Have you ever asked your students a question and, instead of enthusiastic discussion, you are confronted with deafening silence? “What was wrong with my question?” you ask yourself.

Here are five tips for creating discussion questions and getting chins wagging:

#1 Limit questions about motive

Perhaps the most natural question for a teacher to ask is “why?” It is, however, the one question least likely to illicit a response. This is especially true for younger students. If you ask an eight grade boy why he climbed into the ceiling, he may not be able to think of any reason. The same is true when you ask why someone in Bible did something.

Alternatives: Ask about causes and effects (“what effect do you think [insert decision/action] would have on [people/situation]?”) or about advantages and disadvantages (“In what ways would doing such and such benefit so and so?”)

#2 Avoid asking questions with only one right answer (that you already know and that they know you know).

If, upon asking the question, everyone stares at you expectantly, then it is pretty certain that they expect you, not they, to supply the answer. This is supposed to be a discussion not a quiz. If you must ask something about the text that is more factual, preface the question with “what do you think…?” or some way that indicates that their opinion is involved and not only their memory.

#3 Ask hypothetical questions.

Scenarios are excellent discussion starters. They also allow for people to speak hypothetically. Try placing your students in the story by asking them what they would do if they were Daniel, Paul or the blind man.

#4 Give time to think.

Sometimes questions have to be thought about for quite a while before an answer is forthcoming. If you know your group is slow to speak, then allow the painful silence to linger. If this is too much for you then say the question and ask them to talk about it in pairs before discussiong it as a group.

#5 Preface questions with motives to speak.

Sometimes your group will need to feel that providing an answer to the question will help you, the teacher. Preface some of your questions with your own personal interest. Try beginning with “I’m curious to know what you all think about….” or “I was wondering about….” or “I’m really interested in… but I can’t seem to understand…. could you help me figure it out?”

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