Choose your illustrations carefully

Today’s book excerpt comes from a classic work by John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching. It became the basis of much of Howard Hendricks’ life and ministry. In this excerpt, Gregory writes about the use of illustrations in our classrooms. Here in some elegant language is Gregory about the need to be savvy in the illustrations we choose when teaching a group:

Persons use by preference only the clearest and most familiar things in their interpretation of new facts and principles. Each man is prone to borrow his illustrations from his calling: the soldier from the camps and trenches, the sailor from the ships of the sea, the merchant from the conditions of the market, and the artisans and mechanics from their craft. Likewise in study, each pupil is attracted to the qualities which relate to his own experience. To the chemist, common salt is sodium chloride, a binary compound; to the cook it is something to use in the seasoning of foods and in the preservation of meats. Each thinks of it in the aspect most familiar to him…This bent of preference, while one of the elements of prejudice which may shut the eyes of some new truths and open them to others, is at the same time one of the elements of strength in intellectual work.

As Gregory suggests, we tend to use illustrations from our experience. But someone in our group may not have our frame of reference for that illustration, and might understand it through their context. The warning of Gregory is clear: be careful which illustrations you choose and realize that they are going to be filtered by the experiences of the people in your group.


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