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But What About Questions?

Given that this article is about asking questions, it seems obvious that we should begin with a question, doesn’t it? So the question is, could we agree that asking questions is a crucial tool in the toolbox of the educator?

Pause for a moment. Seriously. Pause and think about the question that was just asked.

Okay, I realize that asking you to “pause and think” was awkward, even contrived. But in a live teaching environment, that’s exactly what a wise teacher would have done. The teacher would have asked the question, then paused.



And what would have happened? You would have started to consider reasons why the statement might—or might not—be correct. Perhaps you might have even played a bit of pro/con. In other words, you would have engaged in critical thinking.

Now consider a different scenario. We could have started the article by saying, “Asking questions is a crucial tool in the toolbox of the educator.” If we had done that, how much thinking would most of us have been likely to do? Most of us would likely have done very little thinking, if any!

And that helps us to see one of the values of asking
questions: a good question can lead the learners to think.

So what is a “good” question? That’s a good question! (Yeah, you can groan.)  The answer is, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.  

If you want to check to see if the learners understand what the material says, a repeat or rephrase question may be in order. (You’ll find examples of all of these below.) If you're wanting to check for deeper understanding, comparison questions can be helpful. If you are wanting to encourage critical thinking, evaluate questions are useful. Create questions can accomplish a variety of goals.

Below are samples of each type of question, based on a
lesson on Luke 2:1-20.

Repeat or Rephrase
Questions:

  1. (Repeat the words of the passage.) Look at Luke 2:7. Where did Mary lay Jesus?
  2. (Rephrase the words of the passage.) How would you describe where Mary laid Jesus? 

Compare
Questions:

  1. (Compare two things, both of which the teacher provides.) Compare Jesus’ birth with your own birth.
  2. (Compare two things, only one of which the teacher provides.) Think of some other babies in the Bible who had unusual birth circumstances.

Evaluate
Questions:

  1.  (Prove the evaluation that the teacher provides.) Jesus being placed in a manger shows us that Jesus is humble. For what reasons would we say that?
  2.  (Evaluate) It makes total sense that Jesus was placed in a manger.

Create Questions:

  1. (The learner is asked to “create” something, which exhibits understanding or application.) Write a prayer thanking Jesus for his humility. (or) Decide on three ways we could exhibit humility in our lives. (or) Draw a picture of Jesus’ birth circumstances. (or) Write a stanza for a Christmas hymn to capture the truths regarding Jesus’ humble birth. (This activity is limited only by the bounds of the teacher’s creativity.)

No, the adult Bible study teacher probably doesn’t need to have each type of question in every lesson, but it’s valuable to check if you are using some variety. In adult education, type 1 questions (asking learners to repeat the exact words of the passage) are generally too simple. The adult Bible study teacher is generally better off telling the type 1 question and then following up with a deeper question.

For example, rather than asking, “Where was Jesus born?” the adult Bible study teacher is better off saying, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Perhaps we might have expected him to have been born in Jerusalem. Decide on two reasons we can be thankful that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.”

Let’s break that down. Yes, you could have asked, “Where was Jesus born?” But that type 1 question is generally too simple for most adults. They’ll either feel insulted or think there’s some detail, some “trick,” that they’re missing, so they likely won’t say anything. By contrast, if you say, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem,” that gets everyone on the same page. Then the teacher follows up with the more challenging, “Perhaps we might have expected him to have been born in Jerusalem. . . ." (That’s either a type 3 on steroids, where the learners are comparing Bethlehem and Jerusalem and taking it to a deeper level, or it’s a type 5 on steroids, where the teacher has given the evaluation [“we might have expected him to have been born in Jerusalem”] and asked the learners to prove it, again with a deeper twist.) The important thing isn’t that we can analyze the type of question; the important thing is that a challenging question has been asked.    

But we haven’t even discussed what is arguably the most important value of using questions while teaching. And what is that value? What is “arguably the most important value of using questions”? (Yep, I did it again.)

"Arguably the most important value of using questions” is that questions beg for answers. And when the teacher fields the answers, the teacher learns something critical: if the learners are actually learning the material. When a teacher is lecturing, learners can easily smile and nod their heads, and the teacher can think that they’re following along. Asking questions and soliciting answers will reveal if they really are. Are they “getting” what the material says? Are they “getting” what the material means for their lives? Questions—and answers—reveal that information!

And that’s critical! After all, the main goal of the teacher is for the learners to actually learn the material. Asking good questions—and soliciting answers—helps the teacher determine if that growth in knowledge is taking place! That makes asking questions a crucial tool in the teacher’s toolbox.

Blessings on your questions! May they bring wonderfully clear answers!

Professor Thomas Kock

Next time: What are open questions, and why are they so valuable?