Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #7: Get Creative!



7. Get creative!

You are free to do pretty much anything you want when it comes to personal scripture study, so do what seems the most fun to you (while still acting in harmony with the spirit: the scriptures should be treated with respect, but they can still be fun to study.)  Use your creativity to come up with other ways to make scripture study a natural (and fun) part of your daily routine.  Here are some suggestions:

When studying the scriptures, you should try to engage as many of the senses as possible (preferably at the same time, or at least during the same study session):

Sound:

Read Out Loud
Reading the scriptures out loud, to your self or to another person is an important and beneficial study technique.  I am convinced that the extra understanding that comes to us as we actually enunciate the words is one of the many blessings that is attached to the family scripture study we have each been counseled to do in addition to our own personal study.  If you are single, and/or do not have a family, you can still read to yourself, or as I suggested earlier you might organize some sort of study group with your friends. This should not replace your individual daily study of the scriptures, but it can enhance it.
"Some prefer to study alone, but companions can study together profitably. Families are greatly blessed when wise fathers and mothers bring their children about them, read from the pages of the scriptural library together, and then discuss freely the beautiful stories and thoughts according to the understanding of all. Often youth and little ones have amazing insight into and appreciation for the basic literature of religion."  (Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).

Audio Recordings of the Scriptures
The scriptures are also available on various audio recordings, and these are nice, but they often go too fast for deep study so do not assume that you have read the scriptures if you have only listened to them like a book on tape.  The scriptures were designed to be gradually studied and comprehended over the course of a lifetime, so do you really think that you have managed to master them after listening once or twice to a recording of someone else reading them?

With that said, I actually suggest using audio recordings of the scriptures to help with learning how to pronounce those unfamiliar words that tend to fill the scriptures.  Odds are the person they got to record a reading of the scriptures is a better reader than you are so listening to the scriptures as read by a professional can do a lot for overall comprehension.

Musical Renditions of Scripture
Another way that hearing can help you to learn and understand the scriptures is by listening to the many sublime classical pieces which use the scriptures for their text.  Some examples include Handel's "Messiah" oratorio, Brahms' "A German Requiem," and much of the liturgical music of Thomas Tallis.  Make sure you find a recording in English (or in whatever language you happen understand the best, if it is available).  These pieces, and others like them, can help you to feel the emotion which sometimes gets lost when you read words on a page.  They are also incredibly beautiful, and I feel that listening to them helps to invite the company of the Spirit.  I do not recommend listening to them while trying to study your scriptures though.  Do one and then the other so as to minimize distraction to experience the full benefit of each one.

Act Out Scripture Stories
This one is more for the kids, but it certainly helps the scriptures to come to life when you and your family put yourselves in the shoes of the people that you read about.  It helps if you make a point to ask each of the participants what they would do if they were faced with a similar situation.  For instance, if you were acting out the story of Daniel and the lion's den you could ask your kids if they would be brave enough to pray even if it was forbidden, as Daniel did, even under the the threat of death.  This is a wonderful way to involve everyone in a fun and personal approach to the scriptures.  It is also a wonderful family home evening idea.



Touch:

Use the Old-Fashioned Print Scriptures
The importance of engaging as many of the senses as possible is my argument for using old-fashioned paper scriptures that you can hold in your hands and touch and feel.  The sensation of touch will help you to more fully experience the scriptures and therefore it will be easier to commit them to memory.  I personally have developed a sort of muscle memory, and so if I do not necessarily remember the exact reference, I can still feel where it is by the weight of the pages on one side compared to the other.  I can do this almost instantly, and without even thinking about it when I need to.  This has taken years of practice, and frankly I was more practiced at it when I was on my mission, but I feel that it is like learning to ride a bike-once you learn it never really goes away.  Why is this skill important?  Because it is one of the byproducts of the association I developed while reading each scripture while turning the pages and running my hands over the book.  I can remember things by using a larger portion of my brain than I would use if I just stuck to simple reading alone.   This is a skill you cannot possibly develop while you are using electronic scriptures via an iphone app, or an ipad, or other similar device.  It may seem quicker, and you may even be able to underline and highlight certain passages, but you will always be missing that tactile immersion which is required if you want to synthesize the scripture wholly into your daily life and personality.  I am not against e-scriptures per se, but I consider them to be a short cut that, while convenient, robs you of the full experience of the scriptures.  These things work just fine for looking up an isolated reference now and then, or quickly turning to a section during a class or talk in church, but they should never be your primary study source during your deep personal study of the scriptures.

Use Props or "Artifacts"
This is especially helpful when teaching children about the scriptures.  Use simple household items that you can see and touch to represent important objects or ideas from the Bible or the Book of Mormon.  Find some white rocks to teach your kids about the brother of Jared and his faith.  Use a wooden or a plastic sword to teach about Nephi and Laban.  A compass (or a toy compass) can become the liahona.  A stick from the woods and a rubber snake can teach the story of Moses and Aaron in Pharoah's court.  You can use bread (or something else) to represent manna, and so on.  You can also buy action figures representing various individuals from the scriptures at most LDS bookstores.  The list is really only limited to the extent of your imagination.

Sight:

Take Notes
Writing notes, both in my scriptures, as well as in a notepad or on the computer while I study is an important technique that I use to make my study richer.  Not only is there a tactile sensation that comes from the act of writing, but the visual aspect of looking at my notes while writing helps me to remember the sense and significance of the scripture to which I am referring.  I am convinced that writing things down is more than an exercise in building muscle memory, and more than just putting things in visual context to facilitate learning, even though it does all of those things.  I feel strongly that the Spirit will reward a person who values the teachings of the scriptures enough to write them down with additional light and understanding.  In this way I consider keeping notes to be a sign of respect to the author and finisher of our faith (Christ) and His sacred teachings.
"Knowledge carefully recorded is knowledge available in time of need.  Spiritually sensitive information should be kept in a sacred place that communicates to the Lord how you treasure it. That practice enhances the likelihood of your receiving further light."  (Richard G. Scott,"Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge," Ensign, Nov. 1993, 86–88).
I have devoted a whole section to this topic in Tip #15, so read on.

Make and Use Flashcards
An additional way in which you can use touch and sight to help you in your study is by making flashcards. Creating and using flashcards can be helpful for memorization, but I find that it is also a good way to drill the sense and importance of a particular reference into your mind.  Using flashcards is also an easy way to involve another person in your scripture study.

Use "Mind Mapping"
Another suggestion is to employ the "mind mapping" technique during, or shortly after, your scripture study.  A mind map is a diagram in which you start with a central concept or idea and then branch related subordinate concepts out of the central concept in an expanding web of ideas and connections.  "Mind maps attempt, visually and graphically, to portray a relationship of ideas or concepts" (Shamma, 2011).  Here is an example of a mind map that details the elements that go into making a good mind map:


 "Mind maps are an excellent way to help learners organize knowledge, to empower themselves to better comprehend the key concepts, and principles in lectures, readings, or other instructional materials" (McGriff, 2007).  What do you need to make your own mind map?  Tony Buzan (who coined the term "mind mapping") says that all you need are the following four ingredients:
  • Blank paper
  • Colored pens or pencils
  • Your brain
  • Your imagination
Surely the uses and benefits of mind mapping must also apply to scripture study.  The scriptures are filled with complicated ideas and imagery, much of which may not be entirely clear to you upon initial examination.  Mind mapping is a helpful way to pause and reflect and examine every facet of what you read in the scriptures, as we have been counseled to do:
“Ponder, [and] examine every word, every scriptural gem…Hold it up to the light, and turn it, look and see what’s reflected and refracted there…such an examination may unearth a treasure hidden in a field: a pearl of great price; a pearl beyond price” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Summer 1992 CES Satellite Broadcast, 4).
Mind mapping can help you unearth these treasures of knowledge by aiding you in making connections that may not have been apparent to you otherwise.  Mind mapping allows you to comprehend ideas, and to express yourself, both verbally and visually.  Mind mapping can also help you to retain what you have learned, and to more easily recall what you have learned when you need it.  "A recent study shows that students who [can] express their learning with visual skills [have] a 40 per cent higher retention rate than that of just verbal learners"(Shamma, 2011).  Mind mapping provides these unique benefits because, as researchers have found, "relating images to concepts is a creative task which requires thinking instead of memorizing" (Shamma, 2011).  In other words, mind mapping encourages you to use your creativity to think and ponder and reflect upon what you have learned instead of allowing you to use rote memorization as a crutch.  Not only will this creative approach greatly facilitate your ability to remember what you read in the scriptures but it will also help you to understand them on a much more profound level.  In addition to this, mind mapping is fun and easy and it doesn't take a lot of time, so I think that you will find it very useful as a learning tool (especially when it comes to developing a more comprehensive understanding of the scriptures).

Simple Visual Aids: Icons or Pictures
You can also make visual aids that incorporate simple symbols and pictures to help you to remember scriptures or scriptural concepts.  I will forever have a picture etched into my brain from seminary that the teacher used to help us remember the location of the ten commandments in the Old Testament.  He used a picture of two tablets, each tablet with a roman numeral ten on it like so:  X X.  Thanks to this simple, but effective, visual aid I will always know that the ten commandments are in Exodus chapter 20 (purists, I know they are repeated in Deuteronomy and elsewhere, leave me alone).  I imagine that you will find similar visual aids to be similarly helpful in your own study of the scriptures.

There are also a myriad of free scripture games, art, and study supplements available online, much of it provided by the LDS church.  Many homemade supplements can be found on sites like Pinterest, and some of them are quite excellent.

Maps, Charts, and Tables
It can be very helpful to examine a map to help you to establish a context for what you read.  Reading the scriptures with their geographical context in mind can help you to more fully understand and enjoy what you read and it can make the people and places come to life in your mind..  When studying the parable of the good Samaritan it is helpful to know where Jericho is in relationship to Jerusalem, especially in terms of relative distance and elevation.  It can help a lot to examine a map of Paul's journeys in order to understand who these people were with whom Paul lived, taught, and to whom he wrote letters.  For example, once you see where Corinth is located, and learn a little bit about the culture and history of that ancient city, you will see why it was such an important city and why Paul chose to stay there for a year and a half.

Charts and tables are an excellent way to separate and organize information of various types so that you can examine and process it, as well as compare and contrast it, in order to more fully comprehend the information.  Some charts and tables that might be useful in your studies include lists of the apostles, lists of the Roman emperors who reigned during the time of Christ and His apostles, a table of ancient weights and measures, a comparison of the epistle of James side-by-side with the sermon on the mount, a Book of Mormon chronology, and so on.  You can quickly and easily glean a great deal of useful information by examining maps, charts, and tables.


The Other Senses:
Smell and taste are a little harder to incorporate into your regular study of the scriptures.  I actually do not suggest eating or drinking while studying the scriptures, for two reasons.  First, eating and drinking can be an unnecessary distraction even on an average day, and it seems a little disrespectful to bring a snack to scripture study as if it was a baseball game or a movie.  Also, in cases in which we may seek to learn things of great importance by communion with God, it doesn't hurt to fast for that additional light and knowledge.  Second, food and drink pose a threat to your scriptures, whether they are print scriptures or even if they are on an electronic device.  Either way it isn't worth the risk of spilling and ruining your scriptures (or your device) just because you wanted a snack.

As for smell, try to keep your house clean, so the spirit will want to be there, but also so that you do not associate any bad smells with your time in the scriptures.  Our sense of smell uses the olfactory bulb which is part of the limbic system "an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it's sometimes called the "emotional brain," smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously."  (Sarah Dowdey, "How Smell Works", howstuffworks.com).  If you are creative, I am sure you can find ways to use this powerful memory-making tool to enhance your scripture study.  Perhaps by using a different fruit to represent a principle or a scripture that you wish to commit to memory.

There really is no limit to the things that you can do to make the scriptures fun while also inviting the spirit.  Use your brain--no really--use all of your brain, and all of your senses, to immerse yourself completely in the scriptures.  If you will do this, whole worlds of understanding will open up to you  which may have been closed to you before. Not only will you improve your ability to learn from and about the scriptures, but using these techniques will help you to learn how to learn which will help you in all aspects of your life.  And who knows?  If you are creative enough, you might even have some fun doing it!

Go on to the next tip:  Scripture Master Tip #8:  Quantity Often Leads to Quality

References

Heong, Y., Kiong, T., Mohamad, M., Mohammad, B., Othman, W., Yunos, J. (2012, October 17). The development and evaluation of the qualities of buzan mind mapping module.  Procedia-social and behavioral sciences, 59, 188-196. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.09.264

McGriff, S. (2007), "Instructional systems program", Pennsylvania State University, Vol. 62 No. 2, pp. 8-25.

Shamma, A. (2011)  The use of mind mapping to develop writing skills in uae schools.  Education, business, and society: Contemporary middle eastern issues, 4(2), 120-133.  doi:  10.1108/17537981111143855

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