Season the Questions, Serve Them with Style


In your family discussions, do you sometimes find your children reacting to a question with the same lack of enthusiasm they show for third-time-around tuna casserole?

Teaching by asking can be effective. But when questions are always asked in the same ways or to the same people, question-asking may become a barrier rather than a bridge to learning. Consider these aspects of question asking:

1. Questions Are for Everyone. When you give a lesson during your family home evenings, do you find yourself teaching the one or two who you feel are most lacking in gospel understanding?

If a question is never directed toward mother, dad, or other adults, children will conclude that family home evenings are held only for the purpose of educating children. Of course, that’s not the case. Family home evenings are times for family members to enjoy being together in cooperative efforts pointed toward helping all family members to align their lives more with gospel truth.

So, equalize the distribution of questions. Generate the feeling that each person, not only small children, should be exercising thought processes.

The standard way to make sure everyone has a chance at answering a question is to ask questions around the table or around the room. One question for Sally. Next question goes to Susan. Then there’s Tommy. …

But vary the approach by having family members line up in alphabetical order according to first name spellings. Or make lessons competition time by dividing the family into two teams, either randomly or by teaming older and younger family members together, or by taping numbers under the chairs and having each family member find the number on his chair. Then you begin: “Okay, who has number one? Here’s the first question. …”

Usually, questions are tidbits in a lesson presentation, but sometimes they can become the very substance of the lesson itself.

2. Begin with a Question. “Why is it good to pay tithing?” Ask everyone in the group to respond in writing. Older family members can help the youngsters who aren’t able to write. Then go over all written comments together, noting similarities and differences in ideas. Make the answers the basis upon which to build additional discussion.

3. Delay the Questions. Announce that you will ask no questions for the entire family home evening lesson and that each person, as he listens, should think of one question (or more) that relates to the lesson. Then all questions can be heard and discussed during refreshment time. Such an activity can be not only a good review but also a springboard for more in-depth study.

4. Provide Practice in Formulating Worthwhile Questions. Before beginning a family home evening, hand out four or five slips of paper to each family member. Explain that each paper represents permission to ask one question. Each time a family member asks a question he will have to surrender a slip of paper. After he has used up all his slips he may not ask any more questions until after the closing prayer. (Some families with more reticent members might want to use the rule that you should use up all your question tickets before you can have any refreshments.)

5. Vary the Kinds of Questions. If a question is provocative, the question and the mental considerations which go into its answering will be more memorable. There are lots of ways to ask a question. Try some of these:

—Try using nothing but true or false questions during certain discussions.

—Fill-in-the-blank questions can be fun. For example: “I’m going to read a statement and use ‘ice cream’ in place of another word or words. You tell me what word or words should be there instead of ‘ice cream.’ Okay, here it is: ‘Peter, James, and John restored the ice cream in these latter days.’”

—Multiple-choice questions are especially good for very young children. Increase their chances of success by offering only two choices. “Charla, who was the man who baptized Jesus? Was it John or was it Moses?”

—Using a visual aid as a clue, have someone guess what the question is before answering it. For example:

Hold up a picture of the golden calf.

“Now, this is supposed to bring to your mind a question that I want to ask you. What do you think it is?”

“Who made the golden calf?”

“No.”

“Who was the prophet at this time?”

“Well, that’s close. Not who was the prophet.”

Where was the prophet when they were making the calf?”

“Right.”

This kind of questioning may seem too difficult, but if it grows out of the evening’s discussion, it narrows down question possibilities and gets people thinking of all aspects of a situation.

—Write review or lesson-development questions on cards and put the cards in a sack. Each family member can take a turn drawing out the question(s) he will answer.

6. If the Questions Are Too Difficult, Give Some Hints. For example: “Jamie, what is the name of the city Lehi and his family were leaving?”

When the person doesn’t quickly provide the correct answer or if he seems unsure of the answer, give him a hint: “The name of the city starts with J.” (Sound out the J sound for pre-schoolers.)

Maybe a stronger clue is needed: “The name starts ‘Jer-.’” (Again, sound out the name if necessary.)

When a person is required to finally piece together an answer—to think, then speak it—he will more likely remember it. If you simply tell him, “Okay, you don’t know it. The answer is Jerusalem,” he may not know it next time either.

Pre-schoolers especially benefit from the question-then-help-with-the-answer approach. They often find themselves in the happy situation of giving correct information which they hadn’t realized they knew. They learn to enjoy questions.

Are questions bland? No. They are not only palatable but delightful and nourishing to all ages. Season your questions enthusiastically and in varied ways. Your family may soon come to eagerly await second helpings.

[illustration] Illustrated by Michael Clane Graves

Dianne Dibb Forbis, mother of three, is a Sunday School teacher in her Rexburg, Idaho, ward.