged the entire time, but they know that they are to keep a silent and reverent atmosphere. You may be using a powerpoint or some sort of desk activity. You may have them moving around the room in some fashion, but the students know that silence is expected.
Check out this article that John Hilton III wrote for the Religious Educator about silent lessons: The Silent Lesson. In this article he explains a silent lesson as this:
“A silent lesson is just what its name implies—a lesson in which there is no talking. In some versions of silent lessons, neither teachers nor students speak. In other versions, only the students do not speak; and in still others, only teachers do not speak, but students can. In many instances within a Latter- day Saint context, the teacher prepares thought-provoking questions along with images and passages of scriptures so that students can silently ponder these during the class period.”
Here are a few ideas of what a silent lesson could be like:
1- SLIDE SHOW / POWERPOINT: These are probably some of the most common silent lessons I came across. HERE is an example for Mosiah 13-16 (this is a slide show lesson created by John Hilton III). In the article click on “a version of a silent lesson online” and then download the silent lesson ZIP file.
3- READING ACTIVITIES: This can be a scripture activity or something else like THIS one where I had the youth read stories about the Willie and Martin handcart company. Compiling those stories took me weeks – but it was well worth it.
4- STUDY PACKETS: I used to love compiling a well made study packet. Not only did the kids learn a ton, but they also would have a great experience in their scriptures – which is priceless! One of the study packets I used to do was about the LAST HOURS OF CHRIST’S LIFE. This was one of my favorite all-time lessons. It is proof that you don’t have to be talking to learn life-changing things.
5- SCRIPTURE JOURNALING: I remember early on in my teaching I had a lesson all prepared and at the beginning of class I decided to hand out a piece of lined paper to each student and I said – you have 15 minutes to open up anywhere in the Book of Mormon to study and write your thoughts and impressions as you go. I told them that they will surprise themselves as they write and they will think of things and see things they have never thought of or seen before. And off they went. They started writing, and writing, and writing. And then they would come up and get more paper and keep writing. When the fifteen minutes was up I just let them keep going – there was NO WAY I was going to stop the experience they were having. After about 30 minutes I asked them to come up and share some of the things they had learned (and some kept writing because they weren’t done). I was AMAZED at the incredible insights they shared with each other.
6- CLASS STUDY: I used to take a chapter or two and create a class study out of them. I would put the desks in rows of five or six and tell the kids that they have a certain amount of time at each desk in their row. There would be an activity of some sort on each desk and then after that set amount of time (5 or 10 minutes) the student would get up and then move back one desk and then stay at that activity for the next 10 minutes (I would have them put their backpacks in the back of the room for easy movement). So on the first desk it may be a marking activity for that chapter. On the second desk they may answer specific questions about that chapter – especially application questions (so the kids will read each other’s answers and add to them). On the third desk they may read, mark, and comment on an applicable General Conference talk (so they are all reading, marking and commenting on the same talk). On the fourth desk there may be a journal activity. On another desk there may be a picture from that chapter (from the Gospel Art Kit) where I would have them answer specific questions about that picture. For the last few minutes of class you may want to give the students a chance to go and read all of the comments on the questions on all of the rows.
Here are some tips on how to make a silent lesson successful
1- Tell the class ahead of time. Let them know what is coming and what is expected of them. You could even tell them a week ahead so they anticipate it and take it very seriously. Also, let them know what some consequences may be if they disturb other class members during the lesson. Some expectations should be: 1- be on time, 2- leave backpacks in the back of the room, 3- turn phones off, 4- NO TALKING, 5- to not disturb others in your class in any way, 6- to fully participate.
2- Hang up signs outside of the room. As the students enter let them pass signs that say “Silent lesson!”, “complete silence necessary”, “reverent zone”, “I’m not kidding!” It is amazing how much these signs will influence the youth.
3- Greet the youth at the door and silently greet them. When they see that you are not talking, they will get the picture.
4- Set the mood in the room. Have reverent music playing, darken the room, have pictures up on the board lit up in some way. If you make the environment different than their everyday classroom, the students will have an easier time remembering that today is different than other days.
5- Be totally prepared: Since there is no talking, it is hard to improvise – so try to be ready for every instruction and transition (this is why power points make great silent lessons).
6- Music, music, music: I discovered that complete silence makes a lot of youth uncomfortable. When one kid drops a pen, then they start to snicker… so I used to have a variety of reverent CDs that I had compiled for silent desk activities – and I found that the youth came to LOVE those CDs. As you compile your own, make sure that each song is a reverent one. I usually had a mix of instrumental with vocals. Sometimes I found that there were certain songs that would cause the youth to stop what they were doing and listen to the lyrics, and I was more than happy with that. However, I quickly learned that if there was a beat of any kind, it would cause the youth to start to get restless. Music is powerful.
7- Beware to create a spiritual, rather than an emotional environment. You can read more about this HERE from John Hilton III – find the section titled “potential problems”.
8- A silent lesson does not have to last the entire class time. In a well constructed silent lesson, the youth have had a lot of time to ponder and learn. More than ever, this would be a great time for the youth to share their insights with each other.