Asking Great Questions and Leading Great Discussion

Have you ever been in a group where the questions and discussion were so good that time had no meaning?  Things were so great that you looked at your watch and couldn’t believe it was time to go.  We’ve probably all experienced that at one time or another, but maybe not every time we engage in a Bible study.  Why is that kind of experience so hard to generate week after week?  Good discussion can make or break a group Bible study.

I recently taught a pre-conference workshop at the Teach The Bible For Life Conference held at LifeWay’s headquarters.  The conference featured keynote speakers George Guthrie and Richard Bredfelt. My particular workshop was given the title “Asking Great Questions and Leading Great Discussion,” and I’ll share with you what I shared with the 45 people in that workshop.  I hope you’ll find this helpful to you and your teaching ministry!

Consider the following quotes and what they say about the importance of conversation and good questions.  Do you have a favorite?

  • “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers” – Voltaire
  • “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions” – Peter Drucker
  • “The one who talks is the one who learns” – Karen Dockrey, author & LifeWay editor
  • “Conversation is the laboratory and workshop of the student” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Yakety-Yak Principle says that people learn better when they discuss what they are learning (Teaching the Bible Creatively, p.61).  If you want to get your group members talking, consider asking a balance of the types of questions below:

  1. Icebreaker – this kind of question should be answered by each person in the group, and it shouldn’t be overly spiritual.  Why?  Because you want everyone to have a “win” and have success answering this first question in the group meeting.  Even a non-spiritual person should be able to answer this kind of question, and do it with ease.  Answering this question should encourage the person to answer more questions later in the lesson, and that’s very good for group dynamics.
  2. Bridge – similar to an icebreaker question, the second question a group leader asks has more of a spiritual implication and begins to direct people’s attention to the lesson topic and the main point of the lesson. It is still answerable by everyone in the group, but is carefully crafted to turn people’s attention ever-so-subtley  toward the heart of the lesson.
  3. Closed – questions are “closed” questions when there is only one right answer, such as “Who is Jesus’ mother?”  These kinds of questions will not normally generate much discussion.  If you ask lots of these kinds of questions, you’ll get lots of stares and long periods of silence.  Sometimes the answers are so obvious that people feel silly even answering a closed question.  Use these sparingly!
  4. Open – the opposite of closed questions, open questions have multiple potential right answers and encourage group discussion.  Are these more dangerous for the group leader? Yes!  That’s because a well-crafted open question may generate answers the leader hasn’t (or can’t anticipate). Lots of thinking on your feet with this kind of question.
  5. Textbased – these questions drive people back to the lesson passage to discover the answer, or to the source material for the lesson (a video, a book, etc).  These are usually very factual in nature, like “What did Paul say in verse 3?” and “What does I Corinthians chapter 12 say about spiritual gifts?”  I imagine many teachers ask this kind of question…alot.  Remember to use some of the other kinds of questions and maintain a balance.
  6. Experiencebased – these questions ask people to draw on their own experiences to answer them. These can generate lots of discussion as people share their stories and how they intersect with biblical truth.
  7. Emotional – these cause people to reflect and share how they felt during a certain situation. An example of this would be, “When you went through a recent crisis, what kinds of feelings came over you?” or “What kinds of emotions did you feel when you realized the cancer was in remission?”  The answers to emotional questions give people a chance to bring lots of deep feelings to the surface.  Use sparingly, and be prepared to deal with some emotional responses.  You may have to stop and pastor on the spot.

“I am convinced that depth in learning God’s Word is often directly related to how much people interact on a personal level as they discover, wrestle, and apply principles from the text to their lives” (Heart Deep Teaching, p127).  As you craft your next Bible study, consider using a balance of questions like the ones above.  Don’t err by asking mostly text-based questions, or by asking closed questions. Become an expert in balancing the kinds of questions that get groups talking.  Balance is the key if you want to get people talking so that great discussion takes place.

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One thought on “Asking Great Questions and Leading Great Discussion

  1. A thorough academic treatment of discussion can be found in the book Discussion as a Way of Teaching by Brookfield and Preskill: http://www.amazon.com/Discussion-Way-Teaching-Techniques-Democratic/dp/0787978086/ I captured a less academic approach citing their work in my little book Discover Triad (www.lifeway.com/davidfrancis for free download). One of their key points related to discussion: advanced preparation on the part of the group participants makes for better discussion that is relevant to the text that is at the center of the conversation. Great stuff, Ken!

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