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The chart demonstrates how much information we remember depending on how we receive the information. We remember ten percent of what we read, twenty percent of what we hear, but thirty percent of what we see.
But of what we see and hear, we remember fifty percent. We remember seventy percent of what we say, and ninety percent of what we say if we also do what we are talking about. (I have forgotten the source of the chart, but have seen this kind of thing several times.)
For example, after Bible class ends, would you be more likely to remember a comment or question you made, or would you remember as well the same question or comment if someone else made it?
We learn more when we do things, say things, answer questions, and use our physical senses to be actively involved in the learning process. Understanding this principle should help us as Bible teachers and as Bible students.
Consider specific examples. Would the lesson have been learned as well if someone simply stated the lesson to the student, or was it more effective because the learner was actively involved?
Genesis 22:1-19 - Abraham and Isaac: God told Abraham to take Isaac to a mountain, build an altar, bind Isaac, and slay him (verses 1,2). Abraham demonstrated his fear for God because he would not withhold Isaac. If God had simply said, "Abraham, you should love Me more than you love Isaac," would Abraham have remembered the lesson as well?
Genesis 41; Daniel 2 - Dreams: God sent a dream to inform Pharaoh of seven years of plenty then seven years of famine. Joseph interpreted the dream and was made governor. God sent Nebuchadnezzar a dream of a statue, which Daniel interpreted to describe four world kingdoms and then God's kingdom. So Nebuchadnezzar honored God and promoted Daniel. Would the lessons have been as effective if Joseph and Daniel just spoke to the rulers without the dreams?
Exodus 12 (note verses 25-27) - The Passover: Each Israelite family was commanded to kill a sheep and sprinkle the blood on the door posts and the lintel. Did God need this to know which houses to skip? It was a teaching tool. Each year this was repeated as a means of teaching future generations.
Exodus 14:21-31 - Crossing the Red Sea: God parted the waters and Israel walked through on dry ground. When Pharaoh's army attempted to do so, the waters collapsed and drowned them. Then the people believed in God and in Moses (verses 29-31).
Leviticus 23:39-43 - Feast of Booths: All Israelites should live in temporary dwellings for seven days as a reminder that God provided for them when He brought them out of Egypt.
Leviticus 4:27-29 - Sin offerings: When people committed sin, they must bring an animal, lay hands on it, and kill it. Then the priest would offer it as a sacrifice.
2 Samuel 12:1-7 - Nathan's rebuke of David: Nathan told a story that motivated David to reach a verdict and declare a punishment. Nathan then applied the verdict to David himself.
Jonah 1,2 - Jonah: God told Jonah to preach to Nineveh. He refused and fled by ship. God sent a tempest so Jonah was thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish. After three days, the fish vomited Jonah on dry land. Then Jonah went and preached to Nineveh. If someone just told Jonah he should go preach to Nineveh, would Jonah have learned the lesson as well?
Matthew 14:15-21 - Feeding of the five thousand: When disciples asked about food for the multitude, Jesus told them to feed them. He took a boys' lunch and had the disciples distribute food to the people. Who would remember this event better: people who just heard about it or the people who were personally involved?
Matthew 17:24-27 - Paying the temple tax: When Peter asked about the temple tax, Jesus had Peter catch a fish, find money in its mouth, then go pay the tax. Would Peter have learned as much and remembered as well if Jesus just said He would go pay the tax?
Luke 5:1-11 - Call of apostles: When Jesus told the disciples to let down their nets, they had a great catch where there had been no fish before. Jesus then called them to follow Him and become fishers of men. If He had just told them to teach other people His message but without having them catch the fish, would they have learned the lesson as effectively?
John 11 - Raising of Lazarus: Jesus told the people to take away the stone (verse 39). After He raised Lazarus, He told the people to remove the grave clothes and set Lazarus free (verse 44). Why did He not miraculously roll the stone back and remove the grave clothes Himself? He expected the people to do what they could do for themselves.
John 20:27,28 - Doubting Thomas: Hearing that Jesus was alive was not enough for Thomas. Jesus had him put his finger in the holes in his hands and put his hand in His side. Thomas then confessed that Jesus is Lord and God. Would Thomas remember the lesson?
Matthew 16:15-18; Luke 20:2-7 - Questions: Scripture records multitudes of examples in which Jesus or other faithful teachers involved their students by asking questions.
This is just a few of many examples in which Jesus and other Bible teachers illustrate the value of involving students in the learning process. When you watch, you see instance after instance.
Why is this? Consider how you have learned important lessons. Mothers teach their daughters how to cook by having them work with them in the kitchen. Fathers teach their sons how to fix the car by having them work on the car with them. Why do it this way?
The more physical senses are involved in the learning process and the more we actually do, the more we must use our minds. When our minds become engaged, we think a lesson through. This leads us to understand and remember. We remember what we say and do more than we remember what others say and do.
First, we should avoid mistaken or even dangerous conclusions.
Bible examples of teaching sometimes did consist simply of speaking a message, as in the Sermon on the Mount. So do not dismiss the value of teaching even if it uses little participation.
Also, as with other activities in service to God, some people are naturally more skilled than others. So do not expect everyone to teach with the same level of ability as others.
This also means that some (not all) of the suggestions we will make are just suggestions - not all this is a matter of right and wrong.
However, since these are Biblical principles, each of us should work diligently to improve and develop the abilities we have, as in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25).
Do not leave the students' participation up to chance. Deliberately plan ahead what activities you will use to teach important lessons. Have students do whatever they can Scripturally and profitably do. Use your ingenuity.
Try not to do any activity or answer any question yourself, if you can get a student to do it.
Good teaching principles are sometimes used to reinforce what is false or unimportant.
A group of teenagers was asked what they remembered most from their earliest days of attending Bible class. The most common answer was: gluing cotton wool on pictures of paper sheep! They remembered the activity but do they remember the spiritual lesson?
The goal is not simply involvement for its own sake. Teaching activities should not just involve students, but should lead them to learn and remember worthwhile Bible truths.
We remember twenty percent of what we hear, but fifty percent of what we see and hear. So if students can see the main point as we say it, they learn and remember better.
This can be done, not just in a class, but in preaching.
Students will remember words they see, but an effective picture is better. But better yet are objects students can handle or activities that they can do. People remember only fifty percent of what they see and hear but ninety percent of what they say and do.
Homework should not be just busywork to give people something to do. Good homework involves the student in the learning process. Good assignments require students to look up Scriptures, use their minds to think and search for answers, then write answers down.
All this requires the student to be active in the learning process. Activities and discussions in class should not just review the homework, but should build on what the student has learned at home. The goal is involvement that helps students learn and remember Bible teaching.
The students remember only twenty percent of what you say but seventy percent of what they say. So, as you discuss a lesson, let the students state what the Bible teaches so they remember it. Ask the students to tell you the story or explain the answers to the questions.
When we as teachers have spent hours preparing material, the natural tendency is to want to expound to the students what we have learned. We may think we can state the material better than they can. But students learn more if we lead them to the truth, then let them tell us what they learned. Then we can reinforce the truth by our additional explanations.
Perhaps the easiest way to involve students is by asking good questions. The Bible is loaded with examples. When a question is asked, immediately minds become engaged: wheels begin to turn. Then, when a student answers the question, he is saying what he has learned. Which means he will remember it seventy percent of the time.
What if students are not in the position to speak up, as in preaching? How about the use of rhetorical questions? Just asking the question challenges minds to become active. You find this done repeatedly in Scripture.
Asking good questions is a skill every teacher needs to develop. I challenge you as teachers to make a deliberate planned effort to improve your ability to ask questions.
Do these principles apply only to teachers? What about the students? Understanding these principles can help any student learn more from any Bible study opportunity.
The church offers learning opportunities, but you only learn if you are involved. And if you come late or leave early, you miss some benefit. So if at all possible, be here and be on time.
The more actively you are involved, the more you learn. Obviously, you are more involved if you are listening and paying attention. The more you let your mind wander, the less you learn.
Some people say they can close their eyes or think about other things and still learn. But the more passive you are, the less you learn. You learn more when you focus and stay actively.
If the teacher gives homework assignments, come prepared. Even without homework, if you know what subject will be discussed, read and study ahead of time.
Come prepared to make comments or ask questions.
Remember, the more actively you are involved, the more you learn.
Make good comments and ask good questions.
If the teacher or other students ask questions, challenge yourself to think of answers.
Do not monopolize the discussion, since that takes away other people's opportunities.
But do not just sit back and let other people participate. Be an active student.
As the teacher or preacher turns to read a passage, you find it too in your Bible and read along. Make notes about points that are especially worth remembering.
Applying these principles will help you learn more no matter who the teacher is. If you think a teacher could improve, consider first what you can do to improve your learning.
If you understand that active participation leads to better learning, then become an active participant!
1 Corinthians 10:16,17 - The Lord's Supper requires active participation. We do not just listen to words that remind us of Jesus' death, but "we all" - all Christians everywhere around the world participate.
1 Corinthians 16:2 - Giving requires each of us to lay by in store. Could God finance the work of the church without us? Of course! But giving teaches us important lessons.
Ephesians 5:19 - Singing actively involves us in teaching and praise. We speak one to another. This is an advantage of congregational singing over choirs, quartets, and instrumental music. Instead of simply sitting and being entertained, every member should participate.
2 Timothy 2:24 - Teaching requires a servant of the Lord to learn to teach others. We have different degrees of ability, but all should develop their ability to the full. Could God spread the gospel without us? Yes, but active involvement in teaching helps us learn. The person who learns the most is always the teacher. One reason is that he is the most actively involved.
2 Thessalonians 3:14,15 - Church discipline involves participation. We do not just tell a person he is in error, we refuse to have social companionship with him. We hope this will teach him his error, and will warn all other members to avoid the sin that he committed.
When we understand the value of active participation, then we will appreciate our need to participate in all the activities of the local church to the extent of our ability and opportunity.
Sometimes people think those who are the most experienced or the most talented should lead most of the teaching, prayers, singing, classes, etc. We may think they do the best job so people learn most. So sometimes one person has several leadership duties in the same assembly: make announcements and lead singing or lead singing and lead prayer, etc.
But we have learned that people learn and grow best when they are actively involved. Instead of having one person lead in several ways, while other people have no leadership responsibility at all, we should involve as many as we can according to their ability.
Understanding the value of participation should lead us to assign work activities to involve as many people as we can. Spread the workload! When we do, more work is accomplished.
Interestingly, God uses the principle of active involvement to teach us important lessons in life. Sometimes we learn and remember lessons best in this way.
Hebrews 5:8 - Though Jesus was a Son, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. Because Jesus personally experienced obedience, He is better able to help us with the problems we experience. (Hebrews 2:18)
James 1:22 - But be doers of the word, and not hearers only...
God requires a life of active participation and involvement in works of service. Many important lessons are best learned only by personal involvement. We remember just twenty percent of what we hear but ninety percent of what we say and do.
When people deny the need for obedience, among other things they have failed to appreciate the principle of learning by active involvement.
Job 42:5 - Job said, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You." Though Job was righteous, God allowed Satan to cause him great suffering. As a result, Job learned that, even when he suffered, he should trust God and not doubt or criticize Him. Would he have learned the lesson as well if someone just said this? (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Hebrews 12:11 - No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
We may sometimes wonder why God allows us to suffer as we do in this life. One reason is that, like Job, we learn important lessons about life when we personally participate.
God uses life experiences to teach us to understand and appreciate truths more fully than we could ever have learned by someone simply telling us.
Many of the most important lessons that we learn require active participation and personal involvement. Perhaps the most important lesson is that God requires us to personally devote our lives to His service in order to receive eternal life. You and I can be saved only if we are willing to dedicate our lives to actively involvement in faithful obedience and service to Him. Are you willing to make that sacrifice with your life?
Copyright 2017, David E. Pratte
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.