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October 29, 2010

Visual Learners in Small Groups

Exploring how they feel and what they need.


Let's get back to our in-depth discussion on the impact of learning styles in small groups. Click here if you missed the overview of the VARK Learning Styles method, and click here to see an overview of the Visual Learning Style.

Right now I'd like to discuss how Visual Learners are impacted within a small group.

How They Feel
First things first—Visual Learners don't get much attention from traditional small groups. And it starts with curriculum.

Visual Learners love looking at charts, graphs, diagrams—any kind of image that visually organizes data and concepts. But very few small-group Bible studies include anything like that. Nor do many studies attempt to structure their material in a way that is visually interesting or organized.

The primary reason for this is that small groups are almost entirely based on talking. Think about it—fellowship, discussion, prayer requests, questions and answers, and even worship are based on talking. It's all ears and mouths, with no eyes.

That isn't to say that Visual Learners in your small group don't like talking, or that they can't learn through listening, or that they don't enjoy participating in a discussion. But it does mean that they could be more stimulated and would probably retain more of what they hear if your group included a wider variety of activities.

How to Help
That being the case, here are some ways you as a small-group leader can make Visual Learners more comfortable and more engaged:

  • Find visual aids. You need to make an effort to find visual aids that supplement whatever curriculum or Bible study your group is following. And if you can't find any, you can produce your own charts, graphs, diagrams—anything that puts a visual structure to facts and ideas. (Another good idea is to have your visual learners produce their own chart or diagram during the group meeting.)
  • Craft time. Visual learners enjoy expressing themselves artistically, so add an "arts and crafts" element to your small group every now and then. Bring in crayons and colored pencils and ask the group to draw something, or bring in Play Doh and have them sculpt something. Of course, it won't help to have them create something random—make sure it is connected to the group's topic of discussion.
  • Use multimedia. See if you can identify a movie clip or YouTube video that would effectively illustrate the concept or idea your group will be discussing. Or have your group members search for one on their iPhones during the discussion.
  • Emphasize the visual in Scripture. There are large portions of the Bible that are very visual—especially the Psalms, the Prophets, and apocalyptic texts like Revelation. When you notice a text that is heavy on visual elements, be sure to call them out. Make the visual nature of the verses be a large part of the discussion.

What about you? What other ideas or tips have you used to inspire and involve Visual Learners in your small group?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 12:00 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

October 22, 2010

Learning Styles: Visual Learners

Get a detailed look at the visual learning style.


We are in the middle of an in-depth discussion on the impact of learning styles on small groups. Click here if you missed the overview of the VARK Learning Styles method, which is the one we'll be focusing on.

This post is focused on Visual Learners.

Gimme a V!
People with a visual learning style prefer to perceive information through their eyes. They like it when facts and ideas are organized visually into charts, graphs, diagrams, and maps. They often communicate their thoughts through similes and metaphors that rely on images—"I was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs," for example.

Visual learners are also good at spatial recognition. They are aware of their physical surroundings and are able to visualize the layout of rooms and buildings. They are skilled at working with shapes and objects, even to the point of rotating and manipulating them in their mind's eye.

Visual learners often enjoy expressing themselves artistically through drawing, painting, sculpting, etc. If they are forced to sit and listen to a lecture or take notes, you may catch them doodling shapes and patterns on their paper, instead.

A Few More Clues
Here are some other cues and clues that may help you recognize a visual learner:

  • If you asked a visual learner for directions, he would probably draw you a map.
  • When a visual learner orders food at a restaurant, she prefers looking at the pictures on a menu, or at meals being eaten at the other tables.
  • Visual learners gravitate toward books with color illustrations and complicated diagrams.
  • Documents and presentations put together by a visual learner will use a wide variety of fonts, colors, images, and graphs.
  • A Bible owned by a visual learner may be highlighted in different colors as a method of taking notes.
  • Visual learners often use these words and phrases: "vision," "view," "I'm trying to visualize," "see the point," "draw up," and so on.

Stay tuned for the next post, where we'll discuss what visual learners need from a small group.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 8:35 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

October 19, 2010

Little Help: Making Small Groups Fun

Help me plan out an upcoming resource for


As you may or may not know, one of my jobs as the editor of is putting together downloadable training resources designed to assist churches and small-group leaders. (You can find them here, if you've never experienced one before.)

When I tell people about my job, one of the first questions they usually ask is, "So do you write all that stuff yourself?" Thankfully, the answer is no. We have a great team of people who love small groups and small-group ministry that I can call on to write most of the content in our training resources.

But I was thinking the other day that I do take on most of the planning for these downloads by myself. And I'm not sure that's a great idea—two minds being better than one, and all that.

So I'm going to do a little experiment on the blog here. One of the upcoming downloads I will be working on is called "Make Your Small Group Fun!" What we hope to accomplish is provide churches and small-group leaders with articles that explain the value of fun within a community experience, and also practical tips on how to incorporate fun into the groups themselves.

Here's what I have thought of so far:

  • A broad overview article on the value of fun in a small group.
  • An article on how to celebrate before the Lord and worship in a fun way.
  • An article with tips on how to inject fun into group discussions.
  • Ways to serve as a small group that are fun and exciting.

I'm still working on the rest of the content, but I thought: Why not open things up to the readers and see what they think?

So—what do you think? What is missing? What would you like to see in a resource that helps make small groups more fun? What are you doing well that you think could be taught/transferred to others?

If you have any opinions, just drop a note in the Comments section below. And then keep an eye out for this resource when it goes online!

posted by Sam O'Neal at 4:26 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

October 15, 2010

Learning Styles: Time for an Overview

A broad look at what Learning Styles are and the model we will be exploring


I meant to get to this a little earlier this week, but late is better than never, right? In any case, we are beginning an in-depth exploration of Learning Styles and how they impact both small-group leaders and small-group members.

I'd like to start with a broad overview of Learning Styles in general.

Learning styles refer to how a person perceives and processes information.

  • "Perceive" refers to how data enters into a person's brain—meaning, sight, smell, sound, or touch.

  • "Process" refers to what the brain does with that information after it has been perceived. It's how the brain interprets, organizes, stores, and uses data.

When it comes to categorizing and understanding the learning styles of human beings, there are dozens of different models that have been developed over the years (many of which are very scholarly and the opposite of user friendly). But I prefer to focus on the VARK model because it makes a lot of sense and, frankly, is easy to both understand and apply.

Gimme a V-A-R-K!
The VARK model of learning styles was developed by Neil Fleming, who is a professor and educational theorist currently living in New Zealand. It focuses on four distinct learning styles:

  1. Visual learners
  2. Auditory learners
  3. Reading/writing learners
  4. Kinesthetic learners

We will discuss each of the different styles in depth over the next several weeks, although you can guess a lot about each style based on the name. Also, I should have mentioned this earlier, but VARK is just the first letter of each of the four learning styles. (You already figured that out, I know.)

In addition to the four VARK styles, we will also be talking about Social Learners and Solitary Learners—a distinction that makes a big difference when it comes to attendance and participation in small groups.

Dominant and Secondary
It's important to note that just about everyone is able to operate in all four of the different learning styles. Chances are good that all of your small-group members will be able to perceive and process information through site (visual), sound (auditory), reading/writing, and touch (kinesthetic).

But each of us has a dominant learning style—a primary method that we prefer to use when we learn. This is the way that we unconsciously approach and interpret the world. And, as small-group leaders, this is the way that we primarily attempt to lead and teach others.

Most people have a secondary learning style, as well. They are not as comfortable with their secondary style as they are with their dominant style, but they can learn and interact well just the same.

Okay, I think that's enough for this session. Come back early next week where we will take an in-depth look at what it means to be a Visual Learner.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 3:20 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

October 11, 2010

Learning About Learning Styles

Get ready for some in-depth exploration in the coming weeks.


I am a teacher at heart, and I've been feeling the urge lately to explore an important topic on a deeper level—with the goal of providing small-group leaders with some useful insight and good conversation. And since I have full control over this blog, I think I will do just that. (Cue a mad-scientist kind of laugh.)

So, over the next several weeks I will be taking an extended look at learning styles and how they impact small groups. (You probably guessed that from the title of this post, huh?) Here's a tentative schedule of how the posts might shake out:

1. An overview of learning styles and the VARK model
2. Understanding Visual Learners
3. What visual learners need in a small group
4. Understanding Auditory Learners
5. What auditory learners need in a small group
6. Understanding Reading/Writing Learners
7. What reading/writing learners need in a small group
8. Understanding Kinesthetic Learners
9. What kinesthetic learners need in a small group
10. How to engage multiple learning styles in a small group

I plan on getting started later this week, but I wanted to pause a moment and open the door for any feedback you may have before I do so. Does this look interesting? Is there anything missing that you would like me to explore or explain?

Feel free to pitch in with your comments, and I really look forward to exploring this subject together!

posted by Sam O'Neal at 9:45 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

October 6, 2010

The Four Stages of Group Development

Get a better understanding of what your group members are experiencing, and what they need.


Our newest featured download Evaluations for Small-Group Leaders is filled with great assessments and tools for groups and group leaders. One of my favorite is written by Carolyn Taketa, who talks about the four stages of development in all small groups.

Those stages are: 1) Forming, 2) Engaging, 3) Maturing, and 4) Transitioning.

Here is a brief overview of each one:

  • The Forming Stage. In the forming stage, people are connecting for the first time, checking out the group, and figuring out if this is a place where they can belong and grow. They are evaluating the leader, other members, the purpose of the group, and its expectations in order to determine whether this group will be worth their time and effort. The leader's prayers, preparations, and follow-up with potential members are vital at this stage. In addition, a welcoming, gracious, and encouraging environment where people have opportunities to get to know each other helps the group start off strong.
  • The Engaging Stage. In the engaging stage, group members are learning more about one another and starting to trust each other. Commitment to the group increases as friendships continue to grow. Members share increasingly more personal issues, support each other, and care for one another's needs. Unity is strengthened and a sense of "us" begins to emerge. As people become more open and authentic with one another in this stage, personality conflicts or clashes of opinions may arise. When such conflicts are handled with gentleness, truth, and grace, the group will be propelled to deeper levels of love for one another.
  • The Maturing Stage. In the maturing stage, members know and accept one another, recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of each person. The group is cohesive, mutual respect is high, and members are interdependent. Desire for personal spiritual growth and greater missional purpose drives the group's relationships and activities. The group goes "beyond itself" to reach out to nonbelievers and show God's love to those in need. Members regularly engage in spiritual disciplines and understand the role of the group in their spiritual development. The group consistently looks for ways to encourage and hold each other accountable in their commitments toward change.
  • The Transitioning Stage. In the transitional stage, the group begins to disband for any number of natural reasons (most of which are listed below). Group members reflect and rejoice over the ways God has used the group to help them grow and be a blessing to others. While some friendships will flourish beyond the group and others will end, the impact of the group on the members' lives will endure.

Interesting, huh? The nice thing about Carolyn's assessment in the aforementioned download is that it helps you identify what stage your group is in, but also whether or not your group is thriving in that stage.

And if you've made it this far, why not post a comment and let us know what stage you would guess your small group to be in?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 8:24 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)