With beginners, as you say, keep it simple! Considering we should teach them step by step, showing the connections, I introduce the Sila, Samadhi, Panna 'pyramid', showing how each one serves as a foundation for the latter -panna being at the top of the pyramid. This is a nice simple format, but detailed enough not to leave key bits out (vs 'just be mindful, that is) but not too complex for a beginner. Once they are well on their way to practicing those components (except perhaps vipassana, but generally doing samatha), I introduce the Noble Eightfold Path. This would include them going away and reading up on the N8FP if not the Maha catarisaka sutta (the latter tells you how to 'convert' any other path into the N8FP). So I would have them looking and evaluating their world view against mundane or supramundane right view. Leading on from that, what kind of intentions that gives rise to- intentions about how they keep their precepts, becoming a better person, becoming mindful, developing concentration, insight and release.
That in itself should keep them busy for most of their lives! I make it a point to encourage them to explore the suttas, review their own practice, be honest with themselves about their morality, mindfulness, concentration etc in comparison to the suttas (and with me, when they discuss their 'achievements'!). It's important not to let anyone feel they are lagging behind -I tend to remind them that it is not a competition (except perhaps, with themselves)and we all start where we start (you will develop your own style of doing this, I think). I even get them to read up a topic/sutta at home, ask them to ponder over it, have a think about how they can put it into practice and having done so, feedback to the class how they found the particular sutta/topic useful for their practice. Sri Lankan students have a tendency to faithfully listen to their teachers (without even asking a single question sometimes!) and then forget about it all once they leave the building
. So I have been emphasizing the need to not just listen to dhamma talks (that is, not just use them for 'spiritual entertainment'!) but rather listen to them as someone giving instructions for practice - that is actively ponder while listening to the talk how this can be 'converted' unto something that can be practiced. I cant say I have had perfect 'results' but at the end of the day everyone comes with their mixed bag of implements and people are more/less capable in different areas of practice. In any case what we need to do is to make sure they have 1) the right attitude towards the practice 2) the right intentions 3) adequate instruction on the practice techniques 4) some method/format to review their own practice 5) provide the theoretical framework, so that they are following a clear plan of practice (nyayapatipanno
)/other helpful bits of dhamma knowledge 6) be available when they need one to one time.
This is how I run the classes that I do - oh and be responsive to the needs of the group - so you may vary what you teach.