A Message by Mr. David Ward, Mystic, Connecticut
At the 39th Annual Sunday School Teachers’ Conference
St. Catharines, Ontario — May 12, 1962
Another means is by the introduction at this point of an illustration. An audience such as this is very much like a sea. I don’t know if all speakers have the same feeling that I do, but it is very much like a sea, like a body of water. And as we have folks’ attention, it is very much like a calm lake. Then, as attention begins to wander, there is a ripple over the audience, and it begins to be disturbed a little bit. You see that in your class. As there comes in this little rippling of the water, ask the direct question, bring in an illustration of the truth that is being presented, and you will call the individual back to attention.
Another thing in maintaining contact: Look at your class! We might say this to preachers, too. Look at those whom you are teaching. Sometimes you have had the experience, perhaps, of having to face a speaker who is getting his message off the ceiling somewhere, or off the floor. It’s very difficult. That’s one of the times, generally speaking, that you have to say, “Well, now, I’m going to listen.” A face is alive. People’s faces are alive. And we can see by looking into them just what grasp they have of what is being presented. Look at your class and you will find it much easier to maintain contact with them.
In the presentation of the lesson, we want to speak a little further on the use of questions, one of the most important means of conveying spiritual truth. Notice the value of them. First of all, it is through the use of the question that we discover what the pupil already knows. We have already spoken of this. Then the question is used to arouse the pupil’s interest, as the Lord with Nicodemus. Or when He asked His disciples, “Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat?” He aroused their interest and then taught them divine truth. Questions cause our pupils to think. They emphasize important points and they are valuable in the review of our material. There are two kinds of questions, basically speaking: those that the defense attorney asks his client and those that the prosecuting attorney asks. The defense attorney seeks to lead his client along a line of truth, a line that he wants to be brought out. And this is invaluable in our class. We ask what we call a leading question, and when this question is answered it leads us to another question, and we carry it along until out of the class we bring the truth. And this is so much more valuable than your telling them something and that’s the end of it. Let them, do the thinking. Until we get to work in their heart, we are doing very, very little real teaching.
We should ever be after the response and the interest and the thinking of the class which we are teaching. Then again, the questions may be as the prosecuting attorney’s, to provoke thought. Sometimes a student in the class answers a question. Immediately, a good question for you to ask is, “Why?” That’s where things are really done. Why? Why did you answer that way? Why did you feel that was about it? What reason did you have for making this statement? Here now we are getting the class to work and here, together, we are learning something that will reach into their lives.
Just a word or two about the practice of questions here. Generally speaking, the teacher, in asking the class a question, should not ask a specific individual for the answer. Don’t go through your class starting with Jim on the right and on down through to Bob on the end. Ask the question. Now everybody has to think for the answer. Then pick out this fellow over here. Next time pick out that fellow, or this girl down here. If you assign the question before you ask it, or every time as soon as you ask it you assign it to an individual, why, very soon the others stop their work in connection with it. And who wants to work? Especially in the Sunday School class. Let the teacher go on like he always does. I’ll just sit back and take it easy.
It’s our job as teachers to make our pupils work, and love it! That’s when we are really going to accomplish something in their lives. Beware of the ambiguous question, a question that has more than one answer. Although sometimes, for fun, I like to slip one in and let John suggest this answer, and let Mary answer in that fashion, and then let them defend their answers; and finally find out they are both right, as they took different points of view on the question.
Don’t ask a question the second time of the same individual. “Who was Nicodemus?” Oh, the pupil wasn’t listening then. All right, don’t ask him again. Ask the other one over here. Don’t repeat the question and ask that same individual the second time. Otherwise he’ll be lazy and think, “Well, I can always sit back, because if I’m not listening and he asks me a question, he’ll ask me again and then. I’ll answer.” No! If he doesn’t know the answer, ask someone else in the class.
Now then, a word as to the pupil’s questions. It has already been sugguested that it is our job to encourage them. Here is when the teacher is thrilled. Here is response from the class. This is what he is waiting for!
The class begins to ask questions; maybe they are not directly on the particular subject that he is discussing at that moment, but they are related to it, and the teacher is thrilled. He just glows. This is what he is after! And so he encourages questions from the class at any time. And when Jim asks a question, what does the teacher do? He gives a very well defined answer. Not if he is a good teacher! He says, “Well, Mary, what do you think about the question Jim has asked? Let’s have your opinion on the subject.” He passes the question that Bill asks, over to John over here, and so on. He tries to get the class members to answer the question that has been raised within the class. Or he may ask another question, a leading question that we discussed before, to help that pupil answer his own question.
Lastly, only lastly, the teacher answers the question which has been raised. Now what is going on? Gradually, he is getting the class to the highest form of learning that there is: and that’s problem solving. And as those pupils grow up spiritually and physically, they can be presented problems, spiritual problems, because they have been taught to think on the basis of the truth of the Word of God; they can begin to solve problems. So as they become young people and go out into the world with its multiplied problems, they have been equipped to think through, upon the basis of that which they have learned and the process in which they have learned it, to solve these problems and to go on consistently for the Lord. Too much of the time our teaching ends with mere conditioning, which is the lowest kind of teaching. Sometimes it goes on to memory work, repeating by rote, or giving back to us like a parrot that which we give to the class. That’s the second highest form. But what we are after (You are too, aren’t you?) is problem solving: doing something way down in the mind and heart so that when the pupils leave the Sunday School they have really grasped basic spiritual principles and are able to apply them in the areas and realms of their lives.
God help us to prepare and to present to them these things that He has laid upon our hearts, according to the need of the class, in interesting and absorbing fashion and with an end that those who grasp these truths may use them to the glory of the Lord.