Hey, Have I Got A Question For You!
The Art of Asking and Answering Difficult Questions With Children
Why do we ask questions?
We ask all sorts of questions in Church School. If we’re asking questions, why are we asking them. Some of the reasons are:
- to check in and find out what children have learned (or not learned)
- to hear if there are concerns or issues that require further conversation and/or explanation
- to prompt debate
- to prompt deep thinking
- to experience God
The art of asking questions:
Good questions open up the room to great conversation. We don’t want to simply recite questions and receive the ‘correct’ answers. We hope that the subject energizes the room and together we grow in our knowledge and experience of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and kingdom of God living. These thoughts should help you plan for better questions and discussion that moves us into new realms of experience:
- ask open-ended questions, not closed, one-word answer questions
- ask one question at a time and resist the urge to add on even more questions hoping one of them might resonate with the class. With too many questions at once children become overwhelmed with the options
- present questions to the whole group, not to individuals
- provide positive feedback on the answers your receive
- follow-up answers with more probing questions, inviting the group to dig deeper into the subject
- be silent; let the question resonate and good thinking to occur. Don’t try and fill the silence assuming your question wasn’t well presented or with your answer so things keep moving along. Leave time for deep thinking
- use an inquiry style, don’t interrogate
- encourage participants to ask their own questions of each other
- encourage conversation across the group and away from you
- accept responses as a gift
There are three types of questions:
By ensuring all types of questions are asked, often moving from the first type, on to the second and finally spending quality time discussing the third type we help participants personalize their learning and growth in a non-threatening way.
Invite difficult questions:
These are the questions we often fear, but they are also the questions that help us move from knowledge about God to knowing God. They require honesty and deep care and compassion for everyone in the group. Setting an inviting tone for such questions helps your class to become a meaning-filled place of acceptance and deep learning.
Answering difficult questions:
Thinking about how you might answer difficult questions before they are even asked helps prepare you for great conversation. The following helps in thinking about how you might answer questions that make you sweat and stumble over your words:
- listen carefully to what is being asked. Don’t jump to thinking about your answer, first think about the question, the age of the person asking, and what they are really asking
- honour the question and the person asking it
- ask questions of clarification
- ask, ‘what do you think (feel, have experienced etc.)?
- you might ask the class what they think,or what their experience of God ays to them
- take time to think about your answer – it’s not a race to the finish line
- give age appropriate answers
- know that it is okay to say, ‘I don’t know; perhaps we could do some research together, we could ask the minister, or look into that in next week’s class etc.
- don’t give and answer you’ll have to undo down the road
- give answers that are consistent with what you believe about a loving and caring God
- let parents know if a child’s questions need further conversation at home. Ask for permission to do this
- recognize the balance between confidentiality, safety and disclosure
Do you have more questions?
Feel free to ask me!
Regional Minister for Faith Formation
Synod of Central, Northeastern Ontario and Bermuda