Tips for Developing the Art of Asking Questions

In keeping with this week’s theme of dialoguing with children via questions, I am also reposting some of my other fun posts for blogs.bible.org. The following originally appeared here:

Her glossy red hair matched the twinkle in her eyes, but she stood hesitantly at the classroom door gently tugging on her mother’s dress. Her eyes seemed to say, Do I have to stay here? “What a lovely bow on your dress! It matches your green eyes,” gushed the teacher. As the mother left and more parents came, more comments ensued. “What lovely braids!” “Awesome superhero shoes!” “I love your sparkly headband!” 

Focusing on outward appearance is common among all age groups. When it comes to children’s workers,  it can be an icebreaker, or a friendly way to build a relationship. It is an easy method to use with minimal thinking involved, and almost everyone loves a nice compliment.

Are comments about looks or clothes always wrong? No, of course not. But sometimes I wonder if we are subtly conveying the message that outward appearance is what determines a person’s worth. Do we forget to emphasize that they are loved unconditionally by our Creator? Do we choose to dwell on shallow topics and never invest the time to develop a deeper relationship with the children with whom we interact?

As Christians we should want to rise above what our culture teaches about the beauty and value of a person and it starts with showing each child how much we value the whole person. Beware of over focusing on the external.  Ask questions that help you know what a child is thinking on the inside.

Building relationships with the children in our classes is an essential if we are to have a lasting positive effect on their spiritual lives. It starts with getting to know them. One advantage children’s teachers have is that most children love to ask and be asked questions. Silly questions. Serious questions.  Questions of practically any type.

You may have heard the advice, “Ask open-ended or follow-up questions.” True point, but easier said than done. It can help if you know some key phrases:

What would life be like if …?

How did you…?

Tell me about …?

What do you think/suppose…?

What does…?

Why…?

Now, choose a question starter and think of a category. You could choose from a wide range of categories, but for this post I’ll stick with two: people and animals.

People. This could include family, friends, school teachers, etc. You might start with a made up scenario, “What would life be like if you had 7 sisters?” Or you might ask about an actual scenario, “Tell me about your 7 sisters.” Perhaps ask about a child’s best friend, “Who is your best friend and why is that person your best friend?”

If a child is hesitant to divulge feelings at first, you might find success by coming at it from another angle. For example, instead of asking “How do you like your new school teacher?” you might ask “How does your friend John like your new school teacher?” Sometimes it is easier to express a friend’s feelings than your own.

Animals. Most children adore animals, so it pays to talk about what they love. You might ask, “Which animal is better, cats or dogs? Why do you think so?” You might use a string of question starters depending on the situation. “Do you have any pets. … Tell me about your dog. … How did you train your dog to do tricks?”

Not all children have pets, but you can still ask some creative animal questions. For instance, “What animal do you think describes you best and why?” Perhaps one would answer “A snail because I am slow,” or “A cheetah because I love to fun fast.”

Though it might be challenging at first. The more you practice asking questions the easier it gets.