“Learning Experience 12: Deciding How to Teach: Asking Effective Questions,” New-Teacher Training Resource: A Teacher-Improvement Companion to the Gospel Teaching and Learning Handbook (2016)
“Learning Experience 12,” New-Teacher Training Resource
This learning experience covers the following concepts:
Understanding the importance of questions
Crafting questions for specific outcomes
Asking effective questions
There are many effective teaching techniques you can use in your classroom, including class discussions, teacher presentations, and writing. All of these methods enhance the learning and teaching process, but there is one method that is more critical than almost any other. President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency taught:
“To ask and to answer questions is at the heart of all learning and all teaching” (“The Lord Will Multiply the Harvest” [evening with a General Authority, Feb. 6, 1998], 5–6; emphasis added).
Learning to carefully craft good questions takes time, effort, and practice. This learning experience will help you learn to ask questions that can have profound effects on your students.
The questions you ask should invite students to apply the elements of the learning pattern. Since each element leads to a different outcome, the kinds of questions you ask will vary based on the desired outcome.
For example, if the outcome you seek is to help students understand the context and content of the scriptures, ask questions concerning the people, story line, and cultural background. However, if the outcome you seek is to help students apply a doctrine or principle, ask questions that encourage students to reflect on ways they could incorporate a doctrine or principle into their lives.
The following are examples of questions you might ask students that relate to each learning fundamental. Notice how the questions at each level build on each other, starting with understand context and content and moving to apply doctrine and principles.
Understand Context and Content
Who are the people involved in this story?
What is happening in this passage?
Where are these events taking place?
Identify Doctrine and Principles
What doctrine and principles do you see?
What is the moral or point of the story?
What do you think the author intended for us to learn?
Understand Doctrine and Principles
What do you know about this principle?
Why do you think this principle is important to us today?
How would you explain this principle to someone else?
What behaviors and characteristics would you see in someone living this principle?
Feel the Truth and Importance of Doctrine and Principles
When have you felt the truth of this principle?
How do you know this is a true principle?
When have you been blessed by obeying this principle?
Apply Doctrine and Principles
What are you going to do because of what you have felt today?
What changes can you make to apply this principle in your life?
To help students understand the context and content of a scripture block, ask questions that prompt students to search for information about what they are reading and that help them analyze what they find.
When helping your class understand the context and content of a scripture block, ask questions that encourage them to search for information regarding the people, story line, cultural background, and other details. The answers to these questions are often found directly in the scripture text or in scripture study helps such as footnotes, the Bible Dictionary, the Guide to the Scriptures, scripture maps and photographs, and so forth. These resources should help the students understand the specific details of the scripture block. For example, you could ask questions such as the following:
According to 1 Nephi 3:1–4, who commanded Nephi to go to Laban and retrieve the records?
Look in 1 Nephi 16:10. What did the Liahona look like?
Look up the word Apostle in the Bible Dictionary or the Guide to the Scriptures. What does this word mean? (You could ask this question after students have read Luke 6:13.)
Read section 5.1.1 on pages 59–60 of your Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook. As you read, highlight words or phrases that help you understand how asking questions that encourage students to search for information can help them to discover the context and content of the scripture block.
After students are familiar with the basic details of a passage, ask questions that invite them to analyze the details of the story line, the people and their circumstances, and so forth.
For example, when studying Luke 5:1–11, students will learn that Peter had fished all night without success. To help students analyze the passage more deeply, you might ask questions such as the following:
Why do you think Peter was hesitant to begin fishing again?
Why do you think the Savior made this request of Peter?
Study the paragraphs under the subtitle “Helping students better understand the context and content of the scriptures” in section 5.1.2 on page 60 of the Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook. Highlight words or phrases that help you understand how asking questions that help students analyze context and content will help deepen and enrich their understanding of the scriptures.
When you ask questions that help students identify doctrine and principles, you invite them to both discover and clearly state important truths they have learned.
For example, after studying the story of Nephi retrieving the brass plates, you might ask, “What principle is illustrated by Nephi’s success in obtaining the brass plates despite great difficulty?” This encourages the students to identify and state a doctrine or principle in their own words, such as I can accomplish great things when I do what the Lord asks of me.
Study the paragraphs under the subtitle “Helping students identify gospel principles and doctrines” on pages 60–61 of your Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook. Highlight words or phrases that help clarify the importance of asking questions that encourage students to identify doctrine and principles.
Once students have identified a doctrine or principle, ask questions that help the class understand (1) what the doctrine or principle means and (2) how the doctrine or principle can be relevant today. For example, after the class has identified the principle With God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37), you could ask questions such as “What do you think the word impossible means?” and “Why do you think we need to understand this principle today?”
Study the paragraphs under the subtitle “Helping students develop a deeper understanding of principles and doctrines” on page 61 of your Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook. Highlight words or phrases that clarify the importance of asking questions that encourage students to understand doctrine and principles.
You can help students to personally feel the truth and importance of a principle by asking questions that invite them to share experiences and testimony. Also, students can be very receptive to a principle after other students have testified of its effect in their lives.
For example, after your class has deepened their understanding of the principle With God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37), you could ask the following question: “Think of a time when God helped you or someone you know do something that seemed impossible. How did that experience strengthen your testimony of God’s power?”
Study section 5.1.3 on pages 61–62 of your Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook. Highlight words or phrases that clarify the importance of asking questions that help students to feel the truth and importance of doctrine and principles.
Even when students understand and feel the truth and importance of a principle, they still must choose to apply it in their lives. Your role as a teacher is to ask questions that help students consider how to apply gospel principles in their current and future situations. For example, after a class discussion on the principle With God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37), you might ask, “How will you put your trust in God when you face a situation that seems impossible?”
Because some students’ answers may be personal or sensitive, you may want to have students record their answers to this type of question in their study journals instead of having them share their answers with the class.
Study section 5.1.4 on page 62 of your Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook. Highlight words or phrases that clarify the importance of asking questions that encourage students to apply doctrine and principles in their lives.
One of the greatest resources you have for examples of effective questions is your teacher manual. Each lesson contains suggested questions that you should consider using in your lesson. Many questions in your teacher manual are meant to help students implement elements of the learning pattern.
As you seek to improve your question-writing skills, you may find it instructive to review the questions in your teacher manual to better understand the characteristics of well-crafted questions.
Asking and answering questions is at the heart of all learning and teaching.
Asking effective questions is one of the most important skills you can develop as a teacher.
Using carefully crafted questions can help you and your students achieve specific, intended outcomes.
Learning to carefully craft good questions takes time, effort, and practice.
“Ask carefully formulated questions that stimulate thought. Even if the responses are not perfect, they will increase the probability that important lessons will be learned” (Richard G. Scott, “To Understand and Live Truth” [evening with a General Authority, Feb. 4, 2005], 3).
To conclude this learning experience, write down some things you will do based on the principles you have learned today.