There are only two times when discussion is the wrong teaching method in Sunday School. First, discussion is wrong when another method would be a better choice to communicate the truth of God’s Word to this specific group of people at this moment in time. Second, discussion can be wrong when it is used all of the time. Without a variety of teaching methods chosen to best communicate God’s Word, preferred learning styles may be ignored resulting in reduced attention and retention.
Because of the value of discussion in Sunday School, I have written about it previously. Check out these posts: Creating a Safe Zone for Discussion in Sunday School/Small Groups, Part 1, Creating a Safe Zone for Discussion in Sunday School/Small Groups, Part 2, Effective Discussion in Your Sunday School Class, Part 1, Effective Discussion in Your Sunday School Class, Part 2, and Effective Discussion in Your Sunday School Class, Part 3.
In Effective Discussion in Your Sunday School Class, Part 1, I shared some benefits of discussion from an article by Kenneth Gangel:
Also as values, Dr. Gangel says that good discussion (1) corrects wrong conclusions in a way that is acceptable, (2) teaches problem-solving techniques, (3) stimulates creative thinking, (4) enhances relationships, (5) shows the teacher as more approachable, (6) checks on whether students really understand, and (7) keeps attention. Paragraphs could be written about each of these values, but the list provides strong reason to add discussion to your teaching plans.
In some recent reading, I came across a brief but well-written article by Paula Marolewski entitled Bible Study Basics: The Importance of Discussion. There she shares six important benefits from using discussion in your Sunday School class. In Part 1 I will share the first two benefits, and in Part 2 I will share the final four benefits. Make sure you check out Marolewski’s article. Her two benefits are listed in all capitals followed by my commentary:
DISCUSSION KEEPS PEOPLE ATTENTIVE. With lecture as well as other methods including discussion, the Holy Spirit is able to convict and work in the lives of listeners. In lecture, however, only the teacher talks. In response, learners get to listen, think, and mentally apply the truth. In the words of Marolewski, here is the problem: “If a class is composed of pure lecture…people can tune out at any time.” With discussion, however, there is more engagement than in lecture. In opposition to lecture, attenders not only listen to the teacher when discussion is employed, but they listen to each other and are able to v erbally contribute to the learning experience as well. This leads to greater attention. More of the senses are alert and involved. The class never knows who will contribute to the discussion or what direction it will take–including the teacher. The teacher can direct the discussion by carefully chosen questions, statements, and illustrations, but learners become engrossed in the ping pong match of responses even when they are not verbally contributing.
DISCUSSION LETS PEOPLE ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE. As I indicated above, discussion is naturally more participative. By its nature, learners have the opportunity to verbally respond. Because of the expectation or the opportunity to do so, they tend to listen and mentally process discussion more carefully. And listening is broadened as the source of the verbal contributions changes. More experiences and insights are brought to bear upon the learning experience which often broadens the application of the truth and in turn the need for response. In discussion, learners feel more open to participate. After all, one source of knowledge and experience upon which all learners are experts is self-knowledge. And as mentioned above, more senses are engaged. Discussion frequently employs hearing and seeing each other along with talking.
How well do you use discussion? Are discussions in your class short? How could you address these two benefits of discussion in your class in order to lead to greater attention and participation? Time spent planning a good discussion is time well spent. In Part 2, I will share the final four benefits of discussion. In the meantime, just make sure that when you use discussion that it is the best method and that it is not the only method! Teach to change lives! Be revolutionary!