Effective Discussion in Your Sunday School Class, Part 1

Thursday 2nd August, 2007

There are positives and negatives about using discussion as a teaching method in our classes. I have experienced both. When done well and right, discussion can be very captivating, thought-provoking, and motivating. When it becomes a "collective pooling of ignorance," it can produce frustration and impatience.

Kenneth Gangel has produced a well-written article entitled Teaching by Discussion. Please stop now to take time to read the entire article. Early in the article, Dr. Gangel says:

Basic to a good discussion is a problem which is clearly defined...[and] limited in scope so that it can be understood by members of the group and satisfactorily dealt with in the allotted time...[M]embers seek to analyze the issues involved in the light of biblical evidence. Possible solutions may be presented by the...group as they weigh and consider ideas and viewpoints. Through this process a line of reasoning or logical thought should emerge and lead to one or more solutions to the problem...[which] are then examined to determine their validity and implications.

One of the stumbling blocks for the use of discussion in many Sunday School classes is that its use has not been thought out. No problem was identified. It was merely a question which invited more than one answer. That is not the most effective use of this teaching method.

Dr. Gangel identifies some values of discussion. He affirms discussion as a participatory method, engaging students in the learning experience. It helps them think about issues and verbally respond which results in deeper involvement. These two sentences are powerful: "People who tend to isolate themselves physically or mentally will become set in their ways and resist innovation in their lives or thought patterns. On the other hand, people who engage in open exchange of ideas with others will learn both the existence and validity of other points of view and will more readily moderate, or perhaps even drastically change, their own ideas." Wow! Could the lack of discussion in many of our classes be the reason that some churches struggle with change, even when it is needed?

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 part 2 of this series, I will address problems with discussion that Dr. Gangel identifies. And in part 3 of this series, I will address principles that will strengthen discussion in our classes. In the meantime, consider using discussion to address a problem in your next lesson. The worst method is the one you use all the time. Stretch yourself and group members by using discussion effectively. Be revolutionary!

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