How to Plan the Children's Sunday School Lesson

Adapted from "Secrets of Sunday School Teaching," by Edward Leigh Pell, 1912.

When the teacher has studied the lesson for his own profit - when he has eaten of its bread and drunk of its water, and taken of its honey - when his own eyes have been enlightened -he is ready ot prepare the lesson for his class, and not until then.

This special preparation is a serious task, and it calls for uninterrupted time - a time that is set apart as sacred and quiet. 

Let's imagine that you have opened your Bible at the lesson which has now come to be a living, burning truth.  Look at this lesson for a moment and then look away and try to realize the presence of your students.  Picture each of them.  It's hardly worthwhile to attempt any preparation at all if you do not vividly connect your class on the one hand and your lesson on the other.

Picture Each Student

Put them side by side and look at them.  Look at the lesson.  What are its practical teachings?  What is it great central truth - the truth you want to burn into the hearts of your students?  Write it down on paper and look at it.  What are some of its practical teachings?  Write them down and look at them.  Now look at your class.  In other words, look at Charles, Sarah, Richard, and Alice - not your class in the abstract but each child in the concrete.

It has been said that the teacher who habitually thinks of his class as a whole rather than its individual members is as badly out of place as the parent who never prays for his children except in a lump.  Look at these putils with the practical teachings of the lesson in mind.  What are the special needs of each student?  Don't be in a hurry; take time to think this matter through to some purpose.

How Does the Lesson Apply to Each Student?

When you have done this, recall again the practical teachings of the lesson, and with the needs of your children in view try to decide what truths should be pressed home in the class.  Then decide what truth should be the priority, emphasizing it above all others.  The others may be placed in the background, only one should be placed in the foreground.  When the lesson is ended there should be burning in the hearts of the children one great truth - burning as clearly and as sharply defined as the flame of the lamp.

Plan the Unfolding of the Lesson
The next thing is to take up the lesson story and settle on your plan of unfolding it.  There are several points which you will need to decide with care.

1.  Ask what you will say to secure attention.

Not what you will say to "force" attention, but what you will say to "win" attention.  Perhaps an incident will come into your mind which you are confident will get the attention of your students.  But are you sure that the telling of this incident will help you to get your hand on the children's minds?  Will it draw your class around you ready to follow wherever you may lead, or will it only start their minds off on an excursion through endless fields of fancy where there are daisies and butterflies enough to last through the lesson hour?

Children are very much like ponies; it is one thing to catch the ear of a capering pony and cause him to stop suddenly and gaze at you, but it is quite another thing to induce him to stand and allow you to go to him and place a bit in his mouth.

2.  Decide how to make the connecting link between this lesson and the last.  Omitting the connecting link is a common mistake of the average teacher.  Children do not remember disconnected lessons any better than the rest of us.  A chain always helps the memory.

3.  What questions will be asked on the lesson itself?

Write them down.  Don't forget that the act of writing not only clarifies the mind, but it photographs the question in your mind so that it will come up readily at the moment you want it.  Questions in the teacher's manual are not designed to save you the trouble of making questions of your own, but rather to help you in making such questions.

4.  Decide what points should be illustrated and select your illustrations.

Do not select an illustration from any printed thing until you have searched your memory through and through for an illustration that has come into your own everyday life.  Homemade illustrations are best, be they every so common.  In teaching young children use incidents, not figures of speech.  Figurative language which shines for mature minds only casts a shadow for little children to stumble in.

5.  Are there any simple objects which may be used to illustrate the lesson?

Take care that you select objects that will illustrate, and that will not divert.  A pair of scissors will illustrate, but a mellow red apple, full of teaching as it may be to mature minds, will only make a child's mouth water.

6.  Decide how to bring the lesson to a close.

There are teachers who carefully plan the first part of the lesson and leave the latter part to providence, or to the inspiration of the moment, which they usually assume to be the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  A good end may make amends for a bad beginning, but a good beginning never counterbalances a bad end.

The lesson plan is now ready.  But are you ready?  No - not until you have brought yourself face to face with your own soul.  Not until you have examined your commission and gazed long upon the model after which you are trying to mold the lump of clay heaven has put into your hands.  Not until you have presented your students, one by one, at the throne of grace, and poured out your own soul unto God.