Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Lesson - How can I use questions effectively as I teach? - What I would do.

Kay, so, the first year I taught Sunday School to the youth with the new curriculum was 2011.  For some reason, in my archives, I only have two weeks worth of lesson plans for October, when I should have three or four.  As I've read through each lesson, nothing is striking a bell at all!

I don't have this calling anymore, however, Ben is in the Sunday School presidency and will occasionally be asked to substitute for a youth class.  He let me know he'd be looking at my blog for lesson plans (no pressure!).  I felt that I can help him, and you (the ones that visit my blog by way of Sugar Doodle or Pinterest), by prepping some more lessons from time to time and putting them on my Teaching Sunday School to the Youth page.

So here goes.

Introduction

I thought it would be a good attention-grabber to demonstrate bad use of questions by having a little reader's theater.  I would ask three volunteers to come to the front.  I'd have two chairs set up for the kids pretending to be members of a class, and then I'd have the "teacher" stand in front of them.  I'd give them each a copy of this little play and have them read it aloud.  It's important in these Reader's Theater types of things that you highlight each kid's part so that he doesn't mess up.  It helps them.

Teacher:  We just read in Isaiah 1:3-5.  Do the conditions in those verses apply to today?

Student One:  Yes.

Teacher:  Good, good.  Moving on.  We just read Isaiah 1: 11-15.  What is a bullock?

[The students look blankly at each other.]

Teacher:  It's a bull!  Bam!  I am soooo smart!  Moving on.  Take a second look at Isaiah 2:7-8.  What in these verses can be applied to today?

[Student Two raises hand.]

Teacher:  Yes?

Student Two:  Well, you know, chariots are a really big deal nowadays.  People are starting to turn back to the use of chariots instead of cars.  I see that happening today.

Teacher:  What on this earth are you talking about?  That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard!  Moving on.  What problem in the world today is Isaiah 2: 11-12 talking about?  Pride, that's what.  Pride.  We see that in today's world.  Moving on.  In Isaiah 3:5, he talks about the oppression of older people.  Do you know of an example of that happening in today's world?  [Pauses for one second.] No?  Okay.  Moving on.  We read in Isaiah 3:9.  The lesson says that this verse describes no shame for sin, but I personally think it talks about gay marriage.  What do you think about gay marriage?  Let's have a really heated discussion about gay marriage!!

[The students look at each other in fear.]

And...scene!

After the kids hand their papers to you and you move the chairs back to their original places and everybody has sat down, ask them what they thought of the teacher in this example.  Ask them if he was a very good teacher.  If not, why?  If none of the kids talks about the kinds of questions the teacher asks, point out that the teacher is really bad at asking questions.  Today, we're going to learn about the role of questions in teaching and what are good questions to ask and what kinds of questions don't really do much to facilitate learning.  We'll come back to this and analyze the questions the teacher asked.  Why on earth would the Church have me teach you about teaching? (Because that's what you'll be doing soon!  On your missions!  In your callings in college!  In your home and visiting teaching!)

The Savior's Teaching Questions

At this point, I'd hand out the following sheeties.  Depending on how many kids you have, you may be able to give one sheet per student (each one is different) or you might need to put the kids into pairs.  I split up the Alma chapter 5 section into three parts, since it's lengthier than the other sections of scripture.

The Savior's Teaching Questions

Directions:  Read Matthew 7:7-11.  

1.  What questions did the Savior ask in these verses?  Write them in your own words.






2. Why did He ask these questions?




 3.  How would the teaching experiences have been different if the Savior had not asked questions in these situations? 







(Answer key:  1.  If your son asked you for bread, would you give him a stone instead?  If your son asked you for some fish, would you give him a snake instead?  If you're not a perfect person, but still would give nice things to your kids, don't you think that Father, who is perfect, will give nice blessings to us if we pray and ask for them?  2.  It's an effective way to get a point across.  It makes us think more than a simple statement of "Heavenly Father blesses us when we ask for his help in prayer" would.    3. If Christ had just made a simple statement of, "Heavenly Father blesses us if we pray and ask for help," and moved on, it wouldn't have touched our hearts as deeply.  It wouldn't have put us in the place of a parent giving a child things he needs.  When we put ourselves in that place, we understand a little bit of the love He has for us.)

The Savior's Teaching Questions

Directions:  Read Matthew 16:13-17.

1.  What questions did the Savior ask in these verses?  Write them in your own words.






2. Why did He ask these questions?




 3.  How would the teaching experiences have been different if the Savior had not asked questions in these situations? 





(Answer key:  1.  Who do people say I am?  Who do you say I am?  2.  I think he wanted to teach them that testimony comes from the Spirit and not from man. I think he wanted them to have a chance to realize that they had a testimonies and to bear them. 3.  Again, I think it's more effective than him saying a simple factual sentence:  "Testimony comes from the Spirit and not from man."  I think Christ was able to give them more of an "aha" moment through the asking of questions.)


The Savior's Teaching Questions

Directions:  Read Matthew 16:24-26.

1.  What questions did the Savior ask in these verses?  Write them in your own words.






2. Why did He ask these questions?




 3.  How would the teaching experiences have been different if the Savior had not asked questions in these situations? 





(Answer key:  1.  Is it worth it to get worldly gain if you have gotten it through doing bad things?  What would you give to save your soul?  2.  I think Christ wanted to show them that worldly comforts are secondary to our spirituality.  That our priorities should be set with the Gospel as #1 and worldly comforts farther down on our lists.  I think he wanted to explain to them that saving your own soul is priceless.  3.  I think these are like those rhetorical questions that teachers sometimes use - where they give you a question and let you ponder them.  I think those rhetorical questions, when used sparingly, can be very powerful.  Again, more powerful than stating, "You need to put your priorities in order."


The Savior's (or his Prophets') Teaching Questions

Directions:  Read Alma 5:14-19.

1.  What questions did the Savior ask in these verses?  Write them in your own words.






2. Why did He ask these questions?




 3.  How would the teaching experiences have been different if the Savior had not asked questions in these situations? 





Answer key:  1.  Do you act like sons or daughters of God?  Does his Spirit show in your faces and in your actions?  Have you changed from the perspective of being a natural man to the perspective that you are God's child - have you realized that?  Do you believe in the Atonement?  Are you prepared to be judged when you pass from this mortal life?  Can you imagine how amazing it would be for Heavenly Father to tell you that you have passed the test and done a good job?  Do you think you'll be able to lie to him and tell him you've done a good job, when you haven't?  Can you imagine how guilty you would feel if you hadn't repented or lived in a clean and serviceable way?  Will you have repented and been clean when you meet Him?  Will the light of the Spirit shine from you as you look at Him?  2.  Again, this is so effective.  Way better than threatening the people he was preaching to with fire and brimstone, he had them imagine themselves in that situation - being judged at the end of this mortal life.  This is like with the rhetorical questions - they weren't meant to be answered.  They were meant to be thought about.  3.  I don't think that threatening people with fire and brimstone and damnation is very effective.  I think that having a person evaluate himself silently while you ask thought-provoking questions is way more effective.


The Savior's (or his Prophets') Teaching Questions

 Directions:  Read Alma 5:20-25.

1.  What questions did the Savior ask in these verses?  Write them in your own words.






2. Why did He ask these questions?




 3.  How would the teaching experiences have been different if the Savior had not asked questions in these situations? 





Answer key:  1.  When you are at the judgement seat of Heavenly Father, do you think He will allow you into Spirit Paradise if you've sinned and not repented?  How will you feel if you're standing there in front of Heavenly Father, and you haven't repented of your sins?  Won't your sins show in some way?  Won't your sins show what kind of a person you were?  Do you really think you'll feel comfortable entering into Spirit Paradise with the holy prophets, when you are so unclean?  2.  Again, these are rhetorical questions - made to be pondered.  I love how they have you imagine yourself there, unclean, in front of Heavenly Father.  That is powerful imagery.  Way better than simply saying, "You can't live with Heavenly Father if you aren't clean."  These questions really help us evaluate ourselves.  They motivate us to want to be clean when we stand before Heavenly Father.  3.  I don't think that the people Alma was teaching would have had as an effective learning experience if he had formed his sermon with only statements and not these deeper-thinking questions.


The Savior's (or his Prophets') Teaching Questions

Directions:  Read Alma 5:26-30.

1.  What questions did the Savior ask in these verses?  Write them in your own words.






2. Why did He ask these questions?




 3.  How would the teaching experiences have been different if the Savior had not asked questions in these situations? 




Answer key:  1.  If you've experienced that change of heart, are you continuing to have those same feelings now - the feelings of wanting to do good and shunning evil?  Have you made good choices?  If you died right now, would you be known for your humility?  Have you been repenting of your sins?  Is pride not any part of you?  Is envy not any part of you?  Have you made fun of others or bullied them?  2.  I think these questions were meant for self-evaluation.  Again, they're rhetorical questions - meant to be asked and then for the listener to close their eyes and honestly evaluate their behavior.  These kinds of questions can be so powerful.  3.  The sermon wouldn't have been as powerful if Alma had said, "Make sure you've been humble, repentant, and kind."  

Okay, phew!  That part took forever.  So.  Okay.  After each kid, or pair of kids, has finished his sheetie, have them share their answers with the rest of the class.  I don't think they necessarily need to read the original verses to everybody and then the questions in their own words.  I think they could probably just share the questions in their own words, their answers to #2, and their answers to #3.  I provided an "answer key" for each worksheet just to have on hand.  If the student is like, "I don't know why he asked these questions," this answer key is there for you to reference so that you don't have to try to hurry and look up the scripture and help them.

General Guidelines - Asking Questions 

Now let the students know that the class is going to talk about good kinds of questions and not-so-good kinds of questions.  Nothing is worse than asking a question and hearing crickets because nobody is responding.  These guidelines will help you to avoid that scenario.

I think we need to shake up the lesson a little bit at this point.  If I was teaching this class, I'd use a popsicle stick and affix two signs to them - one glued in front, the other glued on the back -  that say "yes" and "no" - one flipping sign per student.  I googled to see if I could find a printable for this, and I found one!  It's here.


I'd read each of the following questions used in a gospel teaching setting and then have the kids flip their sign to the side indicating their vote - whether the question asked is a good kind of a question or a bad kind of question.  After they vote, let them know if they were right or not, and describe why. After teaching junior high school and then holding several callings teaching the youth, I know the youth well, and I know that they will LOVE knowing that they were right and that they'll gloat to their neighbors if they get the answer right.  I think this would be a really fun way to teach this part of the lesson.

Since this activity is using signs, I thought that, throughout the activity, if there are warnings about using one type of question too much or about bad ways to pose certain questions, etc., that we could put warning signs up on the board as we go along - kind of like warning signs on a road.  Here's a simple warning sign, with a space underneath to write the warnings on:

Bring tape to class so you can stick these dudes up.  I'm putting the warning signs in bold below so you can prepare them.

The questions:

1.  "So, according to Isaiah 22:22, does the Savior open the door to Heavenly Father's presence?"  Is this a good question?
(Answer:  No!  According to Teaching, No Greater Call, questions that can be answered yes or no have limited use in gospel instruction. You should use them primarily to obtain commitments or to determine if someone agrees or disagrees.)

2.  "When Nephi’s brothers asked to be forgiven for binding him with cords, what was his immediate response?"  Is this a good question?
(Answer:  Yes!  Factual questions can help learners begin to study scripture passages.  With factual questions, you can help everyone begin a discussion at the same point. You can then move to questions that prompt deeper thinking and help learners see how gospel principles apply in their lives.  Warning:  Don't only ask factual questions. They don't require much deep thought.  Mix up the type of questions you ask.)

3.  "Why do you think this revelation came at this time in the history of the Church?"  Is this a good question?
(Answer:  Yes!  Deep Thinking Questions ask what, how, and why.  These questions encourage learners to think deeply about the meaning of scripture passages and gospel principles. Warning:  Don't try to get them to give specific answers to questions. They will quickly become aware of what you are doing and either stop participating or start guessing instead of thinking. When you need a specific answer, it is best to ask a factual question or present the information in some other way.)

4.  "According to Isaiah 3:18, what are 'round tires like the moon'?  Earrings!  I learned that in seminary!  Bam!"  Is this a good question?
(Answer:  No!  Warning:  Do not use questions to show your own knowledge. Ask questions that will prompt thoughtful answers from those you teach.

5.  "How do we sometimes make the same error as the people in this story?"  Is that a good question?
(Answer:  Yes! It is important to ask questions that help learners apply gospel principles in their lives.)

6.  “Suzie talked about how the Parable of the Prodigal Son teaches us that our Heavenly Father, like the father in the story, forgives us when we repent and come unto him.  What else can we learn from this story?”   Is that a good question?
(Answer:  Yes!  Follow-up questions can help learners think more deeply about a principle they are discussing.)

7. “Listen as I read this passage so that you can share what most interests you about it.  [The passage is read.]  So, what interested you about this passage?"  Is this a good question?
(Answer:  Yes!  It's a really good idea to prepare students for a question that you will ask.  It will help them focus and give them a better ability to answer the question.)

8.  "So how does this question relate to those dirty, dirty democrats and what they're doing to this country?"  Is this a good question?
(Answer:  No!!  Warning:  Don't ask questions that promote argument!!  Do not ask questions that create doubt or that lead to discussions that fail to edify.)

9.  "I want you to think about the answer to this question in your head - we're not going to answer this question out loud:  What have you done today that is moving you toward eternal life?"  Is this a good question?
(Answer:  Yes!  These questions allow for reflection and self-evaluation.  Many of the questions Christ asked were rhetorical questions - questions that you answer in your head, about yourself.)

At this point, put up three more warning signs, and briefly tell them what Teaching, No Greater Call says about these warnings:

Warning:  Respond to incorrect answers courteously.  You can say things like, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I asked that question very clearly. Let me try again.” Or you could rescue the individual by saying, “Perhaps you were thinking of something else” or “Thank you for bringing that up, but I’m not sure my question was clear.” Such responses will help those you teach feel more and more comfortable participating, even when they think they might be risking a wrong answer.

Warning:  Do not answer your own question.  Do not be concerned if learners are silent for a few seconds after you have asked a question. Allow time for learners to think of responses. However, prolonged silence may indicate that they do not understand the question and that you need to rephrase it.

Warning:  Give everybody an opportunity to speak.  To encourage more learners to participate, you may want to direct some follow-up questions to those who have not yet made comments during the lesson.  If several people have comments about a subject, you may want to say something like, “We’ll hear your comments first and then yours.” Then those you teach will remain orderly because they know that they will have an opportunity to speak.

In Closing

At this point, it will most definitely be time to finish the class.  I would share the following short (true) story - or better yet, one of your own - to drive home the point:

I visited a ward recently where I attended Gospel Doctrine.  The teacher was really funny and very knowledgeable.  He had obviously done a lot of research to prepare for the class.  I did learn a lot, but the class made me uncomfortable for several reasons.  

First, he hardly ever asked questions.  It was a one-man show.  He was up there to talk for an hour while all of us listened.  That's not true teaching.  Good teachers are facilitators.  They ask questions and guide the discussion as the class members take turns giving their input and responding to one another.  Second, if he asked questions, they were almost all fact-based questions.  We know that these are alright, but we learned today that we can't do all fact-based questions.  When he asked the questions, he was looking for a "right" answer and not respecting anyone who had the "wrong" answer.  
Third, he would ask questions and quickly answer them himself.  This makes the lesson more of a lecture than a discussion.  We want our lessons to be discussions.  Fourth, in one of his questions, he brought up a controversial topic that made me really uncomfortable.  I didn't agree with his views on the topic, and because of the way he brought it up, I was made to feel that I'm evil or stupid for disagreeing with him.  

Fifth, if someone had a comment, he very reluctantly called on them, they would give their comment, and he would be almost dismissive, like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah... Moving on..."  At the end of class, one lady raised her hand and shared a personal experience that was very emotional for her.  When she finished, he literally said, "Yeah, so...that was how I wanted to spend my last five minutes."  He wanted so badly to cover every single scripture in the lesson that he very seldom, and with great reluctance, called on people who raised their hands.  The result was that people didn't raise their hands very much. They were so worried about getting shot down that they just stopped responding to his factual-only questions.  So he started answering his own questions.

To me, this wasn't a successful classroom experience.  Yes, I learned a lot of facts.  But did I feel the Spirit?  Not a whit.  Not a whit.

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Carrie said...

Just wanted to pop in and say a big, fat THANK YOU for your youth Sunday School lesson helps... ESPECIALLY when you don't even have the calling anymore!! That puts you at lesson-help-blogger *ROCKSTAR STATUS* in my book. I was just called to teach the youth and came across your blog (and shortly after, bookmarked the heck out of it!). Your ideas and stories have been so, so useful for me to try and make my lessons more interesting, so my youth thank you as well! ;) I'm truly appreciative and I just wanted you to know. Have a great day!! :D Carrie

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