Asking Good Questions in Bible Study

What are your memories of Bible study class when you were growing up? I remember small hot classrooms, Bible drills, and the joy of having one particular teacher who knew how to ask good questions. This teacher managed to create lively discussion in almost every Bible study session. Any topic, no matter how risky, was open for comment. Thinking back, it seems the magic in those sessions came from the teachers’ ability to ask good questions and his interest in comments from each person. He expected and received participation and attention from everyone.

Asking good questions communicates at least two things to learners. First, it says they are valued. It sends the message that each person has valuable contributions to the group. We must always remember that learners can “teach” each other in ways we can’t. Second, asking good questions says that the leader wants to hear what the learners think. Participants often have a fresh perspective on topics and will share if asked. Their unique perspective can and often will produce new insights and areas of conversation for the entire group.

Instead of allowing those people who rarely volunteer a response to either (a) sleep through the session or (b) continue to feel like they have nothing to contribute, you might want to try a few of these suggestions.

Let the learner know that everyone is expected to contribute. When you get the “I don’t know” response, ask them to think about it and tell them that you will come back to them. Then make sure you do. Or, rephrase the question and assure them that what they think is important. Remember, personality research shows that, for some personality types, the best responses come after the person has had time to think and formulate a response. Other personality types may quickly shout out a response and do their best thinking by talking through their responses aloud. A good teacher will allow time and space for various thinking styles.

Put some of the more talkative learners “on hold” to allow the quieter students to have some air time. A “round robin” style of discussion can allow everyone an opportunity to speak. And often, once it is clear that each person is a valuable contributor to the discussion, the learners are more willing to speak up and to share their ideas.

Don’t hinder discussions by suggesting there is one right answer. Very often, the best questions have many correct answers. The most insightful response you hear may be one that is genuinely new and fresh––one you have not even thought a possibility. Remember, even though some of your learners never speak, even though many of them answer questions with “I don’t know,” even though a few of them just sit with a blank stare––every person in your group has important ideas to offer and contributions to make. Rather than face the discomfort of those quiet or awkward moments, we too often simply move on to a person we know will have an answer.

So what are good questions?

• Good questions are open-ended. Questions that can be answered with a quick “yes” or “no” are discussion dead ends. The same goes for questions that can be answered with rote memorization or clichés.

• Good questions require learners to synthesize what they have read or heard and to relate that information to what they already know or have experienced.

• Good questions begin with words like “What might be the reason that…” and “What do you think Paul might have been feeling when he said…”

• Good questions in Bible study help people connect with the biblical story. Anytime we can help learners see these ancient verses are relevant to their lives, we have succeeded.

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