The Clear Word 

A Ministry Of Mid-State Ministries  


Seven Laws for Effectual Teaching


Lesson Six



Our fourth law takes us at once to the core of teaching. The first

three laws dealt with the teacher, the learner, and the language, the

medium of communication between them. We come now to the lesson, the

process to be mastered, the problem to be solved. This is where the

teacher must pass on to the pupils the recorded experience of the

race; the method of transmission of this crystallized race experience

must be such as to inspire these pupils with principles that shall be

active forces in their lives, and at the same time furnish them with

an instrument of research and further study -- this is the very heart

of the work of the teacher, the condition and instrument, as well as

the culmination and the fruit, of all the rest.

It is the Law of the Lesson that we are next to seek. Passing, as

remote from this discussion, the steps by which the mind of an infant

obtains its first notions of the world about it, we may go at once to

the obvious fact that our pupils learn the new by the aid of the old

and familiar. The new and unknown can be explained only by the

familiar and the known. This, then, is the Law of the Lesson:


This law is neither so simple nor so obvious as those that have

preceded it; but it is no less certain than they, while its scope is

even wider and its relations are perhaps even more important.


The Law of the Lesson has its reason in the nature of mind and

in the nature of human knowledge.

All teaching must begin at some point of the subject or lesson. If

the subject is wholly new, then a known point must be sought by

showing some likeness of the new to something known and familiar.Even among

grown  persons, the skillful narrator struggles to find some

comparison with familiar experiences, seeking some likeness of the

unknown to something known before proceeding with his story. Until

this starting point is found, he knows that it will be useless to goon. To do so

would be like telling someone to follow you over a

winding path in the darkness without first letting him know where you

are or starting him on the path. Naturally, if adults must have this

aid, children can scarcely be expected to do without it. Often

pupils in the schools explain their inability to understand the

lesson by the simple statement: "I did not know what the

teacher was talking about." The fault lies distinctly with the

teacher in such a case.

All teaching must advance in some direction. Its proper direction

of march should be toward the acquisition of new experiences. To

teach over again what is already acquired and understood is to check

the desire of the pupils for obtaining further knowledge and to

deaden their power of attention by compelling them to walk on a

treadmill, instead of leading them forward to the inspiration of new

scenes and the conquest of new fields. It is a serious error to keep

the studies of pupils too long on familiar ground under the assumed

necessity for thoroughness. Old mines may be reworked if you can find

ore at deeper levels, and old lessons may be worked over if new uses

may be made of them. At this point it should be borne in mind that

this does not contradict the Law of Review, to be discussed later.

Learning must proceed by graded steps. These steps must be those

which link one fact or concept to another, as simple and concrete

things lead naturally to general and abstract things, as premises

lead to conclusions, and as an understanding of natural phenomena

leads to laws. Each new idea mastered becomes a part of the knowledge

of the child, a part of his equipment of race experience, and serves

as a starting point for a fresh advance. It adds its own light to the

knowledge that preceded it, and throws increased illumination

forward for the next discovery. But each step must be fully mastered

before the next is taken, or the pupils may find themselves

proceeding into unknown fields without the proper preparation. It is

here that the demand for thoroughness arises; everything in the

lesson which is within the range of the child's comprehension, should

be fully understood. Thoroughness of this sort is the essential

condition of true teaching. Imperfect understanding at any point

clouds the whole process. The pupil who has mastered one lesson, half

knows the next; therefore the well-taught class is always eager for

the next step. One of the sayings of Pestalozzi was: "It is easy to

add to what is already discovered."

 But the philosophy of this law goes deeper still. It must be

remembered that knowledge is not a mass of simple, independent facts;

it is made  up of  the experience of the race crystallized and

ORGANIZED in the form of facts together with their laws and

relations. Facts are linked together in systems, associated by

resemblances of one sort or another. Each fact leads to, and

explains, another. The old reveals the new; the new confirms and

corrects the old.

All this pertains equally to the limited knowledge and experience

of children as well as to riper and maturer knowledge. New elements

of knowledge must be brought into relation with other facts

and truths already known before they themselves can be fully revealed

and take their place in the widening circle of the experience of the

learner. Thus the very nature of knowledge compels us to seek the new

through the aid of the old.

The act of KNOWING is in part an act of comparing and judging --

of finding something in past experience that will explain and make

meaningful the new experience. If a friend tells us of an experience

or an adventure, we interpret his story by a running comparison with

whatever has been most like it in our own experience; and if he

states something utterly without likeness to anything that we have

known, we ask him for explanations or illustrations which may bring

the strange facts into relation with our point of view. If children

are told something novel and entirely unfamiliar, they will probably

struggle in vain to understand, and then ask for further information

or light, if they do not at once abandon the attempt to connect the

new idea with their own experience. Figures of speech, such as

similes, metaphors, and allegories, have sprung out of the need for

relating new truths to old and are familiar scenes and objects and

experiences. They are but so many attempts to reach the unknown

through the known -- they try to flash light from the old upon the


 Explanation, then, means usually the citation and use off

act and principles already understood to make clear the nature of

new material. Therefore the unknown cannot explain the unknown. The

knowledge already in the equipment of the child must furnish the

explanation of now facts and laws, or these must remain unexplained.The

difficulty so often met in answering the questions of little

children, lies not so much in the difficulty of the questions

themselves, as in the lack upon the part of the child of knowledge

required in the explanation. To answer fully a boy's questions about

the stars, you must first teach him some astronomy. The lad who has

seen a large city can perhaps understand fairly well a description of

London or New York, but one whose experience has been confined

entirely to his country home, cannot properly understand the network

of streets, walled in by buildings, and the shifting panorama of city


The very language with which new knowledge must be expressed

takes its meanings from what is already known and familiar. The child

without knowledge would be also without words, for words are the

signs of things known. An American traveler in Europe might perhaps

fancy that he could make people understand by speaking in a loud,clear voice,

and with slow, careful enunciation; but his success

would be measured only by the degree to which his hearers had a

knowledge of the native tongue of the American; if they were

familiar only with their own different language, his words would be

without meaning.

A blunder analogous to this is that of the teacher who hopes by

the mere urgency of his manner, and by his carefully chosen words,familiar to

himself, to convey his ideas to the understanding of his

pupils, with no reference to the pupils' previous knowledge of the


Persons use by preference only the clearest and most familiar

things in their interpretation of new facts or principles. Each man

is prone to borrow his illustrations from his calling: the soldier

from the camps and trenches, the sailor from the ships and the sea,the

merchant  from the conditions of the market, and the artisans and

mechanics from their crafts. Likewise in study, each pupil is

attracted to the qualities which relate to his own experience. To the

chemist, common salt is sodium chloride, a binary compound; to the

cook it is something to use in the seasoning of foods and in the

preservation of meats. Each thinks of it in the aspect most familiar

to him, and in this aspect would use it to illustrate something else

in which salt was concerned. Finding a new plant, the botanist would

consider it in the light of known plants, to discover its"classification"; the former

would be interested in its use, and the artist in its beauty. This bent of preference, while

one of the elements of prejudice which may shut the eyes to some new truths and

open them to others, is at the same time one of the elements

of strength in intellectual work.

A fact or principle only vaguely understood is used only rarely

and reluctantly -- and even then sometimes most erroneously -- in

interpreting new experiences; and if used, it carries only vagueness

and imperfection into the new concepts or judgments. A cloud left

upon the lesson of yesterday casts its shadow over the lesson of

today. On the other hand, the thoroughly mastered lesson throws great

light on the succeeding ones. Hence the value of that practice of

some able teachers who make the elementary portions of a subject as

familiar as household words -- a conquered territory from which the

pupil may go on to new conquests as from an established base, with

confidence and power.

 But it must be carefully noted that so complete a mastery, like

all thoroughness in study, is really relative. No human knowledge or

power is perfect, and the capacities of childhood are necessarily

much further from completeness than those of adults. And there are

wide individual differences which must be recognized in the school.What to some

children is as clear as day, is to others only vaguely

suggestive. If the teacher makes the pupils talk about the lesson, as

was suggested in the discussion of the law of language, some of these

differences will be revealed, and the proper means of meeting them

and of adjusting the instruction to them, may be discovered.

Our discussion of the lesson would be incomplete without some

mention of the nature of the thinking process as applied to the

solution of problems. The word "problem" is a familiar one to the

teacher; the problems and tasks of everyday life in the schoolroom

are very close to him. But let us now think of the problem in a

rather different sense. We have been speaking of the "lesson" and its"law."

Let us think of the process of learning lessons as akin to the

solution of problems, as a process in which the learner faces a real

situation, the mastery of which will involve the application of his

power of thought. How is he to think?

The older notion that because the pupils in our schools are

young and immature they are incapable of real thinking is a fallacy.Too

often teachers believe that their pupils think only in a symbolic

way -- that they react only to artificial situations in which their

task is to do what the teacher wishes, rather than to do real

independent thinking for themselves. This is not necessarily true,and

if true in some instances, the fault very likely lies with the

teacher himself. The fact is that the power to think is part and

parcel of the original mental equipment of the child, and develops

gradually, as other capacities do. The situations that call

out this power in children are simple, but they are none the less

real. The difference in thinking between the child and the adult is a

difference in degree.

If we are to set the learner at the task of real thinking in the

solution of real problems, we must define this process of thinking.There are

three stages in the process. First, there must be a stage

of doubt or uncertainty; certain things are known, and something is

to be done to them. For example, the loss of a cherished toy presents

just this situation to a child: he sees what has happened, and

wonders what he can do in its absence -- how he can replace it,perhaps.

Second, there is an organizing stage in which the individual

considers the means at his disposal to reach the ends desired.Lastly,

there is a critical attitude involving selection and

rejection of the schemes which have suggested themselves. This

problematic situation arises very frequently in daily life, with

children as well as with adults. The setting of school tasks should

always be done with this process of thinking in mind; teachers in the

day schools and in the Sunday schools should remember that if the

training which they give is to bear fruit, it must present real

situations which will call forth this reflective attitude, and they

should abjure the sort of tasks which can be met by trial and error, by

blindly following the lead of another, or by doing what one

has already done in a similar situation merely because one recognizes

the new situation as like the other.


In a very important sense, what we call knowledge is a record of

solved problems. Facts and laws have been collected and tested and

organized into systems, but at basis they represent the results of

facing situations and finding things out at first hand. In passing

knowledge on to others the more closely we can approximate real,vital

situations, the better will be our teaching. There are some who

go so far as to say that no attempt should be made to impart

knowledge unless the child feels a distinct need for it -- unless he

sees that it is essential to solve some problem that is real and

vital to his life. This is doubtless an extreme view, but it is none

the less incumbent upon the teacher to know what the problems of

child life are and to utilize them in making his instruction just as

rich and meaningful as possible.

This law of knowledge, thus explained, affords to the thoughtful

teacher rules of the highest practical value. It offers clear

guidance to those who are teachers of children and anxious that their

task shall be well done.

(1) Find out what your pupils know of the subject you wish to

teach to them; this is your starting point. This refers not only to

textbook knowledge but to all information that they may

possess, however acquired.

(2) Make the most of the pupils' knowledge and experience.Let them

feel its extent and value, as a means to further knowledge.

(3) Encourage your pupils to clear up and freshen their

knowledge by a clear statement of it.

(4) Begin with facts or ideas that lie near your pupils, and

that can be reached by a single step from what is already familiar;thus,

geography naturally begins with the home town, history with the

pupils' own memories, morals with their own conscience.

(5) Relate every lesson as much as possible to former

lessons, and with the pupils' knowledge and experience.

(6) Arrange your presentation so that each step of the lesson

shall lead easily and naturally to the next.

(7) Proportion the steps of the lesson to the ages and

attainments of your pupils. Do not discourage your children with

lessons or exercises that are too long, or fail to rise to the

expectations of older pupils by giving them lessons that are too


(8) Find illustrations in the commonest and most familiar

objects suitable for the purpose.

(9) Lead the pupils themselves to find illustrations from

their own experience.

(10) Make every new fact or principle familiar to your

pupils; try to establish and entrench it firmly, so that it will be

available for use in explaining new material to come.

(11) Urge the pupils to make use of their own knowledge and

attainments in every way that is practicable, to find or explain

other knowledge. Teach them that knowledge is power by showing how

knowledge really helps to solve problems.

(12) Make every advance clear and familiar, so that the

progress to the next succeeding step shall in every case be on known


(13) As far as possible, choose the problems which you give

to your pupils from their own activities, and thus increase the

chances that they will be real and not artificial problems.

(14) Remember that your pupils are learning to think, and

that to think properly they must learn to face intelligently and

reflectively the problems that arise in connection with their schoolwork,

and in connection with their life outside of school.


The wide scope of this Law of the Lesson affords opportunity for

many mistakes and violations. Among the more common are the


(1) It is not unusual for teachers to set their pupils to

studying new lessons, or even new subjects, for which they are

inadequately prepared or not prepared at all, either by previous

study or by experience.

(2) Many teachers neglect entirely to ascertain carefully the

pupils' equipment with which to begin the subject.

(3) A common error is the failure to connect the new lessons

with those that have gone before in such a way that the pupils can

carry over what they know or have learned into the new field. Many

individual lessons and recitations are treated as if each were

independent of all the others.

(4) Oftentimes past acquisitions are considered goods stored

away, instead of instruments for further use.

(5) Too often elementary facts and definitions are not made

thoroughly familiar.

(6) Every step is not always thoroughly understood before the

next is attempted.

(7) Some teachers err in assigning lessons or exercises that

are too long for the powers of the pupils, or for their time, making

impossible an adequate mastery of principles that may be needful for

future progress in the subject.

(8) Teachers frequently fail to place their pupils in the

attitude of discoverers. Children should learn to use what they have

already been taught in the discovery of new problems.

(9) A common fault is the failure to show the connections

between parts of the subject that have been taught and those that are

yet to come.

As a consequence of these and other violations of the law, much

teaching is poor, and its benefits, if any, are fleeting. People are

found to have inadequate knowledge and to lack the power of studying

for themselves. This is as true of Biblical knowledge as of any

other. Instead of a related whole, a concept with one purpose, the

Bible is viewed as scattering parts, like bits of broken glass, and

its effect is many times only to puzzle and confuse; it is never seen

as a connected whole, as it should be.

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