Brethren Archive
Luke 10: 25-37.

Five Steps in Teaching the Lesson.

by John Roy Alfred Littleproud

Many lessons, though not all, in the day school are taught in five steps: Preparation, Presentation, Association, Generalization, and Application.  These steps are commonly known as Herbartian Lesson Steps because they were stressed as an ideal teaching method by a German teacher named Herbart in the early part of the nineteenth century.
The Teaching of the Lord Jesus.
Although Herbart may have popularized the five-step lesson plan, he did not originate it.  The Master used it in His day.  If you will refresh your memory by reading Luke 10:25-37, you will have before you a model lesson as taught by the Model Teacher.
This lawyer approached the Lord Jesus with that ancient, yet modern question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"  He believed that He might accomplish something that would entitle him to possess eternal life.  The Master's problem was to show this man that eternal life could never be obtained by effort.  This gave Him a definite aim in His teaching.  In every lesson, there should be one definite purpose to be attained, one definite goal to be reached, one definite aim to be attained.  Two common faults in lesson presentation are:
(a) Aimless teaching.  When we aim at nothing, we always reach our aim.
(b) Too many aims.  A variety of aims generally divides our efforts into too many channels with the result that none of our aims are successfully accomplished.  Moreover, when we attempt to take the child mind down several avenues at once, the child becomes confused, and does not know just where we are trying to go.
On the other hand, when we have a definite aim, all our teaching, our questions, our illustrations, are made to work toward the attainment of that aim.
1. Preparation.
The Master opened His teaching this day with a question.  It was a purposeful question that He used, "What is written in the law? How readest thou?"  The lawyer was familiar with the law.  The Master decided to use the man's acquaintance with the law, not only as a point of contact with the lawyer, but also as a basis upon which to build His lesson.  The knowledge that the man already possessed would be used as a background against which the new matter would be presented.
The wise teacher makes abundant use of this faculty of the mind which interprets the new in the light of the old, which uses the familiar to explain the unfamiliar; for the child always interprets your lesson in the light of past knowledge and experience.  He cannot help doing that; you cannot prevent him doing that.  His mind works that way.  The Master made purposeful use of the lawyer's present knowledge as an apperceptive background against which He taught His lesson.  We will be wise teachers when we follow in His steps.
To the Master's question, the lawyer made answer by quoting the law.  "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, . . . and thy neighbour as thyself."  The Lord replied, "Thou hast answered right; this do and thou shalt live."  But the idea of loving his neighbor as he loved himself presented a problem to the lawyer.  If you restrict the definition of a neighbor to the immediate members of your family, the question is fairly simple.  But if you step outside these bounds and include the man who lives across the street and the man who lives around the corner, the problem becomes more complicated.  Being conscious of this problem, the lawyer was at once interested in the Master's treatment of it.  There was more to be known about the law and its application than the lawyer already knew. This gap in his knowledge assured his interest in what the Master might say.
The preparation stage in the lesson should serve three purposes:
(1) It serves to recall to the child's mind anything he already knows that will serve as suitable material with which to interpret the new lesson.
(2) It wakens interest in what you are going to teach.  He learns from the introduction that there is more to be known than he at present knows on the subject in hand, and there is a desire in his mind to bridge the gap in his knowledge.
(3) It sets a definite subject for discussion or raises a definite problem for solution.  When the problem is raised by the pupil rather than by the teacher, as in the case of the lawyer, it is surer to awaken interest.  But this is generally not possible.  When the subject is stated by the teacher, or the problem is raised by him, it should always be done in terms that will appeal to the child mind.
2. Presentation.
In answer to the lawyer's question, "Who is my neighbour?”, the Lord told the story of the Samaritan. With graphic imagery, He told of the traveler's misfortune as he traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho. Who could fail to visualize the robbed and wounded man lying half-naked and half-dead by the roadside?  How the coming of the priest must have awakened hope in the man's breast!  But alas, the priest passed by on the other side.  But the sound of approaching footsteps again awakened hope in the breast of the wounded man. Surely the approaching Levite would show him mercy.  But again, he was disappointed, for the Levite also passed by on the other side. But now there are footsteps again. 'Tis a traveler riding.  But alas, he is a Samaritan; and there were no dealings between the Jews and the Samaritans.  He could hope for no help here.  But the Samaritan was moved with compassion, and descending from his beast, he went to the distressed man, and bound up his wounds, dressing them with oil and wine.  Then he took him to an inn and made ample provision for his care until he returned.
In this matchless narrative, the Lord presented the new matter, the material which He intended should not only define for the lawyer who was meant by his neighbor, but also indicate to him that since his neighbor was any one who needed his help, he could never hope with his selfish heart to love his neighbor as himself.
The methods to be used in this stage of the lesson will vary with the lesson to be taught and with the class you are teaching.  In this case, the Master used an illustration, a very common method with Him.
In His illustration, He presented His truth in a concrete form.  Children think pictorially, not abstractly. Hence, it is that a picture, a story, or an illustration will convey our meaning when the most carefully phrased definition or statement is quite meaningless to them.  But whether we teach by illustration, by story, by questioning, by developing, or by direct telling, we do much of our teaching during this stage of the lesson.  The essential lesson facts must be clearly taught, and such facts as seem incidental to the lesson rather than vital, should be more lightly passed over.
3. Association.
In the story which the Lord told the lawyer, there were three men whose actions must be compared in determining which man was neighbor to the unfortunate traveler on the Jericho Road.  The Lord's presentation of His lesson was so lucid and effective, that the matter of comparing the three actions was very simple, and was accomplished through asking but a single question, "Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?"  The matter of relating the three actions and interpreting them was accomplished by one question.
It is not always so simple, this step known as Association.  In this step, the essential lesson facts are gone over, and related, and interpreted.  There are hard points to be made clear.  There are likenesses and differences to be noted, and conclusions to be reached. This is the stage where the real teaching is often done, where use is made of the facts taught in the presentation stage.  If the presentation causes the pupils to learn the lesson facts, association causes them to interpret them.  Illustrations are often of great value at this stage of lesson progress.  Expert questioning does much to get little minds thinking accurately, for children must think at this stage of the lesson, if the lesson is to be a success.
4. Generalization.
This is a short but very important step.  The main truth of the lesson must be put into words, a concise but definite statement.  The lawyer made the generalization when he answered the Lord's question, "Which of these three . . . was neighbour unto him that fell among thieves?"  His reply showed that he had gotten the point in the lesson, for he said, "He that showed mercy on him."
Who should make the generalization, the teacher or the pupil?  The difference is a vital distinction in the art of teaching.  In our model lesson from Luke 10, the generalizing statement was made by the pupil in answer to a question by the Master.  Let this be our constant example.  When the teacher expresses the generalization, then that statement is an expression of what the teacher believes, but in no way indicates what the child believes.  Neither thinking nor knowledge is needed on the part of the class if the teacher makes the summing up of the lesson truth.  But when the pupils are required to sum up the truth that has been taught, their statement is an expression of their own thinking, and thus a test of the success or failure of the lesson.  Moreover, their expression of the truth helps to make their thinking more definite, for nothing clarifies thinking like expressing it in words.  Again, the expression of a thought tends to make it more permanent; hence, it is better that the pupils express it rather than the teacher.  Finally, when the pupil expresses a thought, he in measure assents to it as a truth.  Then when it is applied, he finds it more difficult to evade than if he had never given assent to it.
5. Application.
The Master started out to show this man, that eternal life could never be obtained through merit.  The lawyer wanted to do something to inherit eternal life.  But when faced with his own statement of what the law required, he had tried to evade his responsibility by asking a definition of who his neighbor really was.  But now, he has himself defined neighborliness as helping the man who needs help, even a wounded stranger by the wayside.  Immediately the Lord made application of the truth: "Go and do thou likewise."  For the ultimate aim in our teaching is more than the imparting of Scriptural knowledge, although we must do that.  It is more than giving instruction in spiritual truth, although we must do that. The ultimate aim of all Sunday School teaching is to reach the hearts of boys and girls in transforming power; and so we seek as occasion is suitable, to apply the truths that we have taught. 
Again, the question arises, "Who makes the application, the teacher or the pupil?"  This time we do not answer as dogmatically as we did before.  Often it is better for the teacher to make it, as the Master did here. The danger is that the pupil may miss the personal aspect in the application if it is left to himself.  So it was that the Lord said, "Go thou and do likewise."  So it was that Nathan said to David, "Thou art the man."  But on the other hand, it is sometimes wise to leave the pupil to make the application himself, especially if the lesson is so plain that he cannot escape it.  When he makes the application himself, it is because the truth has gripped him.  He makes it on the strength of the Word of God, not merely at the suggestion of the teacher.
The Master's lesson as taught to the lawyer was in five steps:
(a) The Preparation Stage in which we prepare the child's mind for the lesson we intend to teach; where we help the child recall such experiences and knowledge as will enable him to correctly interpret the new matter; where we seek to awaken interest in our lesson and give to the child some definite idea of the line our lesson will take.
(b) The Presentation Stage in which the teacher sets before her class the new lesson facts.
(c) The Association Stage in which these facts are worked over and related, and their meaning interpreted.
(d) The Generalization Stage which sums up the results of the lesson.  Only the pupil can do this summing up, for as another has said, the results are all within him.
(e) The Application Stage wherein the truth learned is given personal application to the individual lives of our pupils.
Now, it must not be inferred that the Master taught all His lessons in five steps, for He didn't.  Nor can we; for some lessons do not lend themselves to five formal steps.  In fact, it is often well to avoid formal steps altogether, and to follow this plan in spirit rather than in letter.  But knowing the letter and following it carefully at times will enable us to follow it in spirit at all times.  For it is ever true that we must prepare the pupil's minds for our lesson; we must present it clearly to them; we must help them to think their way through it so that they can interpret it aright; we must be sure that it is accurately conceived in their minds; and that it is given its rightful application to their lives.
Finally, having prepared our lessons carefully, having taught them thoughtfully, let us trust prayerfully that God will give them blessing. For although a Paul might sow the seed, and Apollos might water it, only God can give it increase.
“Light and Liberty” 1937

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