Most of us use questions as a framework for leading a Bible study group. We may examine several questions in search of that perfect one for that particular study. How do we determine if a question is good or not? Here are five characteristics that make up a good question.
A good teaching plan will have questions strategically placed so that the right question is asked at the right time for the right reasons. A question can invite a learner into the learning process (why should I study this?), define a focus for the group (what is the issue we will examine?), direct learner discovery (what does it say?), help the learner process the content (what does it mean?), or challenge the learner to practice what they discovered (what do I do now?). These five actions usually happen in the listed order. Good questions are part of a large set of questions that move the learner through the learning process so they can take action.
- Open, but with direction
Open questions require more than a “yes” or “no” answer, a number of times answer, or a Jesus/pray/read your Bible answer. Closed questions have their place, as long as they are followed by an open question that requires thought and reflection. At the same time, good questions have a direction in mind. Asking, “What stands out to you in this passage?” may generate discussion, but this question lacks direction and violates the strategic rule. Asking a question like, “Are you more like Mary or Martha?” and pointing to factors that justify your selection is a closed question (more like Mary or Martha), but it opens the door for an open question (by pointing to factors). That requires the person to identify who Mary and Martha are, what sets them apart, and which one they most identify with and why. One could guess that the next question in that set will be looking at the words Jesus had for both and how that applies to the person who answered.
- Guided, but not leading
Guided questions help keep the discussion and lesson on track. We are guiding the group toward understanding a specific truth or concept so they will respond based upon that specific understanding. We are not leading them to make the same prescriptive response. Here is a guided, but leading question example: “Don’t you think we should follow Paul’s directive and provide financial support for the local orphan placement organization?” In this example, the person really can’t say “no” without looking bad. Here is a guided, but not leading question example: “How can we actively care for orphans and widows in our community today?” The people answering this question may suggest supporting a local organization, or they may propose actions we would have never considered placing in front of the group.
- Encourage higher levels of thinking
Not all questions are created equal. A question that facilitates critical thinking and processing is of more value than a “got it” question (questions that are usually fact-based and a repetition of content presented by the lecturer). Critical thinking adds breadth and depth to the discussion and lesson. Here is a “got it” question: “How many times did Paul use the word ‘believe’ in this passage?” Not much thinking is required to answer this. A better question might be: “What is the significance of Paul using the word ‘believe’ in this passage, and how does it compare to how he used the word in the previous chapter?”
A word of caution here. We sometimes confuse substituting ourselves or our feelings in a Bible scene as encouraging higher levels of thinking. Questions like, “How do you think Joseph felt?”, “If you had been Joseph, what would you have done?”, and “How does this event make you feel?” reflect our laziness in crafting good questions. “When have you faced a similar situation?”, “How did your emotions compare to the emotions expressed by Joseph?”, or “How did your response compare to Joseph’s response?” are the kinds of questions that foster higher levels of thinking.
A great question will empower the learner to think and become an active part of the learning/discovery process. We are giving permission to explore, discover, organize, postulate, and process. One reason a lecture can be suffocating is the learner is rarely given permission (empowered) to do anything beyond listen. Learners need to know it is OK to go beyond the facts to the meaning and application of a particular truth. Good questions set them up to do so.
Using these five markers, how do you evaluate the questions you asked in the last Bible study group you led? What changes do you need to make to the types of questions you include in your group plan?