7 Counterintuitive Teaching Tips

It happened.
The pastor asked you to lead the teaching time.
For the toddlers.
Panic ensues.

Your mind races from “What do I teach?” to “What it they all just freak out?

While there’s certainly more to an effective large-group teaching time than these tips, consider these counterintuitive pointers before you step in front of the firing squad of eager toddlers:

1. Let them yell

Yes. Let them yell. The trick is control the when. Kids are naturally excited. Don’t try to fight that. Instead, open your teaching time with a rousing “Are you excited to BE HERE?” (“YEEAAAH!”). “Ah, come on, my grandma can do better than that – I said WHO’S EXCITED TO BE HERE?” (YYYYEEEEEAAAAHH!”)

Eventually they’ll run out of gas. You can even cue them with a director’s cut off.

This trick is as old as the Kool-Aid stains on the floors. And it still works.

2. Lower your voice

If we’re losing their attention, our gut says we need to speak louder.
Maybe even whimper and plead.
Not so.

The easiest to gain the attention of a large group of kids is to whisper. Seriously. Incidentally, this is true for adults, too. For extra ju-ju points, make sure that you lower your voice when you reach a crucial point in your message.

3. Words still work

You don’t need pyrotechnics to communicate an important idea.

But you do need powerful, memorable, carefully chosen words.

Master communicators can reduce their speech into a ten-word or less sentence. Pastor-types call this a “homiletical idea.” (It’s a guarded secret. I’m not even supposed to be telling you this). It’s just a fancy way of distilling your teaching into a simple, intelligible point (Like: “Little People can do Big Things”).

Find one.
Practice saying it out loud.
Memorize it.

As you’re speaking, return to it often. Say it out loud. Make it deliberate.

Ramping up to it gives kids’ brains a chance to warm up to it and join you: “…because David understood that ‘little people…’”

4. Move around

Intuition might say that you’re giving them a central vocal point by staying tied to the podium, music stand, or pulpit. Not so.

Keep yourself the focal point by moving around them. If you’ve got aisles, use them. Do your best to memorize your talking points so you’ll be free to move.

5. Give them the mic…kinda

Kids love to feel famous. They love to show off a bit. Play to this by giving them opportunities to speak into the mic every so often.

It’s best to let them give simple answers to direct questions (“Dylan, do you think it was hot or cold in the desert?” “Madison, do you think Daniel was scared down there?”). Affirm their response.

Open ended responses can be a gamble, so make sure you’ve carefully thought out how to phrase the question before you point the mic at little Johnny.

Be prepared for other kids to ask for their shot at the mic. Diffuse this by quickly moving into your teaching point: “That’s right, Dylan! It was hot! So hot that….”

6. Gestures aren’t dead

In a media-saturated age, you might be tempted to think that gestures have gone the way of the dodo. Maybe not.

Kids love to move their bodies. Use that. Distill your teaching points into simple gestures that kids can replicate. This will not only enforce your teaching, but you’ll find that they’ll listen for opportunities to do it again.

7. Simplify visuals

If you’re the heady-multiple-point teaching type (guilty), it’s helpful to remember that your visuals are most powerful when they’re simple.

If you’re telling the story of Moses leading his people, you don’t need an 18-slide Powerpoint. Save that for your board presentation on Monday morning.

Instead, consider projecting a looping video of water.
Or a just high-res picture of sand.
Simplicity clarifies.
It’s so much fun to teach kids. But it’s even more fun when you can see them really connect with scripture. Incorporating some of these techniques will amp up your teaching game and give you some extra fun in the process.

Any other tips you’d like to add?