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 ask your first question and everyone sits there in awkward silence. Is it because the question is too difficult? Or perhaps it’s simply too easy and no-one wants to state the obvious.
You follow it up with more questions, but you sense people’s reluctance to answer. Everyone seems to be merely giving very short and undetailed responses. So you resort to a catch-all question: “what do you think?” But it’s so broad that no-one knows where to start.
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?
6 types of questioning skills
Below are six types of questioning skills to jump start your Bible study discussions.
These are based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is a set of three hierarchical lists used to categorise learning objectives. The lists are cognitive, affective and sensory domains. We’re only concerned about the cognitive domain here, as that’s the one that has the six types of questions.
Each of these types can include both low-order questions and higher order questions.
Higher-order questions tend to be more complex and involve multiple perspectives on a topic which leads to further discussion.
Lower-order questions tend to be more basic and close-ended. Ideally you want to progress from lower-order questions to higher-order questions the deeper you go in your discussion. However, lower-order questions are still needed at the start in order to check understanding.
For each category below, in order to give examples of the kinds of questions you can ask, I’m going to make reference to Mark 15: 33- 16:20. This recounts Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.
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”, “Identify”, “Name” or “Tell”.
So, for example, looking at Mark 15:37-38, you could ask “Name the different things that happened at the moment Jesus died.”
Now this is a rather low-order question which simply requires your Bible study group to look at the passage and give a straight-forward answer, which would be “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” There’s nothing wrong with this question, but it’s more of a starter for ten.
However, within this recall category, you can ask a higher order question such as “What was the function of the curtain in verse 38?” The answer is not apparent from the text directly, but is something a person might know from a sermon, a commentary or their own private study.
The main idea here is organisation. You want to be able to organise facts in such a way as to make sense out of them.
Typical keywords you might use here when asking questions are “Describe”, “Compare”, “Contrast”, “Explain”, “Put in your own words”, “Summarise”
So you could ask as as a starter question something like “Describe what is going on in 15:33-34” However, this would be a rather low-order question where you’re simply relating back facts and information.
A higher-order question would be “Compare verses 33-34. What connection do you think there is between the darkness & the cry from Jesus?”
These questions are there to encourage your Bible study group to use the information they have to apply to a specific situation.
You can phrase your questions in the following format:
“Apply”, “Classify”, “Use”, “Choose”, “Select”, “Employ”, “Give an example of” etc.
So using Mark 16, an example would be “In light of the temple curtain being torn in two, how should we live today?”
These types of questions are designed to help you analyse information for underlying reasons and explanations to help you reach a conclusion. But you can also look at any inferences or generalisations you might make from the text to check whether these are actually based on any actual evidence or just your own thoughts.
If this sounds complicated at first, then think about the types of questions you’d be asking. These consist of questions such as:
“Why?”, “What factors?”, “What conclusions?”, “What evidence is there to support?”, “What can you infer?” “What can you deduce?”, “What gaps/conflicts/patterns can you find?”
From the example in Mark 15:38, you could ask are:
“Why does Mark suddenly mention the temple curtain in verse 38 and what can you infer from the fact that it was torn from top to bottom (rather than bottom to top)?”
5. Synthesising or Creating
These types of questions are designed to help you form relationships or connections between things or find original ways of doing something. It can also be used to test whether people in your Bible study group have gained a proper and thorough understanding of the passage.
Questions in this category can be phrased in the following ways:
Predict, Write, What would happen if, Produce, Develop, Plan
In the example from Mark, we could ask something like “What would the consequences have been if Jesus had come down from the cross?”
You can use these types of questions to help people choose between different alternatives by judging what best fits some stated criteria. Here, you may ask for an opinion or a value judgment.
Questions you could ask here are “judge”, “assess”, “decide”, “justify”, “give pros and cons”, “weigh up”, “examine the weight of evidence of between X and Y”.
So you could ask “Examine the styles of writing in Mark 16:1-8 and Mark 16:9-20. Give the pros and cons of the theory that verses 9-20 were not included in the original manuscripts.
So these are 6 ways in which you can mix up your questioning skills to generate better Bible study discussions and help jump-start your conversations.
How do you normally generate discussion in your Bible Study groups? What do you find is the best way to get everyone involved and answering more meaningful questions?
Let me know by leaving a comment down below.
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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.