Asking Questions Students Will Answer

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Awkward Silence.  That is the most common response to questions asked in Sunday School classes across the country, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  There are some simple discussion tips that can get the lips of the students moving and their brains processing what is being taught!

I cannot claim that any of this content is totally unique.  You can find some version of this in almost every youth minisitry book that includes a section on leading discussion.  With that disclaimer, here’s my standard discussion tips:

  1. Wait it out — Ask a question and then wait (however long it takes) until someone offers an answer… they’ll let you talk if you don’t wait.  This is the number one mistake that people make when trying to get students to talk.  The first time or two, there will be uncomfortable silence.  Then, someone will ask you to restate the question.  Eventually someone will answer, and I don’t know is not enough… you are looking for real content.  If they don’t know, ask them what is difficult to understand, etc.
  2. Ask questions concerning family/siblings — sometimes bringing the discussion around to family will give them lots of practical application to talk about.  If you are talking about envy ask, “What is something you have envied of your brother’s/sister’s?”
  3. Open Ended Questions:  As questions that do not prompt a yes or no answer.  These questions often start with words like “how,” or “why.” Adding “why or why not” to the end of a question does not make it open ended, and usually won’t work with a group that is not engaging.

Creative Types of questions:

  1. The devotional question  This is the basic level, most materials you will use will have questions printed in them to start group discussions. These are a place to start, but are often grossly inadequate because of the datedness of the authors or because no resource will match every culture.
  2. Emotional Questions:  Many times students will begin to use the “I don’t know” escape. Students may answer “I don’t know” for many reasons; laziness, embarrassment, coolness, or even misunderstanding. Most often a student will answer this way because they are afraid to get the “wrong” answer. When rephrasing the questions doesn’t help, use an emotional question that will take the “correctness” out of the answer. Ask a student how they “feel” about a relative issue. Try creating a hypothetical situation that a student can personally find him or herself in. Then, guide them in connecting the original questions with the hypothetical situation.
  3. Interview Questions: If students are having a problem opening up to a whole group, especially when some strong personality types are acting out, try pairing the students up and have them interview each other with the questions you have, taking turns asking and responding. After they finish interviewing each other, go around the room and have each pair share some of their comments. This is especially good when the group is new and everyone is a little shy. Be Careful: This question can turn into a free for all gossip or chit chat time within the group. Limit the time, and when you can see that several groups are finished, bring everyone back together… don’t wait for everyone to finish their interviews!
  4. Group Creativity Questions: This works especially well if you have a very artsy, creative group. If analytical discussion is failing you, allow the group to answer questions creativity be creating skits, songs, poems, drawings, etc. This not only allows for more interesting interaction between students, but it allows them to use 0their gifts as ministry.
  5. Consensus Questions: Sometimes the best thing you can do for discussion is to get out of the leadership role. Ask non-feeling related questions to the group, and give them a set amount of time to come to a consensus. Make sure that these questions are broad questions like: Who did the right thing in this story, etc
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When he is not playing with his four children with his wonderful wife, Jeremy oversees children, youth, and college ministries in addition to leading the evening worship service at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, Al. He is passionate about reaching people with the message of Jesus in a way that engages them with the movement of God. Jeremy is the Senior Editor of the Seedbed Youth Ministry Collective and the author of Reclaiming the Lost Soul of Youth Ministry. You can find a list of all his books, articles and resources for churches at his website: JeremyWords.com

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