So it’s your turn to lead a Bible study. You’ve researched all of the key passages, read all the relevant Bible commentaries and looked over the questions in the study guide several times over.
But then you throw out your first question: “Who is Paul writing to here?” Everyone sits there in awkward silence and no-one wants to answer. Is it because the question is too difficult? Or perhaps it’s simply too easy and no-one wants to state the obvious.
Then, because your group decides to take pity on you, someone finally pipes up: “God’s holy people in Ephesus?”
“Yes,” you say. You sense people’s reluctance to answer but press on. “And how do we know this?”
“Because it says so in verse 1,” they reply. “And it’s also called Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.”
Yep. This is going to be hard going, like pulling teeth.
How can we ask questions in a more effective way that can elicit more in-depth conversations and get everyone involved?
Why we need higher-order questions in our Bible study discussions
During our Bible study or small groups, we can end up asking very basic questions that don’t require much involvement or thinking and tend to be close-ended. We want to avoid this kind of situation as it doesn’t facilitate learning or discussion.
1 Peter 2:2 says:
2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation
When we only ask these lower-order questions and don’t go beyond this, we can come away with a rather shallow and superficial understanding of God’s word. We never go any deeper and engage in critical thinking.
While lower-order questions are still needed at the start in order to check understanding, ideally you want to progress from lower-order questions to higher-order questions the deeper you go in your discussion.
What are higher-order questions? These are types of questions that tend to be more complex and involve multiple perspectives on a topic. They require you to do something with the facts rather than simply memorise them. You might need to analyse, evaluate or connect the information to what you already know and put it together in a new way.
Higher order questions lead to further discussion, which in turn leads to a deeper understanding. As a result, people will be more willing to share their knowledge and analyse difficult passages.
Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to ask better questions
It’s all well and good saying we need to ask higher-order questions, but how exactly do we do this?
If you’re leading a group, a great way to get everyone involved in your Bible study discussions is to use 6 questioning techniques or skills found in Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Bloom’s Taxonomy is a framework for learning proposed by Benjamin Bloom. Bloom was an American education psychologist who, together with a research team, studied classroom activities in 1948. He collected his findings into a taxonomy or way of categorising learning objectives made up of three domains of learning. These are:
These are somewhat similar to the 9 intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner, which I’ve written about here.
We’re only concerned with the cognitive domain here right now.
The cognitive domain is divided into 6 thinking skills or questioning techniques. By using these, we can generate better and more effective Bible study discussions. We can avoid sticking to basic lower-order questions that make people reluctant to even engage with the material.
Using Bloom’s Taxonomy will take us from a very basic understanding where we only know or remember facts to knowing how to apply them to any situation or evaluate things we have learnt. This is what we do normally in our Christian walk anyway.
What are the questioning techniques or thinking skills found in Bloom? Read on below.
6 types of Bloom’s Taxonomy Bible study question skills for more in-depth discussions
Bloom’s original 6 questioning techniques were Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation. Each of these questioning skills are hierarchically ranked from the lowest order of thinking to the highest order.
However, Bloom’s Taxonomy was revamped for the 21st century, with some of the terms renamed to sound more accessible, and the categories slightly reordered as shown below:
I’ll be discussing the modern version of Bloom below. For each category, we want concrete examples of the kinds of questions we can ask. Then, we’ll see how we can actually apply this to a text.
Therefore I’m going to refer to Ephesians 5:21-33 on the subject of wives submitting to their husbands and husbands loving their wives.
This passage has often been interpreted in the wrong way, particularly by abusive spouses. It’s used as evidence that wives should submit to their husbands in everything without question, while husbands can dominate their wives with no need for humility or any submission on their own part.
By applying each step of Bloom’s taxonomy to the passage, we can go from a typical interpretation to a deeper and more correct understanding. My aim is not to write a full commentary on the passage as that’s another blog post, but rather to use it as a way to get people to think about how to study a Bible passage.
These are fairly basic types of questions to check whether others in your Bible study group can remember certain facts or definitions.
Typical questions you might ask in this category are “Who”, “What”, “Where”, “When”, “Which”, “Define”, “Describe”, “Identify”, “Name” or “Tell”.
Now these are a rather low-order questions which simply requires your Bible study group to look at the passage and give a straight-forward answer. However, it’s important to know what the passage actually says.
So for example, looking at Ephesians 5:21-33, you could ask “What does verse 21 say?” The group will see immediately that it says
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
This verse is addressed to everyone, before Paul begins to address each gender separately. So this functions almost like a headline for the whole passage outlining what everyone, not just women, should be doing.
Then you can go through the whole passage meticulously and see what it actually says. You’ll notice that some Christians only remember parts of it, and often forget other important details.
Ask the group to name two or three things ways in which Christ demonstrated his love for the church.
There’s nothing wrong with simply remembering or knowing what it actually says in a Bible passage. Many Christians have no idea who certain people were in the Bible, who actually did what, or where to even find a well-known verse of scripture.
In this respect, this category of Bloom is extremely important for establishing basic facts. Sometimes we simply need to know what it says in the Bible.
However, we can repeat Bible verses parrot-fashion and never really think about the actual meaning or knowing how to apply it.
If we only ask people to recall information, it’s not going to get us very far in our discussion.
Ideally we want to progress to the other categories below, the further along we go with our Bible study.
Here we’re trying to understand what the passage actually says and means. This category goes beyond simple recall. Instead, we want to organise the facts in such a way as to make sense out of them.
You can ask people to rephrase the meaning or interpret something in their own words.
After you’ve asked a starter question like “What does Ephesians 5:21-33 say?”, check that they’ve actually understood the meaning of the passage they’ve read. If they can simply recite the verse but don’t know what it means, then it doesn’t bring any value to them.
You could ask a question like “Put in your own words the overall message that Paul is saying to Christian households”. Or “what do you understand is the main point of the passage?”
You can ask your group to explain exactly what they understand by verses 25-33 and how Christ loved the church.
“Applying” questions are there to encourage your Bible study group to use the information they have to apply to a specific situation. You can see how what you’ve learnt applies to every day life and how it goes beyond the text.
James 1:22 says:
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
We want to be doers of the word and not hearers only. When we use the applying category of Bloom, we want to know how we can go beyond simply reciting or summarising facts or even understanding what it means. How can we put our knowledge into practice and use it in a concrete way that helps us or others?
Therefore, using Ephesians 5:21-33 as an example, we can first ask what submission to one another looks like in every day life. Then we can explore what wives submitting to husbands or husbands loving their wives means in practice. How can people apply this to their own situations?
To be doers of the word and not merely hearers, you want your group to come away with a certain hope rather than merely reading about this and still feeling in despair.
These first three question types or strategies are still on a fairly elementary level. However, they do form the foundation of the other three categories. The next three require more effort when designing questions or using it as the basis of your own Bible study.
This is where we can begin to do Bible exegesis, which refers to drawing out meaning from scripture. The Bible is a rich text. We can therefore draw out more than one meaning from the text to apply to different situations. This allows us to go beyond the mere surface level and uncover something deeper. However, we must be careful to draw out what God actually says. We must not impose our own interpretation onto scripture. When we read into scripture our own presuppositions or biases, we’re doing the opposite of exegesis, which is known as eisegesis.
When we analyse a passage, we’re trying to find underlying reasons and explanations that will help us reach a conclusion.
Additionally, we can also look at any inferences or generalisations we might make from the text. This enables us to determine any fallacies or incorrect lines of reasoning. When we analyse things, we can check whether our conclusions are based on any actual evidence or simply our own thoughts.
So applying this to our example of Ephesians 5:21-33, we want to analyse whether our interpretation of the passage is correct. Are we simply eisegeting the passage with our own assumptions and biases?
Ask your Bible study group again what they understand by verses 25-26. Then ask them to read the whole of the passage again.
We can ask “what can you infer from the way Christ loved the church? What kind of love did Jesus demonstrate towards us?”
We can also do a deeper dive into certain specific words like the meaning of “submit” or “love”.
Here we’re trying to offer supporting evidence for why we’ve chosen one point of view over another. Or why we’ve chosen one interpretation or application of scripture over another. What are the reasons for this?
Ephesians 4:14-15 says:
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves,and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
A particularly important point here in this passage is in verse 14. We want to grow in maturity and wisdom so that we’re not blown about by every kind of teaching or deceived by lies.
This is what this category of evaluating is about. Using our wisdom and discernment to know what is the truth and what is a lie or a wrong interpretation. What evidence can we use in the passage to back up our arguments? Can we look at the broader context and overall message of the Bible?
So when it comes to Ephesians 5:21-33, you can ask your group to decide between different viewpoints and interpretations of Ephesians 5:21-33. Why do they have that opinion? How would they justify their position? What evidence can they present to support their views besides saying “well it says so here”? Do they have the correct understanding of the passage of scripture in the overall context of Christ’s love for the church?
To help the group, we can examine Ephesians 5:21-33 alongside other passages where Jesus demonstrated his love for the church. For example, how do verses 25-28 compare with John 13:1-17 where Jesus washes the disciples feet?
You can see from the passage in John 13 that Jesus’ love for his disciples was demonstrated in humble serving where he took on the submissive position of a servant himself. Although Jesus is the head of the church, his entire style is servant leadership. Therefore, when husbands are to love their wives in this way, it involves serving in the way Christ served, and not lording it over their wives.
This is the highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy, which used to be called “Synthesise” but has been renamed to “Creating”.
Here you’re essentially synthesising everything you’ve learnt already and trying to do something new with that information. The idea is to find original ways of doing something or presenting the information. Sometimes the best way of learning something is by teaching others. By getting people to do a presentation, you can test whether your Bible study group have gained a proper and thorough understanding of the passage.
So when applying it to Ephesians 5:21-33, how could we present this passage in a new way that helps us people to understand it more clearly? Can we tie it into Christ’s own position of humility and servanthood to help people gain a fuller understanding and appreciation?
One way we can look at Christ’s love for the church and how we should love one another is by examining the one another statements in the New Testament. I’ve written a blog post focusing on that which you can read here.
However, be careful to note that when you use the “creating” category here in your questions, you’re not coming up with new doctrines or truths. We’re not speculating on things and then forming a theory out of it. That’s not the point of this at all.
It’s more about thinking about the same doctrines in a fresh way. You’re thinking of new ways of looking at the same truth with fresh eyes. Looking at Bloom’s Taxonomy in a Christian context, particularly with the “creating” category being the highest on that scale, this is our ultimate goal.
In fact, this is what this entire site, Drawing on the Word is about really. Thinking of creative ways to engage with God and His word.
You may not think you are creative. However, we all possess different types of intelligence and are therefore creative in some way. For more on this and how you can use your creativity to build up your faith, check out my post on multiple intelligences, creativity and faith.
Bloom’s Taxonomy might initially seem like the sort of specialist subject that only education students might be interested in. However, it’s actually a very useful tool for our own Christian walk and our Bible studies to help us draw out scripture.
Using Bloom’s Taxonomy, you can mix up your questioning skills. This will help to generate better Bible study discussions and jump-start your conversations.
It’s more important to understand the principles behind each type of questioning technique in each category of Bloom, rather than the specific words or phrases you would use to ask them.
How do you normally generate discussion in your Bible Study groups? What do you find is the best way to engage everyone in answering more meaningful questions?
Let me know by leaving a comment down below.
Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.