Tuesday Teaching Tip: 4 Ways to Make Learning More Visual

Today’s teaching tip is about appealing to the visual learners in your group. I’m in that category of learner – it’s my preferred method for learning. Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Many of the people in your group, from kids to adults, are visual learners.

No matter what kind of group you teach, here are a few ways to make learning more visual:

  1. PowerPoint or Keynote – either of these electronic presentation tools are great for helping visual learners connect with the Bible study topic. Caution: don’t use this every time you lead a group! It’s true that too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing. With technology today, you can actually run either of these programs from your tablet or smartphone. Connectors that will convert the signal to HDMI can be purchased at office supply stores or places like Best Buy (about $25-30).
  2. Vivid stories – Stories, you say?! Yes, stories! Although you may not think of a story as a “visual,” when you tell a vivid one with lots of details, people create pictures in their minds. The Apostle Paul was great at generating word pictures. He spoke of running races, boxing, and other things that planted images in the minds of his readers. Jesus did similar things as He taught. Don’t underestimate the power of a vivid story to appeal to your visual learners. Side benefit: this activity also appeals to your auditory learners, too! That’s a bonus.
  3. Demonstration – This creates a wonderful visual that’s “live and in person.” Once when I was teaching from Ephesians 4, I brought two raw eggs into my adult Bible study group. I divided the group into two teams, gave them 30 plastic straws and about a foot of masking tape. I instructed them to create something that would keep their egg from breaking when I dropped it from a height of 8 feet. They collaborated, created, and them I demonstrated. It was a powerful visual that helped me drive home the main point of that Sunday’s Bible study.
  4. Documents – Maps, charts, posters, handouts, diagrams, pictures, and drawings help visual learners engage and understand the concept you are teaching.

These things are not hard or time-consuming to produce, and if your church provides you with what I call “ongoing curriculum,” your leader guide is going to have suggestions for things like this – or at least it should!

The next time you guide a Bible study, get visual!


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7 ways to Engage your Natural Learners

Every person in your Bible study group has a preferred way they like to learn. Researchers have identified 8 learning approaches, and “Natural” is one of them. Few adult group leaders appeal to this particular learning approach; it’s much more common to find Natural methods being used in kids’ groups. Natural learners really enjoy learning methods that incorporate things from nature in the classroom.

If you teach an adult Bible study, here are a few ways to appeal to the Natural learners in your midst:

  1. Show a picture of something from nature (a flower, mountain, lightning, star, branch, animal, etc).
  2. Bring an item from nature to the group and either display it or pass it around (which turns a Natural activity into a Physical activity!).
  3. Invite group members to tell stories about a time they encountered God through His creation.
  4. Take a nature walk.
  5. Plant a tree, bush, or plant.
  6. Participate in an activity that is “green” and designed to protect God’s world.
  7. Sort through items from nature.

There are many stories in the Bible that have natural elements:  the earthquake that shook the Philippian jail, Jesus riding on a donkey, Jesus and his disciples crossing a great lake, a withered fig tree, the disciples catching a mess of fish, and so many more. The next time you have a Bible study that includes something from nature, why don’t you include something from nature to appeal to your Natural learners? Get creative – they’ll really appreciate it!


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Tuesday Teaching Tip: 7 ways to divide your group

From time to time you may need to divide your group into smaller groups for the purpose of more fully engaging them in the Bible study. Here are a few ways you can divide them:

  1. By birthday – ask your group members to line up according to their birthday, then group them in triads or quads.
  2. By height – ask group members to line up from shortest to tallest, then group them in triads or quads.
  3. By weight – just kidding! Don’t do this one.
  4. By numbering off – ask group members to number off 1-2-3. Group all the 1’s together, 2’s together, etc.
  5. By alphabetical order – line up your group members by first or last name.
  6. By the color of shoes they are wearing (or type of shoe)
  7. By gender. This will create all-guy groups or all-girl groups.
  8. By eye color.

You get the idea! There’s a lot of ways you can group up your people. Be creative! How many other ways can you think of?


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Teaching Tip: Sit Down to Invite Conversation

Today’s teaching tip is for leaders of student and adult groups. We need to learn something from our counterparts who guide the Bible studies in preschool and kids’ groups. Those group leaders know how important it is to sit among their learners.

If you are an adult or student leader who typically stands in front of your Bible study group while you teach, you can change the dynamics of your group by simply placing a chair next to the area in which you teach. Taking a seat during a Bible study communicates several important things:

  1. You’re on their level – Truth be told, believers are on a spiritual growth journey – none of us “has arrived.” We strive to be spiritually mature, and when a teacher stands over his or her learners, it may inadvertently communicate that he is superior. Why are judges’ benches higher than all other furniture in a courtroom? Because elevation communicates superiority. Sitting down communicates that you’re one of the group. A peer. A fellow sojourner. Let your group know you identify with them, and take a seat from time to time.
  2. You want to have a conversation – When a group leader asks a discussion question and sits down, that simple act invites group members to participate in a conversation with their group leader. Sitting down says, “Let’s talk about it.”
  3. You want interaction – Group leaders who stand to teach create a more formal environment than those who occasionally sit down while group members respond to a question that has been posed. Some educators have suggested that, “When the presenter stands, it signals a strong differential between the roles of presenter and audience (who sit). Standing generally creates a much more formal atmosphere and means that the audience will not contribute to the discussion except to ask occasional questions.” Sitting can invite more interaction by creating a less formal way of teaching, and an environment in which learners are not intimidated by their teacher’s expertise.

Standing to teach can be made more effective if the group leader:

  • Sits on occasion (what we’ve just been thinking about)
  • Moves around the room (this helps keep learners engaged when the teacher physically moves around the room).
  • Has a large number of people in the group – if this is the case, sitting may not be effective because the teacher would not be able to be seen easily, nor would his or her voice project as well like it does when they stand to teach.

So if your room environment and teaching context allows for it, occasionally sit when you ask your group a discussion question and see if this doesn’t increase the involvement and responses of your group members.

5 ways to drive your point home

Tuesday’s teaching tip is from the book Talk Like Ted. It is a compilation of the techniques used by the most effective TED Talk presenters. Today’s tip is about how to create what the author calls a “holy smokes” moment (p.148) – one where the audience’s jaw drops. He says you can create that moment in 5 different ways:

  1. Props and Demos – We’ve known for a long time that people like to see a good object lesson. Church is no different. The people in our groups are drawn to the use of props or a clever demonstration of some kind by the person doing the presenting. Jesus was a master at using the props available to him: a little child, a field white unto harvest, coins dropped into the temple treasury by a widow, a coin in a fish’s mouth, and a withered fig tree – these are just a few of the objects Christ used to make his point when teaching. What’s the last prop you used?
  2. Unexpected and shocking statistics – “In 1972 there were 300,000 people in jail. Today, there are over 2.3 million. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.” This kind of shocking statistic can catch the attention of your audience.
  3. Pictures, Images, and Videos – It’s not an accident that LifeWay’s major curriculum lines have Leader Packs chocked full of visually engaging posters, maps, and timelines. TED Talk presenters who are known for capturing the imaginations of the audience always find a way to use something visual to create that great “aha” moment.
  4. Memorable Headlines – These are short soundbites that are repeatable, tweetable, and memorable. “We will get wooly mammoths back,” said one TED Talk presenter. If you want to see some of the best quotes from TED Talk presenters, go to TED.com/quotes to read more than 2000 great quotes that captured people’s attention.
  5. Personal Stories – Jesus told short stories that had a single point – parables. TED Talk presenters, at least the best ones, all incorporate a personal story into their 20 minute routine. “Great communicators are great storytellers” says the author of Talk Like Ted, Carmine Gallo (p.155).

Which of the 5 ways TED Talk presenters capture their audience members’ attention will you use the next time you teach?


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Don’t let commentaries become a crutch

Tuesday’s teaching tip is about avoiding a big crutch that some teachers depend on a little too much – Bible commentaries. If you have Bible study materials from a Christian publisher, there will no doubt be commentary imbedded in the teaching plans. Publishers like LifeWay even have inexpensive advanced commentaries for Bible teachers that are designed to coordinate with Bible studies such as Explore the Bible and Bible Studies for Life. Many of you who write your own Bible studies will have commentary sets you’ve purchased over the years. Those books are probably a short reach from the place where you study and prepare your lessons. Don’t pick them up first. Instead, pick up your Bible and read.

While it may be tempting to start your preparation by reading what experts say about a Bible passage, resist the temptation to start there. Instead, read the Scripture passage several times. Jot down insights. Write out questions raised by the text. Identify unfamiliar terms, places, or people. Re-read the passage you’re going to teach in 2 or 3 other translations and note any words that are translated differently. Decide on what the passage meant to the original audience.

Once you’ve done your “homework,” then do some investigation in Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and atlases. Compare your conclusions with those of the experts. Just don’t start there! Commentaries make poor crutches.