Good discussions are rooted in good questions. Bad questions lead to bad discussion, but good questions can draw youth into the discussion and engage them in deep theological reflection. And don’t forget that if you do all the talking then it’s not really a discussion.
In part one of the Leading Discussions series, we explored Why Discuss and outlined the process of theological reflection and the questions which guide that process. Let’s build on that foundation as we think about how to ask good questions.
Here are some different types of questions:
- Closed Questions: These questions ask for specific answers. Where was Jesus born?
- Open Questions: These questions have more than one potential answer. Who knew who Jesus was?
- Interpretive Questions: These questions require students to make sense of information. Why was Jesus born?
- Thought Questions: These questions push beyond the information in the lesson. Why was his birth significant?
- Evaluation Questions: These questions cause youth to figure out the impact of something. What if Jesus had not been born?
- Application Questions: These questions explore how the topic impacts the youth’s life. Why does Jesus’ birth matter to you?
As leaders our hope is that discussion helps a younger youth to move from knowledge about a subject to comprehension and application. For older youth, we can even hope that they form core beliefs through analysis and evaluation. For youth to do this, we must move beyond simple questions of knowledge to questions of exploration. As you develop your discussion questions for your lesson, keep these movements in mind.
From What to Why
“What” represents the knowledge portion of the learning spectrum. “Who, what, when, where” are the beginnings of knowledge questions that can be found in the text, story, or lesson. These questions are important for discussion to make sure that everyone heard the story. However, the passing of information or the biblical story is just the foundation for learning. We want to move beyond “what” to “why.” “Why does this matter?” “How does this compare to …?” “Why does Jesus tell this story?” “What is the main point?” “Why this story matters” draws youth into the discussion. “Why” questions begin to engage the brain. At the “what” level we aren’t really discussing anything, we are simply regurgitating information given to us. At the “why” stage, we begin to explore and discuss the impact of the story.
From Why to How
If “why” is what draws us into the discussion, “how” is what draws the story to us. “How” invites youth to compare the story to their own lives and world. “How” explores God’s activity in the story and in our lives. “How does this happen today?” “Where do you see this story lived out in your world?” “When have you felt like …?” “Do you ever do …?” “Who do you identify with?” “How was God at work …?” “What does God desire from us?” “How” is an essential stage that connects the lesson or biblical story to their everyday lives.
From How to Now
Once youth have moved from “what” to “why” to “how,” they must explore what changes now. Now that they have this knowledge, what is different? “What would you do differently?” “What would happen if …?” “How can we prepare for …?” “What could be done to change?” “What is God calling you to do?” “How will you respond?”
Great discussions progress from “what we know” to “what we learned” to “how we will live differently because of this knowledge.”
One of the best tools for great discussion is engaging their questions. The lesson should have stirred up questions in them. If it has, you can be sure they will be interested in talking about their questions. At each stage, you can invite their questions into the discussion. Here are a few ways to do that:
- What was your “wow” moment in the lesson?
- What questions did the story raise for you?
- What did you not understand?
- What questions did the story make you think of about our community, country, or world?
- What questions do you have about how we can live this way?
Asking good questions and leading good discussion is an art. Becoming a good discussion group leader takes practice. Be sure to prepare your questions ahead of time and to think through ways to invite youth into the conversation. Discussion is an essential practice in teaching and theological reflection preparing for the discussion is just as important as preparing the teaching portion of the lesson.