One of my primary responsibilities at Northwest has been to lead our small group ministry. As a part of that I have always been interested in finding good curriculum. The problem is, the really good material is often really expensive (especially if you have to buy it for each group) and that cost makes it prohibitive to use. So I decided over six years ago that we would write our own curriculum and it has served us well. A couple of things have resulted from that effort. First, there are thousands of pages of free small group lessons and curriculum hosted on this site – Free Curriculum. Second, all of this lesson writing has taught me how to write lessons with other teachers in mind. Third, after looking at hundreds of lessons other people have written I have realized there aren’t a lot of lessons written with other teachers in mind outside the author and their class. What you typically find are lessons that are huge blocks of text/lecture followed up with a few points to make and, if you are lucky, a couple of discussion questions. That can work well if the lessons aren’t going to be shared but are quite hard to teach from. So, I want to share a few things that can help teachers, preacher, ministers, elders, and all the rest write lessons other people can use.
- Huge blocks of text are to be avoided at all costs. There is nothing more boring that hearing your teacher or small group leader read verbatim 5 minutes worth of someone else’s thoughts. There are rare occasions where further explanation is needed and a large block of text is necessary but do it sparingly.
- Use questions to make your points. Come up with the points you want to make and then change your statements into questions. If your point from the verse is God is faithful. Instead of telling them that, have them read the verse and ask “What do we learn about God from this verse?”. When the class/group is forced to think about it and construct the answer they will remember it better and take ownership of the point rather than having the teacher spoon feed them principles.
- Make it applicable. The majority of lessons have little to no application points and questions. I typically have application either scattered through the lesson (the best) or gathered together as a list of questions at the end of the lesson.
- Keep it brief. A two page lesson (1 page printed front and back) is sufficient for a 30 minute discussion. That is only true if you actually use questions in your lesson. If you use huge blocks of text that are going to get read, you are going to need 3-4 pages of material to fill 30 minutes and don’t expect much discussion.
- Offer suggestions and exercises in the lesson. I will often put a prayer section at the end that is tied to what points content is intended to produce. Or suggest service, compassionate acts, etc…whatever lines up with what was taught that week.
- Occasionally connect lessons backward and forward. There are times lessons flow together. Point that out. Build anticipation at the end of the lesson for what is coming next week and what questions it might help shed light on from this week’s lesson. You don’t want to do this all the time because if people miss a week they might feel lost.
- Don’t feel bound to the quarter system (13 weeks). Too often lesson series are stretched way too long just to fit a quarter. Teach what needs to be taught and make it quality. When it is done, it is done (5 weeks or 15 weeks it doesn’t matter). Less is more. I wouldn’t usually recommend going longer than 15 weeks.
- Outside work assignments. Don’t let the lesson stop with “In Jesus name amen”, send people out with something to do, follow up with them via email or text during the week to remind them.
- Format the lesson well so people can spot the main points, scriptures to be read, questions and application. I typically use bold headings for new topics/points & italics for questions. There are more creative ways of doing it. That is just what works for me.
- I would make the list ten points but I am going to follow point #7 and stop the list here! Let’s get suggestions from all of you for #10. What would you suggest?
Here is an example of one of my lessons from a series on the “One Another’s” so you can get an idea
I often have large blocks of text… not to be read in class or whatever, but to give the teacher/small group leader a chunk of background and to give them some idea of my thought process during lesson development.
If I want them to straight up say something I keep it brief. If it can’t be kept brief, I will typically give a “note to the teacher” section that gives the background information they need to teach it well.
Good stuff. I have had friends ask for some of my lesson notes so they could share the lesson with their congregation. I’m often quite embarrassed because I’m not sure anyone can make sense of my notes.
I pretty much write all of my classes in a way that someone could at least use it as a really good starting point. Most people don’t worry about it and that is fine too.