Last week a small group Bible study leader asked me how I choose discussion questions from workbooks. These workbooks typically have chapters with five or six daily lessons that group members complete at home and plan to discuss when they meet.
You can’t ask all the questions: there isn’t time. But it’s essential to get through all the daily lessons, or those who finished their lessons will be frustrated they didn’t get to share all they learned. Additionally, people will start completing only the number of lessons they know you’ll cover and will thus miss out on important material.
So here I’ll share the steps I take to choose discussion questions that help me cover the most important questions in the allotted time.
I finish the entire chapter early in the week. The day before the meeting, I grab my workbook, pencil, pen, and pink and green fluorescent highlighters. I might use blue instead of green, but never yellow (too pale to see) or purple (hard to read through). I use pink to highlight questions I want to be sure to cover, and green for optional questions I’ll ask only if there’s time.
I read through the material again carefully, doing the following as I go:
- Decide each question’s potential for discussing:
- Essential: Practical application questions; questions whose answer explains the main point
- Helpful: Questions that support the main lesson, but aren’t essential to understanding it; redundant questions
- Unnecessary for discussion: Questions that provide background so you can answer essential questions; review questions (“What did we learn yesterday about this?”); deeply private reflection questions; most questions whose answer is a prayer
- Pencil in estimated minutes to discuss. I write a rough estimate of the time the question will take to discuss to the left of the question number. I ignore unnecessary questions and I put parentheses around the times of the least important helpful questions. Here are the estimates I use:
- ½: Fact questions that can be answered by one person (“What does Titus 3:2 say?”)
- 2: Fact questions that ask for lists (“What are the promises in this passage?”)
- 5: Non-personal discussion questions (“Why do people find this hard to do?”)
- 10: Personal discussion questions (“Do you find this hard to do? Why or why not?”)
- 5: Private discussion questions that not everyone will want to answer (“With what idol do you struggle most?”)
- Highlight essential questions. I highlight in pink a couple discussion questions and any number of essential fact questions per daily lesson. I highlight only the portion of the question I want to read aloud, not parenthetical explanations. If the question needs a segue, I write it in pen and highlight that too. If a daily lesson is short on essential discussion questions, I might promote one or two helpful questions to essential status.
- Tally the minutes needed per daily lesson. I jot down the total minutes needed to cover the essential questions highlighted in each daily lesson.
- Tally the chapter minutes and adjust. I add the daily lesson minutes needed together and subtract the total from the time allotted for discussion. If it’s very short, I highlight another question or two in pink till I’m within ten or fifteen minutes. Then I spread the remaining difference among the daily lesson minutes. For instance, if my daily lesson estimates are 18+6+11+17+13=65 and I have 75 minutes for discussion, the difference of ten minutes I’d spread like this: 20+7+13+20+15=75.
- Write beginning and ending times on first page of daily lessons. At the top of the first page for the first daily lesson, I write the time period I want to spend on that lesson. For instance, if the discussion starts at 9:30 and I’ve allotted 20 minutes for the first lesson, I write “9:30-9:50.” I repeat for all the daily lessons.
- Highlight optional questions. I scan the un-highlighted questions with times next to them and choose the most helpful. I highlight them with the green highlighter; these will be optional questions I’ll ask only if there’s time. I choose at least two per daily lesson.
Now when I get to the meeting, I ask or skip optional questions so I finish each daily lesson close to the ending time I wrote down for it. The group members are satisfied they got to share what they learned, everyone is blessed by each other’s answers, and those who might not have finished their lessons see the benefits of doing so and are encouraged to do more the following week.