A guide to asking better questions that’ll help kids own their faith.
You may already know that questions help kids process what they’ve learned. But how do you know if you’re asking the right questions? That’s a little tougher.
Questions can help kids own their faith…or they can waste valuable lesson time. In the precious minutes you have with kids each week, are you asking questions that prompt them to think more deeply about their faith? Read on to discover what makes some questions ineffective—and how to replace them with questions that lead to thoughtful faith.
1. Nix Fill-in-the-Blank Questions
A fill-in-the-blank question is one where you have a specific, “correct” answer in mind, and kids must guess the exact word you’re looking for. Rather than kids thinking critically about what they’ve learned, they’re just trying to read your mind.
Example: On his blog, Holy Soup, Group founder Thom Schultz shared a video of a prime example of a fill-in-the-blank question. The teacher asks, “Who can tell me where Jesus was born?” For three minutes kids try to answer the question with ideas such as, “in the sky,” “Jerusalem,” and even “Bethlehem.” But, alas, the teacher was looking for the word “manger.”
Why Don’t They Work?
If you have a specific thought in mind, just tell kids. Having them try to guess what’s in your mind doesn’t help kids remember the lesson any better. Think about it—in the three minutes kids spent trying to guess the word “manger,” they could’ve been learning important truths. At best, these questions waste time that could’ve been spent in a real discussion. But an even greater risk: Kids walk away focused on their “wrong” answers rather than the point of the lesson.
Instead: Ask thinking questions.
A thinking question challenges kids—and you—to think about the Bible or faith in a new way. This type of question stands in stark contrast to fill-in-the-blank questions because there’s no specific answer in mind. Ideally, thinking questions are surprising, specific, and personal.
Example: Some Bible events especially lend themselves to thinking questions that help kids grapple with truth. For example, in Judges 11 Jephthah makes a promise to sacrifice the first thing that comes out to greet him as praise to God for giving him victory in battle. Sadly, his daughter ends up coming out to greet him before any animals do. For older kids, this is a great opportunity to grapple with a question such as, “What do you think is the right thing for Jephthah to do at this point?”
Why Thinking Questions Work:
Even kids well-versed in the Bible are engaged by a thinking question. These questions aren’t what they’ve heard over and over again because they’re surprising—there’s no single “right” answer. And guests who don’t know much about the Bible are equally engaged because they don’t have to know details of the Bible they haven’t learned. It’s simply expressing an opinion—and every child has one.
2. Don’t Ask Projection Questions
A projection question puts kids in someone else’s skin and has them guess why people acted or reacted the way they did or guess at what they were thinking.
Example: In children’s ministry, we tend to use projection questions a lot. They sound something like this: “Why do you think Moses didn’t want to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” or “How do you think Mary felt when she found out she was going to have baby Jesus?”
Why Don’t They Work?
Projection questions can end up leaving kids with false impressions about the Bible. If someone says Moses didn’t want to lead the Israelites because his real dream was to be a baseball player…kids may walk away thinking that’s what the Bible says. The reality is, we can never know what’s behind a person’s action, reaction, or thinking unless that person directly tells us.
Instead: Ask real-life questions.
A real-life question gets kids to connect to people in the Bible based on their personal life experiences. Kids may not know why Moses didn’t want to lead the Israelites, but they can probably think of a time they had to do something they didn’t want to do. And then they can respond to questions about motivation and reaction—because they know their motivation.
Example: Real-life questions often don’t end with question marks. An example might be, “Tell about a time you made a tough choice.” The challenge with real-life questions is to keep them broad enough to include all kids. A question such as, “Tell about a time your dad played a game with you” could leave out kids without a father figure to relate to. Avoid getting so specific that it’s too difficult for kids to think about an example. Like this one: “Tell about a time you had to make a tough choice and three people told you three different things to do and you asked an adult which choice to listen to and followed that adult’s advice.” Chances are if a real-life question gets that long, it’s too specific.
Why Real-Life Questions Work:
All people love to tell about themselves. These questions yield rich discussion, and even preschoolers can have a long conversation about their experiences. Plus, these questions connect the Bible to kids’ lives today. They help them see that the people in the Bible were real people, just like them.
3. Go Beyond Recall Questions.
A recall question is one which simply asks kids to regurgitate a fact they just learned. They’re the kind of questions you’d find in a trivia game. There’s no deep thinking involved, simply basic recall of information.
Example: This is another type of question it’s easy to get too comfortable with. Questions such as, “Who were Jesus’ disciples?” or “What did God create on the third day of creation?” are some commonly asked recall questions.
Why Don’t They Work?
If kids don’t know the answer, they look and feel dumb in front of their friends. And kids don’t want to look dumb, so those who aren’t as Bible-savvy avoid answering these questions. You’ll end up with the same two or three Bible-scholar kids answering every time.
Instead: Ask debriefing questions.
If you’re engaging kids in your lessons, you’re leading experiences that help kids learn and internalize the Bible passage and point. A debriefing question follows an experience or activity to help kids make discoveries about how what they just did connects to the Bible.
Example: Let’s say kids just played a game of Tag where the “Angels” need to tell everyone else (“Shepherds”) about Jesus being born. Once tagged and told, Shepherds join with the Angels in tagging and sharing the news. Debriefing questions might include: “How did you work together in this game to spread the news about Jesus? How is that like or unlike the way the angels and shepherds in the Bible spread the news?”
Why Debriefing Questions Work:
You can have the most fun, innovative, meaningful game of Tag ever known to children’s ministry—but if you don’t ask debriefing questions, kids will walk away remembering the fun but not the point. Debriefing questions let kids make discoveries rather than just hearing your summary of the point of the game. And kids are more likely to remember their discoveries. Plus, kids will often surprise you with the connections they make based on what they experienced.
4. Avoid Closed-Ended Questions.
A closed-ended question is a question that can be answered in one word. It might not be the same word for everyone, but kids won’t be able to give you more than a word or two in response.
Example: Yes or no questions, such as “Would you want to be on Noah’s ark?” or “Is there a place where God won’t see you?” are closed-ended. “Who” questions are usually closed-ended too, such as this one: “Who will you tell about Jesus this week?”
Why Don’t They Work?
Kids learn when they talk about things and engage in discussion. Closed-ended questions don’t yield discussion—in fact, they shut it down. Even if all your kids answer, if they’re each just saying “yes” or “no,” they’re not engaged and they’re not growing.
Instead: Ask open-ended questions.
Not surprisingly, an open-ended question is the exact opposite of a closed-ended question. Open-ended questions ask kids to think about the whys and hows. Kids probably couldn’t answer an open-ended question with one word if they tried.
Example: Sometimes, forming an openended question is really just a matter of rephrasing a closed-ended question so you’re more intentional about what you’re asking. For example, “Explain whether you’d like to be on Noah’s ark.” Here’s another example of an openended question: “Why do you or don’t you agree with this statement: God answers every prayer?”
Why Open-Ended Questions Work:
Kids can’t give a pat answer to an open-ended question. They have to be engaged in the discussion—and that means they’re growing in understanding.
5. Get Rid of Hypothetical Questions
These can also be called “credit card questions.” It’s when you ask a question where it’s easy for kids to give the “right” answer of what they know they’re supposed to do…regardless of whether they’d actually do that. It’s like charging something you have no intention of paying for.
Example: Usually these questions begin with “What would you do if…” Like this one: “What would you do if someone did something mean to you?” Or, we can put kids in such a hypothetical situation that they don’t even have any context to guess what they’d do. Like this one: “What would you do if you saw a bush that was on fire but not burning?”
Why Don’t They Work?
Anyone can say they’d react to a mean gesture with a kind response. And thinking about how you’d react to Moses’ burning bush is a complete wild guess. But these questions don’t get any real commitment out of kids, and they don’t really help them apply God’s Word to their lives.
Instead: Ask life-application questions.
A life-application question helps kids commit to action based on what they learned in the Bible. It gets beyond hypothetical answers and into real-life changes.
Example: Sometimes, changing the would to a could in a hypothetical question can make it a life-application question, provided the situation is one kids can identify with. You can also make it really practical, like this: “What’s one thing you’ll do this week to serve God?” or “How could we work together to tell others about Jesus?”
Why Life-Application Questions Work:
They do what hypothetical questions try and fail to do. They get kids thinking about how what they’ve learned applies to real life—but they lead kids to make commitments that lead to spiritual growth.
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