The Sunday School teacher must study the passage upon which his lesson is based. That is the first step in the preparation of his lesson. He must do so not only in order to present the story in its correct light but also in order that he may have an interesting explanation of the lesson for his pupils. He is not there to entertain his pupils, but because he is dealing with children whose attention is easily distracted, he must seek always to hold their attention by presenting the truth in as interesting a way as he possibly can.
Plan Your Lesson. Having studied his lesson carefully with that in view he must now plan his lesson. This belongs to a thorough preparation of it. In the careful study of the lesson he will have discovered what the main thought in the lesson is and what the spiritual or practical principles in that story are. If he sees these things, he may be sure that he has studied his lesson with profit, and if he does not see these things, he may also draw the conclusion that he is not through yet with the studying of the lesson. But having discovered the main thought and the spiritual principles involved, he is not yet. ready to teach his class. He ought to decide on the way in which he intends to bring that truth to the child while telling him the story. He may make an outline which he takes with him or he must form an outline in his mind and stick to it.
Very important in this respect is the way he begins his explanation. Usually the teachers are guilty of the cut-and-dried introduction to their lesson, “Well, boys and girls, last week we had a lesson on so and so, and now today we will have a lesson about this or that”. Every Sunday the lesson is begun just exactly that same way. There is no planning of the lesson behind such an introduction. An introduction to the lesson ought to be just exactly what the word says. It ought to lead the child into the lesson. We ought to strive and spend as much time as we need to get the child’s attention in the introduction and to carry him on by our words through the whole explanation of the lesson. Very often, although this must not be overdone, it is a good practice to ask them a question about something on their level which will enable you to bring them to the start of the lesson explanation. A question will arrest their attention. This is even true in the midst of the story when the interest of some is plainly gone. A question, asked, but not with the expectation of an answer by the children, will bring them back to the story.
A word of warning here is also in place. When asking such questions simply to attract attention, it is better not to let those who raise their hands give you the answer. Your problem starts all over again then. After they have spoken, you need to begin again, and you are faced once more with the problem of introducing the lesson. Nor is it a good policy to pay any attention to the hands that are raised during the telling of the story. It is a good sign when hands go up, for it shows that the children are listening to you. But to let them tell you what they have on their hands may be very disastrous as far as the telling of the story is concerned. It may distract the attention of the whole class and bring a halt to the line of the story. It may even throw off your guard and spoil the rest of the explanation. As an example of the disastrous results such a practice may further, the undersigned once gave in to the frantic hand-waving of one of his catechumens during the explanation of the lesson. The story that particular day was about David rehearsing before king Saul how that he could kill Goliath because God had enabled him to kill a lion and a bear and God would now be with him too. One little boy sat there with mouth open listening to the story up to this point. Then up went his hand. It was ignored at first only to be waved more and more frantically. After going on with the story for a little while the undersigned finally gave in and asked him what he had to say. The result was disastrous for the rest of the story, for all the child wanted to state was that his daddy killed a rabbit. David might have killed a lion and a bear, but he would have us know that his daddy killed a rabbit. The attention of the class from then on was well-nigh impossible to restore. The rest of the children were trying to think what their daddies did.
While we are on the subject, it might also be well to suggest that when one or two pupils are not listening but the greater share of the class is, it is wiser not to stop and call these unattentive ones to order, especially if their unattentiveness takes on the form of daydreaming. To stop and wake them up is to lose the attention also of the rest of the class that was following you.
But we were talking about preparing the lesson and not presenting the lesson. However we ought not to forget that good order is conducive to instruction and where there is not good order in the class, there is little if any possibility of training the rest of the class in the fear of the Lord. In fact to train them in the fear of the Lord they must also be taught to obey. But to return to our line of thought, besides deciding on the way in which the story shall be introduced, the teacher ought even to decide before hand just the words he intends to use and should not leave the choice of words to the thought that comes to him the moment he must begin telling the story. He must be able by those words to catch the attention of his pupils who are wholly unprepared, with few exceptions, for his story. We must not forget that these children come to Sunday School either after having been quiet for over an hour during the morning service and are aching for a little activity, or else they have been playing and throwing snowballs all the way to church. You must get their interest from the start or your chances of getting it at all are very slim.
And once having gotten the attention of the child, you must hold it throughout the entire explanation of the lesson. Plan your lesson according to the ages of the children in your class so that they will be able to follow you. The interesting items that you present in connection with the lesson must not be “over his head” but on his level. You may have to reject certain interesting things you discovered in your study of the lesson for this reason. It might be interesting for you but not for him. Take the time to plan your lesson for your class.
Having chosen a good way to begin your lesson and to catch the attention of the child, plan the rest of the lesson also. You may wish to point out to your children some truth which shows the providence of God, for example. Your story may be that of Philip being sent to the Ethiopian Eunuch. You may want to point out how marvelously God arranged everything so that Philip could teach him about Christ, You may want to call the attention of your class to the fact that there are 929 chapters in the Old Testament and 89 books, yet God caused him to be reading the one chapter in the Old Testament that most beautifully pictures Christ and His cross. You ought therefore to plan just where in the story you will depart from the bare facts and present this interesting truth. Will you do so when you first tell of this man riding alone in the chariot or after Philip asks him what he is reading? Before you begin to tell the story it ought to be definite in your mind where you intend to do this. You ought to decide beforehand how you will emphasize a certain truth. Do you intend to give examples and illustrations of that fact as it is shown to us in the lives of other believers mentioned in the Bible? Or are you going to take- the example of the unbelievers and contrast the deeds of God’s people with the actions of these godless ones? The point is that you must not leave all this to the thoughts that come to you on the spur of the moment. Your choice of an example or illustration may miss the point you want to drive home instead of supporting it.
A house is never built without a plan of some kind whether on paper or in the mind of the builder. Neither is a farm run without a plan. When the Sunday School teacher asks for the children of the church to help train them and then receives an affirmative answer from the parents, he ought to prepare himself and his lesson also. He who does this will be inspired by the way the children drink in his words. He who comes unprepared, expecting the children to inspire him, wijl be disappointed. Children are not a very inspiring audience unless we manage to get down to their level and interest them, and that takes preparation.
What has been said in regard to the introduction of the story and the explanation of it applies also to the bringing to a close of the lesson. The lesson must not be brought to a close hanging in the air so to speak. It must not be allowed to drift away into nothingness so that at the end you are just grasping or even perhaps gasping for a few words and thoughts to stretch the story out to fill in the time. By all means here, when we are dealing with children’s minds, when we are through, we ought to stop and not try to stretch the story those last few minutes to fill the time. Enough material should have been prepared in the first place to fill the allotted time. And if we are not able, due to the very story itself—and some of the lessons in a system of lessons sometimes are difficult to present to children for a very lengthy period of time—or if after a diligent search and study we were not able to find enough material, by all means stop regardless of the time.
The point is, here, that we also plan the ending of the story so that we end on a high plane and not with disjointed thoughts in connection with the lesson. Look for some truth or principle in the story towards which you can build the end of your story. If possible, try to build it around the golden text or memory verse and have this end in mind in the planning of the whole telling of the story. Lead the children up to the truth of the lesson, and then having shown it to them leave it there. Do not go back and rehash the whole thing. Plan how to come to an interesting and fruitful ending.
Once again we have given only a few suggestions with a little explanation of what we mean. Time and space do not allow more thoughts and a further development of the ideas here expressed. We hope that these will be beneficial to those who desire to help the parents train their children in the fear of the Lord.
There are however two things we would add to the above. By all means if it is possible, attend teacher’s meetings, come well prepared and attend regularly. This belongs to a good preparation of the lesson. Others will help you by showing you the interesting thoughts they have mined out in their preparation and study. And last but not least, study and prepare the lesson prayerfully. You are about to teach the Word of God to His Covenant children. By all means seek His guidance and grace in prayer while preparing the lesson as well as before explaining it.