The Laws of Teaching

The mission of the adult Sabbath School teacher is founded on three cornerstones: being, knowing, and doing. What follows is a combination of knowing and doing. A teacher who knows his or her subject well and follows systematic procedures in preparing the lesson must also have the skills and knowledge to present the lesson effectively.

There are certain laws of teaching that apply to Sabbath School classes. The purpose of these teaching laws is to help class members learn. It is not the purpose of Sabbath School teaching to simply read from the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide or repeat some standard cliches that may call forth an “Amen” or two but don’t really say anything.

A key statement from Ellen G. White gives us a starting point. The statement is directed toward teaching children, but the principles stated apply equally to adults (for “blackboards,” read PowerPoint, etc.): “Our Sabbath schools should be made more interesting. The public schools have of late years greatly improved their methods of teaching. Object lessons, pictures, and blackboards are used to make difficult lessons clear. . . . Just so may present truth be simplified and made intensely interesting” ( Counsels on Sabbath School Work, p. 114).

This statement tells us three things: 1. People learn when something is interesting and gets their attention. 2. People learn more when they can see something or be involved in some activity rather than when information is just presented orally. 3. It is worthwhile to study teaching technology.

At first glance this may seem complicated. It really isn’t. Just spend a little time thinking about these teaching principles and try them out in class. Before long they become second nature and easier to integrate into your teaching.

We are going to look at a series of seven laws of teaching developed by John Milton Gregory, 1 a prominent nineteenth-century educator and committed Christian. His seven laws of teaching have become the foundation of a significant number of religious education training materials, including most of the Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath School teacher-training courses used through the years.

These are essential elements in every full and complete act of teaching. Whether the lesson is a single fact told in three minutes or a lecture occupying three hours, these seven factors are all present if the teaching is to be effective. These seven factors are: (1) The Law of the Teacher, (2) The Law of the Learner, (3) The Law of Language, (4) The Law of the Lesson, (5) The Law of the Teaching Process, (6) The Law of the Learning Process, and (7) The Law of Review and Application. None of them can be omitted, and no others need be added. If there is a true science of teaching, it must be found in the combination of, and relationship between, these seven laws.

By way of review Gregory states: “Teaching, in its simplest sense, is the communication of experience. This experience may consist of facts, truths, doctrines, ideas, or ideals, or it may consist of the processes or skills of an art. It may be taught by the use of words, by signs, by objects, by actions, or by examples; but whatever the substance, the mode, or the aim of the teaching, the act itself, fundamentally considered, is always substantially the same: it is a communication of experience. It is painting in the mind of another the picture in one’s own—the shaping of the thought and understanding to the comprehension of some truth which the teacher knows and wishes to communicate. Further on we shall see that the word ‘communication’ is used here, not in the sense of the transmission of a mental something from one person to another, but rather in the sense of helping another to reproduce the same experience and thus to make it common to the two” (italics supplied).2

This article and subsequent Teacher Enhancement articles are designed to explain and illustrate the seven factors—the leading principles and rules of the teaching art—that are present in every instance of true teaching. Thus they can be seen in their natural order and relationship, and can be methodically learned and used.

These laws follow the natural laws of the universe. They are not obscure and hard to grasp. They are so simple and natural that they suggest themselves almost spontaneously to the careful observer. They underlie and govern all successful teaching. No one who thoroughly masters and uses them need fail as a teacher.

Each law varies in its applications with varying minds and persons, although remaining constant in itself; and each stands related to the other laws and facts till it reaches the outermost limits of the art of teaching.

It is significant that there may be many successful teachers who never heard of these laws and who do not consciously follow them, just as there are people who walk safely without any theoretical knowledge of gravitation, and talk intelligibly without studying grammar. Like the musician who plays “by ear,” these “natural” teachers have learned from practice the laws of teaching, and obey them from habit. It is nonetheless true that their success comes from obeying the laws, not in spite of the laws.

IN A NUTSHELL

  • There are certain fundamental laws of teaching.
  • Knowing these laws enhances Sabbath School teaching.
  • These laws are not hard to learn or understand.

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1John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching.
2Ibid.


© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists