When I was taking education courses, a special education professor told our whole class that the most important teaching technique we needed to be successful was the art of asking questions. The statistics and acronyms I learned in that class are a jumble in my mind, but mastering this technique has been a real game changer in my teaching and leadership. Asking questions is what can take your lesson from being a nice story to something the children in your class (even kindergartners) wrestle with and learn to apply in their lives.
The Right Questions
Truly transforming questions are not asking about facts. Asking a kindergarten student “How many days were Noah and the animals on the ark?” might draw many children to answer. However, asking questions like “How do you think Noah felt being on the ark for so long?” is going to spur more conversation and draw the children in your class deeper into the lesson than factual questioning ever could.
The right questions are questions that make a child stop and think a moment before responding. If you are teaching about Noah and the flood, asking how Noah felt or how they would feel when they saw the rainbow in the sky could launch a whole discussion about God’s promises vs. human promises- How do you feel when someone makes a promise to you? Do people sometimes fail to keep their promises? Does God? What makes you think that? Susie, what do you think of what Jason just shared?
Keeping the Tone Safe
What is a safe tone? It is a feeling in the classroom that the children can share their thoughts and not be ridiculed or interrogated. If they respond to a question in a way that you feel is biblically inaccurate or off track, you gently correct or re-direct them. Saying things like “I can understand why you might think that way, but the Bible teaches that…” allows children to feel safe to share their thoughts. If you ask a child a follow up question (to get more understanding about what they shared), you ask in a gentle, non threatening tone, telling the child you are truly interested in what they have to say.
Keeping the Discussion Moving
No matter how engaging the question, if you spend twenty minutes letting every child answer a question, you will lose the rest of the class. Kids are just not wired for listening that long. Two or three responses per question is plenty, particularly if you have a chatty student. The key is to not keep calling on the same kids. This might mean asking a child who hasn’t responded yet a question directly. Be careful with this as some children with learning challenges may freeze when they are asked a question. I try to make sure the direct questions I ask are a little softer- “Jason, Sally just said that she thinks God always keeps his promises, do you agree with her?”
This is my favorite part of teaching Sunday School. These are the questions that take the story out of the lesson and place it squarely in the real world. It is asking questions like “When is it hard for you to be honest? What can you do to follow the model of [insert Bible character]?” Sometimes these application questions work as a class discussion. Sometimes, I ask the kids (particularly older kids) to write or draw about a question in their prayer journals. This allows them time and space to really consider the question and bring it to God in a form of prayer.
Asking good questions can be the difference between a nice lesson the children forget the moment they leave your classroom space and something that draws the children in our midst closer to God.
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