If you are a teacher in any form… here are a list of ideas I used in my seminary classroom or other youth groups!
Take what you want, adapt what you need, throw out what you don’t.
I am a big advocate of seating charts. In the past I have had them, and I have not had them. In my experience, it is far better to have them. I didn’t just have them so I could separate certain students, or so that they wouldn’t all be tempted to sit on the back row – but I had them so I could also sit certain students next to each other. It allowed me to do all I could to facilitate learning and impact the environment in the classroom. I had one starting on the first day, and not only did I have one, but I gave a copy to each of the kids as well so that they could use it to learn names – not only on the first day, but in two or three weeks when they needed a little help.
Everyone has a job:
I have tried all different kinds of class presidencies, including not having one. My favorite method was to have it organized so that every student would have a job. Here is a list of jobs I would have:
- President(s): They would conduct every day and would help everyone else fulfill their jobs.
- Devotional: They would help sign up everyone for devotionals and remind everyone of when their devotionals were
- Scripture Mastery: They would help me pass off people and help run the scripture mastery activities
- Birthdays: They would come up with a calendar of everyone’s birthday and do a little something to celebrate it in class
- Holidays: They would be creative and help think of fun things to do on the various holidays
- Boxes: We had cubbies in class where the kids kept their scriptures – if someone were absent, they would put handouts they missed in their boxes. They would also put in quotes and treats and fun things into everyone’s boxes on random days.
- Greeters: They would stand at the door and greet everyone every day.
- Reading: Their job was to help come up with some fun ways to motivate the kids to read the book of scripture we were studying that year.
One thing I really liked about this method is that everyone was serving each other AND it took a lot of the burden off of me. Most of the jobs had multiple people – so there would be two or three birthday people. At the beginning of the year I would give them a list of all of the jobs and let them number their top three jobs they would like to have. Then I would assign the jobs and give them some time to plan for the quarter. They would use the calendar on their grade sheets to plan individual days for certain things.
Some classes will be awesome at these jobs, and others won’t be as much so – but without fail, more would happen than if this wasn’t in place. Also, you the teacher, has a lot of impact on how well they fulfill their roles. A lot of thank you notes will go a long way as you see them doing their jobs. And if you give them 15 minutes at the beginning of each quarter to plan anew, or even mix up the jobs – that will make a great impact on how much happens.
Special Needs Students:
I had the absolute privilege my last seven years of teaching to teach classes of special needs students along with my mainstream classes. Those classes were such a blessing to me and absolutely transformed my teaching. Many of you may not teach a class that is designated “special needs”, but you will likely have students who have needs in your classes.
For lack of a better term, I am referring to students who are not able to speak, read or understand basic instructions. Often teachers will be absorbed in the class and the lesson and not know how to reach out and relate to those students who may not be able to read, speak or understand as the other students, but once they gain the skills to do so, that student becomes such a great blessing in their class. Here are a few ideas that you could incorporate.
- Sing the same hymn everyday: If you have a student who can’t read or you find that they aren’t able to sing the hymns, sing the same song every day! If they are verbal, they will catch on soon enough and be able to participate. If they are non-verbal, then come up with simple hand motions for each phrase in the song, and as the whole class sings and makes those hand signs, your student will be able to sing along. Plus, this will end up being your class song – which is a really fun idea.
- Use this prayer book
: When my special needs students would pray, I noticed that they would typically default to their buddy who was up their helping them and just repeat what they told them to say. So… I created this prayer book. The purpose of it is to be a tool so that they can tell their buddy what they would like to pray for, and their buddy just helps them say what they are pointing at.
- Buddies: I would always pair up my students with special needs with other students in the class. In a mainstream class, I would choose three or four and have them rotate days so they all get opportunities. I would encourage that buddy to take whatever we were doing in class and adapt it for the student they are working with. They may help them mark their scriptures, draw a picture, write down the answers on a white board… there are a ton of options – and trust me, the buddies will be more creative than you.
- Tools: Giving your buddies a box of tools to use is really important. Including paper, markers, colored pencils, a plan of salvation like this, a scripture reader (if the pictures are helpful), etc.
Getting to Know You Activities:
For the first few days of class I would do a short getting to know you game at the beginning so that the students would become more and more comfortable with each other and have some fun in the meantime! Here are a few go to’s I would often do:
- Which Object Describes You? Pick about five different objects like: a trophy, a cooking utensil, a wrench, a book, a suitcase, etc… Tell the students to each pick the object that best describes them and then go around the class and have everyone share why that object describes them. Many of them will get really creative and stretch the object to mean something – that is the fun of it! With this game you can either put random objects out, or just list or draw them on the board.
- Sticky Note on the Forehead: I always loved this game. Start by giving everyone a sticky note and have them all write something about themselves on the note. It can be anything! That they love cheese, that they have moved 6 times, that they love going to Disneyland, that their favorite toy as a child was Elmo…. And tell them that they can’t show it to anyone! Then gather the sticky notes up and then randomly stick them to students foreheads (he he he…). Now the students have to go around the classroom asking each other “yes” or “no” questions trying to figure out what their forehead says. The only rule is that they can only ask one question per person – so they can’t just sit there with their friend asking questions back and forth. After about 5 minutes, have everyone sit back in their seats and if they still haven’t figured it out, they have to leave the note on their forehead. Now go around one at a time and have them tell what their note said and their best guess of who wrote it. If they their note is still on their forehead, it is fun to see them discover what it says.
- Signature Page: This is great for the very first day. Come up with a list of things that is about the same number of students in your class. Things like: I have my Young Women’s Medallion, I had pizza in the last week, I can say all 13 Articles of Faith, I have never had a cavity, etc…. Hand out a sheet to each student and tell them to get as many signatures as possible, but once someone has signed their page, they cannot sign it again (if you have a small class you can have the 2 signatures per person rule). So the strategy is that you don’t want someone who is the only person in the class who has done something sign something that is pretty common. And they can’t just say – “will you sign my page?” They have to ask them specific questions like, “have you ever had a cavity?” When you call times up, go down the list and have everyone raise their hand who could have signed that line.
Your Future Family Picture:
I had this picture in the front of my classroom.
I did this because of this talk given to institute and seminary teachers by Sister Julie Beck.
She said this quote and it REALLY impacted me:
- As I’ve met with young single adults around the world, I ask these questions: Why does the First Presidency care so much about the youth of the Church, and why do they invest so much? In their focus groups and their ﬁresides, these are the answers I get, and you should be interested in these answers. You might ask your own students these questions. They say: “Well, we are the future Church leaders.” “Education is the key to success.” “We need training so we can stay strong.” “Our testimonies are strengthened in our classes.” “We need to meet other great Latter-day Saint youth.” “We are the hope of the future.” One said, “We appreciate it.” Another one said, “Well, they spend so much money on us because we’re worth it.” I was very interested in those answers. You have to know that after pushing hard and receiving response after response, I have rarely heard, “So I will someday be a better father, or a better mother, or a better family leader.” Family is rarely on their minds. Their responses are generally about self, and of course we know this is the time of life they’re in. They’re living in a very self-interested time of life, but they aren’t thinking about family.”
If you haven’t read the entire talk – it is AMAZING. Here it is again.
So after being very much impacted by this talk, I put that picture above in the front on top of my piano. I found and liked this picture because it is kind of a simple outline that any of my students could see themselves in. I then put the words “My Future Family” over it and then throughout the year, in almost every lesson, we talked about how what we were learning that day mattered. How it mattered to them now, and how it mattered to their future families. It was a really great way to make some meaningful application.
Scripture Mastery Cards
These cards made a huge difference in my scripture mastery success and offer tons of fun class activities that help bond the class together.
You can read more about these cards HERE.
Please feel free to leave any of your own suggestions!