I handed each girl a clump of playdough as we started our group time and instructed them to mold something from the clay that represented something they loved. These eighth-grade girls went to work forming various items that represented something important to them. After a few minutes, we went around the circle and they described their masterpieces, including a taco, a cell phone, and other typical teen favorites. I mean, who doesn’t love tacos?
I then began to describe the lesson for the day found in Exodus 32. I described how the Israelites were tired of waiting on Moses and decided to create a golden calf to worship. We talked about how we all put the things we love above our love for God and how this becomes idol worship.
It was a simple lesson, but one that was memorable for my kinesthetic learners—the ones who need to have hands-on activities that help them retain concepts. It was a reminder that not everyone in a group learns the same way and that a good group leader will incorporate various activities for a variety of learning styles.
Most learning styles can be divided into three areas, including auditory, visual, and kinesthetic, yet there are up to eight different styles that have been identified by educational experts. When you use a variety of methods, you not only become a better group leader, but your group will retain more. A quick look at what most people remember after 30 days:
10% of what they hear
15% of what they see
20% of what they hear and see
40% of what they discuss
80% of what they do, and
90% of what they teach to others.
Do you see the progression? If you are only teaching a group with a lecture, they will only retain 10 percent of what they heard after a month!
If you’re committed to helping your group retain what they are learning, consider these learning styles and some practical tips to use in your group. Pick a different one each week and see what a difference it can make.
Visual Learners: As the name implies, this style learns through sight. They respond well with written materials, charts, and even those maps in the back of your Bible! You’ll find visual learners taking notes, doodling on handouts, and engaging with screens. As a group leader, consider how you are offering visual learners something they can “see” and experience visually. Use handouts or encourage people to take notes to retain what they are learning.
Auditory Learners: This tends to be a style used most often at church. People come to a worship service, and they listen to someone preach. This is great for auditory learners who absorb knowledge by hearing information. They are good at focusing on a speaker, and they retain what they learn when they hear a lesson. For these learners, provide various ways for them to hear a lesson. Encourage them to listen to Scripture on a phone app or listen to a podcast that can provide an overview of a lesson.
Kinesthetic Learners: This is the hands-on approach mentioned earlier. These learners need to touch and physically participate in the lesson. Most teachers tend to think of these activities for children, but there are many adults who will learn through this method. Examples you can incorporate are role-play, creating something with their hands, and doing something physical like walking or standing while they are learning a concept.
Reading or Writing Learners: These learners are comfortable using written materials. Consider using a variety of books, presentations, reports, and handouts. Let them do some research with Bible study tools and have them write their answers on a board or create a written response to questions. You could also encourage people to use their smartphones and research a topic or look up something on a Bible website that provides information about the original language or provides a concordance.
Logical Learners: Do you enjoy getting instructions and following rules? Do you like working with patterns and numbers? Then you might be a logical learner. These natural analysts probably enjoy a good spreadsheet and can categorize information. If you are leading this type of learner, consider how you present facts. Can you put it in a logical form such as bullet points or in chronological order? Encourage these learners to think of a time line in a narrative and have them use their critical thinking skills to solve problems.
Social Learners: These learners are typically extroverts, and they love when they can collaborate with others. They like to build relationships and take leadership roles. Give these learners opportunities to work in groups and even lead a group. Make sure they have time to voice their thoughts and opinions. They may challenge you on a topic, but they might make you a better teacher!
Solitary Learners: In many ways, they are the opposite of social learners. These group members like to work alone and need to process information independently. They are easily self-motivated, but give them some space for quiet and reflection. Incorporate prayer strategies that give solitary learners a chance to respond to the lesson or let them journal in silence at the end of a lesson. Don’t force them to participate but encourage their answers when they give them.
Naturalistic Learners: Who doesn’t appreciate God’s creation and enjoy a little time outside? Have you ever taught your group a lesson by going outside for a walk, working on a service project outside, or observing the greatness of God by observing various plants or animals? This might be something you use sporadically, but consider ways you can incorporate nature into your lesson. Even if you have to bring nature inside, these learners excel when they are surrounded by God’s creation.
Do any of these styles sound like you? It’s likely you gravitate toward more than one style, so lead in your strengths but don’t be afraid to experiment and try something new. The members of your group will thank you for your creativity and variety when you teach.
Kelly is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for Lifeway Christian Resources. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide to Leading Women in the Local Church and contributor to the Lifeway Women’s Bible, as well as the Lifeway Women Advent and Easter studies. In addition, she is the co-host of the MARKED podcast for Lifeway Women. She has a Master of Theology degree from Gateway Seminary and is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Ministry degree.