There are many, many ways to prepare to teach Relief Society. Over time, you’ll figure out what works best for you. Me? I never actually sit down to write a Relief Society lesson until the night before I teach (my mother probably just had a heart attack from reading that–hi Mom!). However, that doesn’t mean that my preparation is left until the night before.
Here are a few suggestions for you that fall in line with how I prepare to teach:
1) Read the lesson soon after you finish teaching the previous one. For me, this usually ends up being 3-4 weeks prior to when I will be teaching. I don’t usually read the lessons earlier than that, because I’ve found that I do best when I can focus on one topic at a time. This reading isn’t an intense one–just a quick read-through to review the material. As you read, scrawl a few brainstorming-type questions and thoughts in the margins.
2) During subsequent weeks, if you’re having a hard time paying attention during church meetings, or find your mind wandering during them, pull out the manual and read through the lesson again. If you have a few minutes to spare while at the dentist office, waiting in the car, or eating lunch, read through the lesson again. Aim to read the lesson in its entirety 3-5 times prior to teaching.
3) Carry on with your daily life. You’ll be amazed at how many things you’ll suddenly start noticing that relate to that topic. You’ll look at your scripture study, your interactions with others, and your surroundings with new eyes. When your lesson is about baptism–you’ll suddenly start noticing all sorts of information about the principles surrounding baptism.
4) Ask your visiting teachers, friends, spouse, family, or anyone else for advice. For example, if your lesson is about tithing, then ask –“When you think about tithing, what questions first come to your mind?” or “Do you remember any memorable lessons about tithing?” or “I’m going to be teaching a lesson about tithing in a few weeks–any advice?”
5) Use the topic of your lesson in other aspects of your personal study and worship. If your lesson is about eternal marriage, then have a Family Home Evening about eternal marriage. Look for passages about eternal marriage as you read your scriptures. When the missionaries come over for dinner, ask them about how they teach investigators about eternal marriage. When you go to the temple, look for ways that eternal marriage relates to the covenants you make there. Talk to your visiting teachees about eternal marriage. Use your Relief Society lesson topic as a guide for your other church-related study and responsibilities during the month.
6) Instead of hoping straight to Pinterest or Facebook when you get online, consider spending a few minutes looking for information related to your lesson. It can be pretty hit and miss–sometimes there are great discussion topics online, and sometimes you end up wading through muck. Here are a few sites that regularly have good content relating to Relief Society lessons:
Rather than spending huge chunks of time preparing, I spend a little bit of time here and there. I like to have some ideas about the lesson constantly rumbling around in the back of my head. Maybe that’s just how my mind works.
When it comes down to the lesson writing time (i.e., the night before the lesson), I sit down at the kitchen table with my laptop, headphones, a pen, scratch paper, manual, scriptures, and a glass of water. I say a prayer to Heavenly Father to help me be open to the whisperings of the Spirit and to know what is important for my group of Relief Society sisters to hear and learn. Then I put the headphones on, turn on Pandora, and open the manual. I read through the lesson again. Then I type out all of my thoughts in brainstorming format. Just let it flow, don’t worry about formatting or sequence.
After writing down my brainstorming thoughts, I go back through and try to arrange it into some sort of order that makes logical sense. Many times, this is not the same order as the manual. For the Joseph Fielding Smith lessons, I’ve often used the “From the Life…” items mid-way through the lesson rather than at the beginning.
Now that it’s in an order that makes sense, I go back through to flesh-out the ideas and tidy the whole thing up. In order to force myself to NOT just read straight through the lesson, I do not type out every word that I want to say. I usually keep my notes to 3 pages for the 40 minute lesson. It’s tough at first, but you’ll get used to it as you keep going. Remember–you are leading a discussion, not presenting a dissertation.
Lastly, I go back to the very top and add a line that says “Today’s lesson is number x from the xxxxx xxxxx xxxx manual. It starts on page xxx and is titled, “xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.” That brief introduction is one of the first things I say when I start my lessons. It’s important to give the sisters context so they know which lesson to look for, and which manual to pull up on their phone or other device. It seems like such a simple part of a lesson, but you’ll notice that many teachers neglect to give the sisters a point of reference to begin from.
Prior to printing, I change everything to size 14+ font because it is easier to read that way. I also bold all of the discussion questions, so that I can clearly see them if I jump around. I put a large double-space between paragraphs in areas where the subject changes, as a visual reminder.
I typically do not print out slips of paper with scriptures or quotes from the manual on them. I want the sisters to actually read from the scriptures and manual (electronic format or otherwise), even if that takes longer. This mostly stems from my desire to provoke curiosity and have them learn and read more. If a sister pulls out her Bible to read Luke 2, then there’s a chance she will be intrigued and continue reading until Luke 5. If she is reading from the manual itself, her eye may skip down a few paragraphs and then provoke a later discussion comment. When there is a section from the manual to read, I usually direct the group to the area by saying something along the lines of, “It’s the third and fourth paragraphs in section two,” and then ask for a volunteer to read. I always bring my paper manual and offer to hand it to someone to read from if they’d like to. Once or twice during the lesson someone uses my manual, and the rest of the time they use their own.
That’s it! You can do it! Teaching Relief Society doesn’t have to be hard or scary. Do your best, then let it rest.