“16: Teaching with Questions,” Teaching, No Greater Call: A Resource Guide for Gospel Teaching (1999), 68–70
“16,” Teaching, No Greater Call, 68–70
Jesus Christ, the Master Teacher, often asked questions to encourage people to ponder and apply the principles He taught (see, for example, Matthew 16:13–15; Luke 7:41–42; 3 Nephi 27:27). His questions prompted thought, soul-searching, and commitment.
Church-produced lesson manuals suggest many questions that you can use in lessons. Read them carefully to decide which will be most helpful for those you teach. You may also prepare your own questions. As you consider questions to use in a lesson, ask yourself, “Will they help those I teach understand the main ideas of the lesson? Will these questions help those I teach apply the gospel principles being taught?”
The following ideas may help you prepare your own questions.
Questions that can be answered yes or no have limited use in gospel instruction. You should use them primarily to obtain commitments or to determine if someone agrees or disagrees.
Factual questions are used to establish the basic facts of a scripture passage, event, or gospel principle. They have specific answers. They can help learners begin to study scripture passages, understand major points, review ideas, and overcome misconceptions. For example:
When Nephi’s brothers asked to be forgiven for binding him with cords, what was his immediate response?
When and where was the Church organized?
Make sure that you do not ask only factual questions. They do not require much thought, and they may discourage those who do not know the answers. When you do use them, you should generally make sure that the information necessary to answer them is available to those you teach.
With factual questions, you can help everyone begin a discussion at the same point. You can then move to questions that prompt deeper thinking and help learners see how gospel principles apply in their lives.
Some questions encourage learners to think deeply about the meaning of scripture passages and gospel principles. These questions often begin with the words what, how, or why. They cannot be answered with yes or no, and they usually have more than one right answer. For example:
Why do you think this revelation came at this time in the history of the Church?
What can this story teach about how the Lord helps those in need?
How would you define faith?
What does it mean to be meek?
How is this object like the gospel principle we are discussing? (This is a good question to ask with an object lesson.)
How was the reaction of Laman and Lemuel different from Nephi’s reaction?
When asking such questions, be open to all answers (see “Listening,” pages 66–67). Encourage learners to ponder the scriptures and gospel principles being discussed and to express their ideas. Do not try to get them to give specific answers to questions; they will quickly become aware of what you are doing and either stop participating or start guessing instead of thinking. When you need a specific answer, it is best to ask a factual question or present the information in some other way.
It is important to ask questions that help learners apply gospel principles in their lives. For example:
How has this promise from the Lord been fulfilled in your life?
How do we sometimes make the same error as the people in this story?
How can God’s chastening be a blessing to us?
What are some circumstances today that are similar to the events in this scripture account?
If you were this person, what would you do?
Ask learners to share examples of how they or others have applied the gospel principles being discussed. As prompted by the Spirit, encourage them to bear testimony of the principles they discuss.
Do not use questions to show your own knowledge. Ask questions that will prompt thoughtful answers from those you teach.
Occasionally someone will give an incorrect answer or an answer that shows little understanding. Others in the group might laugh at such an answer. This might embarrass the individual and make him or her hesitant to participate in the future. It can interfere with his or her learning.
Respond to incorrect answers with respect and courtesy. Ensure that the individual still feels comfortable participating. You may choose to take responsibility yourself by saying something like, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I asked that question very clearly. Let me try again.” Or you could rescue the individual by saying, “Perhaps you were thinking of something else” or “Thank you for bringing that up, but I’m not sure my question was clear.” Such responses will help those you teach feel more and more comfortable participating, even when they think they might be risking a wrong answer.
Do not be concerned if learners are silent for a few seconds after you have asked a question. Do not answer your own question; allow time for learners to think of responses. However, prolonged silence may indicate that they do not understand the question and that you need to rephrase it.
Follow-up questions can help learners think more deeply about a principle they are discussing. For example, if learners suggest one way that a scripture account can be likened to themselves, you might ask, “What else can we learn from this story?”
To encourage more learners to participate, you may want to direct some follow-up questions to those who have not yet made comments during the lesson.
If several people have comments about a subject, you may want to say something like, “We’ll hear your comments first and then yours.” Then those you teach will remain orderly because they know that they will have an opportunity to speak.
To help learners prepare to answer questions, you may want to tell them before something is read or presented that you will be asking for their responses (see the “look for” and “listen for” approaches in “Teaching from the Scriptures,” page 55). For example, you could say, “Listen as I read this passage so that you can share what most interests you about it” or “As this scripture is read, see if you can understand what the Lord is telling us about faith.”
The Savior said, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me” (3 Nephi 11:29; see also verses 3 Nephi 11:28, 30). Be careful not to ask questions that promote argument or highlight sensational issues. Do not ask questions that create doubt or that lead to discussions that fail to edify. Make sure that your questions move learners toward a unity of faith and love (see Mosiah 18:21). When there is disagreement, strive to emphasize points of agreement and correct doctrine.
You may occasionally choose to ask questions that learners should ponder silently rather than answer in an open discussion. For example:
What have you done today that is moving you toward eternal life?
Have you failed to do something today that would have moved you toward eternal life?
You may want to use questions in some of the following ways:
Write questions on wordstrips, and tape the wordstrips to the bottoms of chairs. At appropriate times during the discussion, ask each person to remove the question from his or her chair. Then have him or her read the question and respond to it.
Ask each learner to write one question based on a gospel principle or verse of scripture. Gather the questions and discuss them.
Ask individuals to role-play characters of their choice in the lesson, and let the others ask them questions (see “Role Playing,” page 178). This works particularly well with children.
During the week before the lesson, give questions to a few learners. Ask them to prepare to respond to those questions as part of the coming lesson.
Use the following questions to discuss a gospel principle: “What do we already know about this principle?” “What do we want to know?” “What have we learned today?” You can form the basis of the lesson by having learners answer these questions and then writing their answers in three columns on the chalkboard.
Write a question on the chalkboard before class begins so that learners can begin pondering it as soon as they arrive.
Have learners answer questions by finding and reading appropriate scriptures or hymns. Ask learners to respond to questions by sharing examples from their own lives.
Divide the class into small groups. Give each group a few questions to consider. Then have each group report their answers to the class.
For additional help, see “Plan and Conduct Meaningful Discussions,” pages 303–4 in the “Gospel Teaching and Leadership” section of the Church Handbook of Instructions.