How to ask great questions

Christine Wright, freelance author, Bible scholar and busy grandparent, suggests ways to feel more confident about handling children’s questions.

It’s all too easy for adults to get into ‘management’ mode and spend their time telling children what to do and how to do it and then asking questions to see whether it’s been done. Let’s check our own ‘mode’ with the children we spend time with, inside or outside the home. How much of what we say is ‘managing’ the children, and how much is conversational? If we discover that we spend a lot of time in ‘management’ mode, we need to try to learn the art of conversation. We could change our questions to include those that put us alongside the children, rather than directing their activity.

Listen carefully to how other people ask questions and you may find that the best way of getting others to talk is to use ‘open’ questions. For instance, the question ‘Did you like the Bible story?’ is closed, because there are only two possible answers, yes or no.

‘What did you like about the Bible story?’ is more of an open question because there are several possible replies and the child can give a more informative answer.

By asking open questions, we may not get the answer we wanted, or even something that we think of as the ‘right’ answer. That’s not the point, though. Exploring and learning is more than being given the ‘right answers’. It’s about beginning to think for oneself. This opens up the ability to ‘wonder’ about things as we grow up, for instance:

  • wondering who God is;
  • wondering who we are;
  • wondering why things are as they are;
  • wondering about the greatness of God;
  • wondering how to pray; and
  • wondering about suffering.

Asking great questions is an art – but it’s one that can be learned! It’s easy to turn a chat about a Bible story into an interrogation, but, by varying the types of question, it is possible to keep the conversation going and to explore different ideas and possibilities.