The Art of Asking Questions
3 questions to include in your next FHE lesson
By: Kirsten Smith & FHE 123
Teaching Strategies Series: How effective questions can increase participation and learning
Think about your own experiences with Family Home Evening or other home based gospel lessons as you ponder the following questions.
What words would you use to describe the environment during the lesson?
What does a lecture look like? Would family members describe your FHE lessons as a lecture?
Can you recall a lesson that was full of family involvement and participation? What made that lesson successful?
When asked a question, which family members tend to be quick to respond? Which family members have a harder time?
Do you have a plan for how to respond with love and respect to an incorrect answer?
What do you want to learn about using questions in lessons?
These questions are rhetorical because this isn’t a forum for open discussion. But, if we were together in a room we could use those questions to lead a deep and meaningful discussion on the goal of FHE and the purpose questions have in helping teach and inspire our family members. Even without the discussion, the hope was that the questions got you engaged and thinking about the topic. Questions are powerful but not always easy. What is easy, is falling into the trap that we can just tell our family members what we think they should know and call it good.
“Our intent ought not to be ‘What do I tell them?’ Instead, the question to ask ourselves is ‘What can I invite them to do? What inspired questions can I ask that, if they are willing to respond, will begin to invite the Holy Ghost into their lives’”
Elder David A Bednar
Teaching Strategies Series
Our goal with this series is to help increase family participation during FHE lessons and gospel discussions by strengthening teaching skills within the home. When discussing effective teaching strategies, participation is often at the top of the list. We previously discussed how giving everyone a teaching opportunity can increase involvement and learning. Today let’s dive into how our questions either encourage or discourage participation.
Not only does participation help individuals learn, but you may find that some family members prefer to learn through reasoning and experiences, rather than simply being told something. Questions can give them the opportunity to learn for themselves. Asking effective questions will require you to practice your listening skills. As you sincerely listen to answers and experiences, thoughts and feelings, you are creating a safe environment for your family members that will increase their openness to counsel and guidance.
Family Home Evening
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints encourages all families to hold regular Family Home Evenings (FHE). During these focused moments, families gather together to teach and strengthen one another, learn more about Christ and His gospel, and have fun in a safe and loving home environment.
Home learning is no different than the learning that happens at school, church, or work. The same techniques used in a classroom can apply in our home. Teachers outside the home may have more experience or training but they can not replicate the potential for loving and eternal relationships that exist at home. All home settings look different, and even in situations that are less than ideal, the home can be a powerful center for gospel teaching because of the relationships that are built there.
Here at FHE123, we know that your time is limited. Our weekly lessons focus on a gospel principle from the Come Follow Me curriculum, turning a topic into an easy-to-present lesson. Complete with
The lesson portion of each activity comes ready to go with well-thought-out questions to help lead your family in spiritual discussions, increase knowledge and understanding, and meaningfully connect principles to each individual.
Successful Family Home Evening lessons have active participation by all family members. Not just through assignments or tasks but also through sharing their own ideas, feelings, and thoughts that pertain to the lesson. Questions have the ability to direct your lesson, gauge understanding, or open a discussion for further learning.
“To ask and to answer questions is at the heart of all learning and all teaching.”
President Henry B. Eyring
In order to ask successful questions, we must first be able to answer this. “Why are we asking questions in the first place?” Understanding our motivation can help us determine which questions to ask or how to better phrase them for optimal participation.
Three Types of Questions
We have simplified questions into three distinct types, each having their own strengths and purposes.
When you know why you are asking a question you will be better able to pick which type is most appropriate.
It’s important to note up front that managerial questions are not intended to encourage discussion. Instead, they are used to emphasize a point or help you advance your lesson. These questions may be useful during times of transition or to keep young children engaged, but they won’t be successful in fostering heartfelt conversation.
Often these questions are simple yes or no questions. Sometimes these questions are also rhetorical; meaning you don’t necessarily need a response but are simply restating what you already said.
“Is it important to pray every day?”
“Does everyone have their scriptures open to Matthew?”
“When we take the sacrament we think about Jesus, right?”
We recommend limiting these types of questions and you’ll notice that our lesson plan rarely utilizes them. As a general rule, avoid questions that are really statements in disguise. They do nothing to encourage responses and if used too often they will numb the listener to question asking and consequently stifle involvement.
Factual questions are used to establish the basic facts of the topic you are discussing. They are closed questions, meaning they have a specific answer. Asking a factual question can help gauge the current understanding of your family members; allowing you to find potential holes in their understanding.
These factual questions may begin with words like “who” “when” or “where”. These questions can be used after teaching a gospel principle to practice recall, check retention, and discover any misunderstandings. Or they can be used at the beginning of the lesson to establish a starting point.
Who do we think about when we take the Sacrament?
When can we pray?
Where was Jesus born?
Pay attention to the engagement level while asking these. Some children may love sharing what they know, whereas others may feel like it is a test and will be hesitant to answer. If there isn’t much participation with factual questions, use the time to state the facts you are trying to discuss and then ask a thinking question.
Thinking questions are best used to open a discussion with your family members about a topic. Be open to all answers and avoid asking a question in an attempt to get a specific answer. If you need a specific answer, try asking a factual question or presenting the material in a different way. Instead, use thinking questions to help others apply the gospel principle to their lives and share what is in their heart.
Thinking questions don’t have one right answer and can not be answered with a simple yes or no response. The goal of these questions is to invite the student to think, feel, and share. These thinking questions may begin with words like “what”, “how” or “why”. When used correctly, these are the golden questions that will encourage the involvement and learning that we are hoping for.
“What character in that story do you relate to the most?”
“Why do you think [insert prophet name] felt it was important to share that statement?”
“Do you remember an experience when…?”
“What stood out to you as we read that?”
“How can we do a better job at being…”
Effective thinking questions will help everyone see how the gospel is relevant to their individual lives by allowing them the chance to analyze and apply what was learned. Family members should be able to draw on their understanding as well as their experiences and opinions. Not only do these questions increase physical involvement in the lesson, but are also effective in engaging the learner's brain and connecting them to the lesson material in a meaningful way. Even young children can practice making these connections and pondering with thinking questions.
“Using carefully worded questions, you can guide your students through a discovery experience, which will have far greater effect than a lecture experience, in which a teacher dumps information on students. When you do this, students will move from being idle listeners to active participants as they search their hearts for answers to prayerfully prepared questions. This will allow the Spirit to have a greater influence on each person.”
5 Tips For Asking Questions
Knowing the different types of questions is only the first step. We have 5 tips for how to use these questions effectively. Even the best question, if presented the wrong way, can be successful.
1- Wait for a response
Give space and time in your lesson for your family members to ponder and think about the question. Avoid the tendency to jump in with the answer if there is a moment of silence. Some people need more time to put together their thoughts or decide they are willing to share. Especially when you are asking more thinking questions. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few seconds for thoughts to process and comments to begin. The spirit can continue to work in these moments of silence.
2- Ask the questions first
Both factual and thinking questions can be asked prior to a teaching moment. This allows the learner to prepare their answer. “Listen as I read this story and see if you can figure out….” or “Look for …” while we read. This will connect their brain to the topic and help them start formulating their thoughts.
3- Take turns
Successful questions will facilitate open discussion. Having an open discussion does not mean that everyone is talking at the same time. Be aware of everyone's desire to share, and do so in an orderly manner. When we practice good communication skills in listening and taking turns we teach our children that what they have to say is important and valued. Listen carefully to your family's answers and let them know that you appreciate their contribution.
4- Respond with Love
If you ask a question and a child answers incorrectly, respond with love and kindness. This will encourage future participation from the child. You may consider saying something like “I’m sorry, I don’t think I asked that question very clearly. Let me try again.”
5- Write down your questions
It is helpful and encouraged for teachers to write out their questions beforehand. While we don’t need to write out everything we will say, having the questions ready will help lead the discussion in a meaningful way that is thought out and prepared. This gives us the opportunity to choose our words carefully and make sure that we are asking in a clear way.
FHE123 lesson plans come ready with a handful of questions already written to lead your discussions. We take care while writing these questions to make sure that most are open-ended thinking questions. You can always add more questions based on the needs of your family, but when you subscribe and utilize our lesson plans you will already have a few good starting points for meaningful family discussion.
At the beginning, we asked a question about the difference between a lecture and a learning opportunity. Although FHE lessons do require structure and order, we will be more effective when we root our efforts to teach in sincere love and interest for the child as an individual. Instead of being motivated by what we want to tell them.
Consider this anecdote shared in the Teaching No Greater Call lesson manual.
Imagine you’re sitting at lunch with some friends discussing a movie you saw together. Then one of your friends says, “Who can tell me what the most important scene was in the movie?”
A bit confused by the question, you think for a moment and suggest that the last scene was probably the most important. “Well, that’s a good comment,” your friend says. “But it’s not quite what I had in mind. Anyone else? Let’s hear from someone who hasn’t shared yet.”
For most, that conversation would feel uncomfortable and awkward. But it does sound like a mistake we make when teaching lessons or leading discussions. Our ultimate goal should be to discuss gospel truths naturally and comfortably. This enables everyone to share their thoughts and feelings on the topic, invite the spirit and increase learning.
Progress over Perfection
As with all gospel principles that we are teaching in our home, the goal here is progress over perfection. We shouldn’t expect ourselves to always ask perfectly thought out and meaningful questions. But knowing the three types, and having a big picture plan for what we want to accomplish, will help. Family Home Evenings are most successful when the whole family is involved, loved, and provided with meaningful exposure to gospel principles.
There will be lessons where you are unable to finish your material or cover every point you planned to make. Our hope is that you aim for one good question. At least one question that each family member can think about, connect with, or be inspired by. Then you can be confident your lesson was a success.
What questions will you ask this week?
Elder Bednar, Evening with a General Authority Broadcast, Feb 7 2020 (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media/video/2020-02-1000-an-evening-with-a-general-authority-elder-bednar?lang=eng)
Henry B. Eyring, “The Lord Will Multiply the Harvest” Satellite broadcast address to religious educators in the Church Educational System, Feb. 6, 1998), 5–6.