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6 Tips on Teaching in Disability Ministry

Never Lecture Lecturing loses attention. Be honest! Lecture style is boring. Time yourself next time you are in church listening to a sermon. How long do you last before you are checking your phone, daydreaming, scanning the crowd around you, thinking about what you will do for lunch, or watching your watch? Now consider how […]

Never Lecture

  • Lecturing loses attention. Be honest! Lecture style is boring. Time yourself next time you are in church listening to a sermon. How long do you last before you are checking your phone, daydreaming, scanning the crowd around you, thinking about what you will do for lunch, or watching your watch? Now consider how a lecture format would play out in front of a group of teens or adults with IDD.
  • Lecturing increases the possibility of behaviors. When you are not engaging your audience, the chances are pretty good that your audience will engage in other things. Sometimes those things will not be positive. You remember the old saying, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” I think at times the same could be said for idle minds. Minds can wonder quickly to unproductive places. Don’t lecture! Engage the mind, body, and spirit when you teach!

Never Take Yourself Too Seriously

  • Use humor often. There are no excuses here. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think you are funny. Go buy a joke book and use it. Humor lifts the spirits of those you around and hooks them into the message you are delivering.
  • Learn to laugh at yourself. Want to be relatable? Want people to like you? Then don’t take yourself so seriously. Make sure your audience knows that you are human and flawed too. Share those flaws with your group in a humorous way. The best jokes are the ones that you can own because they are true. If you are relatable and your audience likes you they will listen to you!
  • The more fun you have the more successful teacher you will be. I do not believe that being a Christian was meant to be drab and boring. Live it up! If creatively coming up with things that are fun or funny is a struggle for you ask for help. Every class has a class clown. Channel that energy in a productive way. Imagine if you had a volunteer in your class that had a job description title “The Fun Police”? I’m not joking! If you announced that you had a volunteer position titled the “The Fun Police” do you not think you would have people sign up for that? Test me on that!

Never “Dumb Down” the Message

  • Always assume competence. The worst thing you could do is assume that people can not understand what you are attempting to communicating. When you make that assumption it changes everything that you do and not for the good. Just because someone is nonverbal doesn’t mean they not intelligent. Just because someone may struggle to communicate doesn’t mean they cannot understand.
  • Treat adults like adults. I have yet to find an adult in this world that likes being talked to like they are a baby. Our manner of communicating is as important as the message we are communicating. You may have the most valuable message in the world but your audience will not hear it if they think you are talking down to them.
  • A focused message is a strong message. Boil down your message to one main point. Notice I didn’t say “dumb down” your message to one thing. There is a big difference. When everything that you do within a lesson points to the main point you will have much more success with your audience retention rates. Trying to communicate multiple points gets lost. How many of your preachers three points do you remember from last week?

Always Use Visuals

  • Use more pictures than words. When you are preparing your visuals printed or on computer presentation make sure that the dominant thing seen is pictures and not words. Not everyone in your audience will be able to read but everyone will be able to understand what a picture communicates. There are plenty of good royalty-free images out there. Take the time to find the right images that communicate the message you want to get across.
  • When using words on the screen, less is more. If you are displaying a passage of Scripture, for example, break it down into shorter sections. This may mean that you have to use multiple slides but the fewer the words on the screen the better chance you will have to communicate with comprehension. Too many words can cause your audience to get lost.
  • Use the largest font you can. Going along with the previous point font size is important for anyone who is visually impaired. If you are projecting on a wall take advantage of how large you can make the words. The bigger the better!
  • Use dark backgrounds and light colors for text. This is especially important for people with visual impairments. It makes seeing the words much easier.

Always Engage the Audience with Active Learning

  • Use guided discussion questions. It is important to do this throughout the entire lesson. Don’t hold your all discussion questions for review at the end of the lesson. Asking questions during your lesson allows you to make sure your audience is tracking with you along the way. It gives them opportunities to ask clarifying questions if they don’t understand. It also allows them an opportunity to add to the lesson with things that God has placed upon their hearts. Every voice matters and we shouldn’t silence them because we are too afraid to open the floor for questions.
  • Use group activities. Plan activities that are tied to your lesson. There may be an activity that leads to your lesson to focus your learning for the day. It could be an activity in the middle of your lesson that highlights a point you are trying to make. Or it could be after your lesson to hammer home the main point of the day. My point is this. There is not a sacred time for when to do an activity. Activities should, however, be intentional. Make sure they have a purpose and are not merely for filler.
  • Group games. Games are good to use off the top of your lesson time as an ice breaker to get the fun going from the beginning. Games can also be used during your lesson as long as they are intentionally tied to the point you are trying to communicate.
  • Teach monthly memory verses. Some would argue why do that? People with IDD cannot memorize things! Some of them can’t even read. Ugh. Don’t listen to negative voices. Always believe in your audience even if they don’t believe in themselves. There are many different memory technics that don’t even require someone to have the ability to read. Teach the verse using sign language. You are engaging in active learning and teaching the Word of God in a different language. It is good for all people and especially inclusive for those that utilize sign language as a first language.
  • Use printed materials. These are always good for note-takers and doodle makers alike. Again, intentionality is key with printed materials. You don’t want to just throw out a bunch of coloring pages for the sake of busywork. Many are opposed using coloring pages altogether with teens and adults with IDD because they feel like it is not treating adults like adults. That being said, I know of a lot of adults that like to color! Make sure the decision lies with the learner and not with a leader that functions like a dictator. Make sure that your printables again are telling the same story you are communicating. Word searches, crossword puzzles, notes pages, etc. can all be helpful when used with intentionality.

Always Use a Microphone

  • Regardless of the size of the room size use a microphone. Why? It is helpful for the hearing impaired. You don’t have to crank it up but raising the volume of your voice naturally is helpful for your audience. You will see this in many school classrooms now where teachers will wear a lapel style microphone all day long. It is good to keep people’s attention and saves you from having to speak over everyone and straining your voice too.


Originally posted December 19, 2019

About Ryan Wolfe:

It is Ryan's passion to equip and empower churches, organizations, and individuals to reach their disability communities for Jesus. Ryan comes to Ability Ministry with 15+ years of ministry experience. He previously worked at First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio as their full-time Disability Pastor. He also worked as a Church Consultant for Key Ministry. Micah 6:8 and Proverbs 31:8 best describe Ryan's commitment to life and ministry.
Read more by Ryan Wolfe

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