What did Jesus call the teachers in the Temple? What did the woman at the well say? And then what happened? I can’t tell you the number of times I have opened a curriculum to find it filled with this basic-level questions. It isn’t always obvious what connects these questions, but once you get the idea, you’ll be able to spot them easily and use them well.
What They Are
These questions are what I call “Parrot Questions” because they ask students to repeat back what they’ve just heard. The only thought involved in answering these questions is recalling what you just read or said. They will do things like walk a student back through the story they just heard recalling events and statements made. When referring to a teaching instead of a Bible passage, they are often used to recall main points or ideas expressed by the teacher.
How They Can Go Bad
These require the absolute least mental involvement of the students present. If a curriculum (or discussion sheet) is filled with these parrot questions, the discussion will likely go nowhere. Not only that, students used to processing at higher levels in school will quickly become bored with constantly parroting back that which was obvious.
Even more troubling about curriculum that focuses on these questions is that this expresses a very low view of the student in the teaching moment. Curriculum designed like this generally sees the students as not having the mental capacity to discover truths and life applications on their own. Instead, they are seen as blank slates or empty vessels that need to be filled by a person with all the knowledge and answers.
This does not create an interesting or engaging environment for the students as we are basically asking them to be quiet and commit all the teacher’s ideas to memory without reflecting on them. Students sense this instinctively and will quickly disengage and often stop answering altogether.
How to Use Them Well
Parrot questions can be useful when used carefully and sparingly. These questions are focused on recalling information, and there are three instances when recalling information is useful in the teaching moment.
The first, and most common, use is when there was a detail or point that is central to processing the lesson correctly. Like it or not, sometimes your students get distracted at the very moment they need to be listening. If your lesson hinges on a specific idea or piece of information, start the discussion with a parrot question to make sure everyone heard the key point.
These questions are also very useful when you are engaging with a complicated story or argument. Sometimes you choose a passage from the Bible that is more involved than all of your students can process easily. In this case, parrot questions that focus on recalling the main points in a chapter or story can make sure you are starting your discussion with everyone on the same page.
The last, and hopefully least common, reason is to make sure students tracked with a long teaching. Say you have a guest speaker you know is going to talk for an hour. If that is the case, you will want to use a couple of parrot questions before your discussion to make sure they tracked all the way to the end.
Whether you are using them to process a complicated story or your pastor’s WAY too long teaching time, we want you to use them well. However, venture into these dangerous waters carefully and sparingly so that you steer clear of allowing these parrot questions to kill your discussion.