Teaching Tip: Don’t Use the 5 Questions That Kill Discussion

Today’s blog post is an excerpt from my friend Sam O’ Neal’s wonderful book Field Guide for Small Groups. In it Sam explains the kinds of questions that kill discussion in groups. I’ve found his suggestions to be accurate, and his descriptions of bad questions to be true. I hope you’ll find this excerpt helpful to you as you lead your group to study and discuss the rich contents found in the Bible passages you study each week.

I mentioned earlier that closed questions have the potential to ‘close the door’ on a meaningful discussion. Alas, they are not the only ones. There are several different types of questions that can kill almost any discussion in just about any small group. I’ve listed some of the most common below.

Idiot questions. There are questions that have extremely obvious answers – so obvious that only an idiot could get them wrong. Unfortunately, many small group leaders are fond of these types of questions.

Unreasonable questions. These questions fall at the opposite end of the spectrum in that their answers are unreasonably complicated or obscure. These are the questions no one in the group will be able to answer unless they speak Hebrew or have access to a biblical commentary.

Long-winded questions. Sometimes the structure of a discussion question – the way it’s written or asked – can result in confusion among small group members. This often happens when someone attempts to squeeze a lot of information into a question, causing it to be overly long, or when a question requires some extra explanation in order to be understood.

Compound questions. Compound questions are a variation of long-winded questions. Instead of packing a lot of information into a single query, group leaders will sometimes stack three or more questions together, rapid-fire, when those questions address a similar subject. What usually happens in these situations is that someone will answer the last question in the series, and preceding questions will be largely ignored.

Leading-the-witness questions. Some questions are phrased in such a way that it’s obvious the group leader wants to steer discussion in a specific direction…Group leaders who ask these kinds of questions behave like sheep dogs attempting to herd other people toward their way of thinking.

-From Field Guide for Small Groups, pp.113-115

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