I’ve written a lot of questions over the years. One of my hobbies is to set up a meeting with someone I admire and then come up with questions to ask them that they haven’t been asked before. I have also had to write questions for my books–at the end of chapters for group discussion. A few times I even wrote a whole group study resources–coming up with more questions than I could count. A few of these ended up as published resources.

But here’s my secret: [highlight class=”highlight_yellow” style=””]I hate writing group study questions.[/highlight]

They just seem so redundant to me. I get sick of writing question after question. I don’t even like using questions in groups studies–I skip over them or ask them in a mundane way, even mocking them in a group time. I write small group resources, but I’m a horrible small group leader. When we lead a group everyone begs my wife to lead instead of me.

Because I don’t like doing this I’ve learned a few things that make me better at it, yes, good enough that I’ve even been published doing this. Here’s a things I do to make sure my questions work:

  1. ANSWERABILITY – When formulating good discussion questions I try to think of five answers to the question right away. This way I know it is answerable quickly.
  2. IMPERSONATION – I impersonate different kinds of people in my answers to the questions. This tests the question, and whether it is easy enough to answer and is open ended enough. This is not algebra. No X = 142 answers allowed. Wise questions start conversation, instead of ending it.
  3. POSSIBILITIES – I think of “good answers” and the good questions that cause them. Sometimes I come up with a few subjects that the question can lead to and I re-write the question to include that possibility, while not forcing it.
  4. UNEXPECTED – I need questions that are unexpected. If everyone could have guessed the first few questions then the discussion will be staid–instead I want surprise.
  5. REMEMBERING – “Share a time when…” is one of the best ways to start a question. If they get telling stories I’ve succeeded. You know the old curmudgeon in the circle that hates small groups? If I can get that guy remembering and then talking about “a time when he lost something important” (for instance) then I’ve done my job as the question-writer.
  6. ACTIVITY – An activity can prime the pump of discussion. Some people don’t want to simply share–they need to do some activity first to get the juices flowing. Then I can ask about what they did, instead of just asking about what they read.
  7. HEARSAY – When I ask “what people think” it gets a creative discussion going better than just asking what they think. Even Jesus asked: “Who to people say that I am?” As I recall that started a pretty lively discussion! I try to use “What do people say about…” questions to get things going. People can then differentiate themselves from their answers, even if they agree with what they are saying–they don’t have to say so. Hearsay is not admissible in court–but it’s fun in groups.
  8. QUOTABILITY – A good question can be prefaced by a short introducing concept–especially if it’s just 5 or so words. This is the quotable part of the question, and it can even be excerpted from the source of the discussion (the book or video being discussed.)
These are some things that have helped me write better questions. I still don’t love doing this kind of work–but I’ve learned how to get the discussion going. Perhaps you’re better than I am at this. What do you do to write better questions? What are the ways you start questions or end them? What group discussion resources have you used that were helpful? Have you ever asked a question differently than someone wrote it? Why so? What’s your take?
[quote_box author=”” profession=””]”You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” – Naguib Mahfouz[/quote_box]
It is better to share than to receive...
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