Asking good questions is essential to life and ministry. They expose assumptions. Questions reveal stories. They offer insight and feedback. They engage learners and apply truth in a non-confrontational way. We need good questions!
If you’re going to teach, if you’re going to understand, if you’re going to provoke discussion, you must learn to ask good questions.
How to Ask Good Questions
Asking good, conversation-stirring questions isn’t easy. In fact, Em Griffin asserts, “An effective discussion takes more preparation time than a speech.” ((Em Griffin, Getting Together: A Guide for Good Groups (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1982), 103.)) But if you work at it, you’ll quickly find the fruit was worth the extra labor. So let’s take a look.
To get a robust discussion going, here are three good principles to follow from Em Griffin.
- Ask questions with no right answer.
People are hesitant to answer when there’s a chance they may be wrong. If you’re trying to get the ball rolling, start with an opinion question.
- Ask questions that make them experts.
Ask a question your group would feel confident to answer. For students, you could ask: “What makes a teacher annoying?” This is sure to elicit some candid and lively responses.
- Ask questions that use vivid imagery.
When you’re about to ask a question, set the stage well. Give an elaborate scenario that gets their imaginations going. For example: “Imagine it’s Monday morning. You’re tired and you barely caught the bus. You sit down right as the bell rings, only to find out you have a pop quiz. You start to panic but manage to answer most of the questions fairly well. Your friend behind you is panicking too. He leans forwards and in a hushed whisper asks if he can see your answers. What would be running through your mind? What would you say?” See how that gets the mind going and provokes a genuine response?
Okay, that’s a good start, but let’s drill down a bit further and look at some specific examples of great questions.
Good Questions, Better Questions
In the sets below, ((These questions are adapted from Fred Sanders’ post, What’s a Good Question?)) both questions are legitimate options, but as you will see, the second question tends to evoke more discussion, which is the goal of a great question.
- Information Retrieval vs. Information Evaluation.
- Retrieval: Who is Timothy?
- Evaluation: Is Timothy like Paul? How so?
- Convergent Questions vs. Divergent Questions.
- Convergent: What is the point of the Sermon on the Mount?
- Divergent: What are some of the key points of the Sermon on the Mount?
- Unstructured Questions vs. Structured Questions.
- Unstructured: What did you think about this chapter of Ephesians?
- Structured: What encouraged you from this chapter of Ephesians?
- Singular Questions vs. Multiple Questions.
- Singular: Why did Jesus die on the cross?
- Multiple: What’s going at the cross? Why is the cross so important? What was Jesus accomplishing for sinners? Why do we celebrate the cross?
- Expected Questions vs. Unexpected Questions.
- Expected: What does Paul say about food sacrificed to idols?
- Unexpected: What would Paul say about secular rap?
- Closed-Ended Questions vs. Open-Ended Questions.
- Closed: Do you like Philippians?
- Open: What do you like about Philippians?
As you can see, a good question really gets the mind going. It kicks up emotions. It befuddles and then enlightens. A good question does the work for you.
Good teaching is often more than telling. It’s asking.
Hopes this helps! Happy asking!