“How to Ask Questions That Matter,” New Era, Oct. 2014, 36–38
You have opportunities to teach all around you, whether in a minute-long conversation on a bus, in a lesson at church, in online comments, or in a deep one-on-one discussion with a friend.
So here’s a tip for effective teaching in any situation: ask questions.
Good questions lead to good learning, and luckily, asking good questions is something you can study, practice, and learn to do well. Here’s how.
The questions that matter are the ones that make you think and feel deeply, the ones that lead you to truth, testimony, and change. They can cover a wide range of subjects, but they usually have a few things in common: (1) they’re not superficial or merely factual (though they can be a follow-up to factual questions), (2) they have some connection to our everyday lives, and (3) they challenge us to give more than just a preprogrammed response.
Questions engage us by introducing a gap that our minds then want to fill. Specifically, asking questions that prompt personal reflection can allow the following process to occur:
People become interested in what you’re saying.
They use their agency to think about and express an answer.
This use of agency allows the Holy Ghost to testify to them of the truth.1
With this process in mind, you’ll get a sense for what kinds of questions to ask and which ones to avoid.
If you know the people you’re teaching and think about their needs, you’ll choose questions aimed at helping them, not just at getting certain ideas across.
Also, if you want to ask people questions that really make them think, you need to do that same kind of thinking yourself. Ponder what you study. You’ll find that what gets you thinking most deeply are the questions you ask yourself along the way. Pay attention to the kinds of questions that make you really think. These are the questions that lead to greater insight and testimony, the same kinds of questions you could ask when you’re helping others learn about the gospel.
Sometimes it’s best to ease into questions requiring more thought and self-reflection, so you may want to ask an introductory question that’s easy to answer and then follow it up with one or more questions that lead to more thoughtful responses. Here are some simple examples:
How old was Joseph Smith when he went into the Sacred Grove?
When have you prayed to Heavenly Father with the kind of sincere desire that Joseph had?
Do you believe in God?
What role does God play in your life?
What have you done to serve others recently?
How does knowing that we’re all children of God change the way you think about service?
If you seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost as you ask questions, you will be more likely to ask the right question at the right time. You never know—it might change someone’s life.