5 Characteristics of a Good Question
Posted on September 2, 2014
By Dwayne McCrary
Good questions are an essential element of a group study time. Well-conceived questions usually lead to the “aha moments.” The “aha moments” are what make a group learning experience invaluable. So what makes a good question?
Purposeful – Every question can have a different function. A question can invite the group to participate (what do we need to study and why), direct discovery (what does it say?), help the group process the content (what does it mean?), or challenge the group to practice what they are learning (what do we do?). Different functions require different types of questions. It is not just about having a set of questions! It’s about asking the right question at the right time for the right reasons. (Note: The four steps listed above usually happen in the order listed.)
Open but with direction – Open questions require more than a yes or no answer. However, at the same time they are not without direction. Asking what stands out in the verse will generate conversation, but a better question may be what does this verse teach us about Christ’s redemption.
Guides without prescribing – Good questions help keep the discussion on track. You are guiding the group toward understanding a specific truth or concept and responding based upon that specific understanding. You are not leading them to make some prescribed response. (Ex: guided—how can we actively care for orphans and widows in our community; prescribed—don’t you think we should follow Paul’s directive and provide financial support for the local orphan placement organization?)
Encourages higher levels of thinking – Not all questions are created equal. A question that facilitates critical thinking and processing is of more value than a “got it” question (questions that are usually a repetition of content presented by the lecturer). Critical thinking adds breadth and depth to the group experience.
Empowers – A great question will empower the group to think and become an active part of the learning/discovery process. We are giving the group permission to explore, discover, organize, postulate, and process. One reason a lecture can be suffocating is the group is rarely given permission (empowered) to do anything beyond listen. Learners need to know it is ok to go beyond the facts and move to the meaning and application of a particular truth.
The title of this post is a little bit of a misnomer. Lots of people can write a question or create a list of questions. The issue is writing questions in sequence that move people through the observe, interpret, and apply process. Most of us know a good question set when we see it. Writing a good set of questions is difficult to do. Some say, it is the most difficult thing to do as a Bible study leader.
G. Dwayne McCrary is the team leader for the MasterWork team, leads a weekly Bible study group for his church, an adjunct professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and carries 20-plus years of church staff experience.