This article is intended to help readers better utilize the new Teaching in the Savior's Waymanual that was recently released.
Ask Inspired Questions
Learning to ask inspired questions is something that takes introspection on the part of the teacher and a strong connection to the Spirit. It also requires a degree of spiritual maturity, which takes a while to develop. But it is never too soon to begin the process.
The following sections cover aspects of inspired questions. We all have certain abilities in each of these areas. We just need to refine them and enlarge upon them.
Ask Questions that Help Learners Gain Basic Knowledge of Eternal Truths
When asking questions, think about what you want to ask in the privacy of your home before you ask it in class. Once you have asked your question, try to think about different ways the class members may be hearing your question. If you have someone to listen to your questions, they may surprise you with what they think you are actually asking. Learning to ask good questions is a skill that takes a lot of practice.
In the manual, they use this question as an example: “What details do you find in these verses that describe the Savior’s experience in the Garden of Gethsemane? What did He do for us there?” If they had not included that second, qualifying question, the teacher could have gotten a wide range of answers, many of which wouldn’t have moved the discussion forward. By adding that qualifying question, the teacher is able to narrow the field of desired responses and is able to direct the attention of the students to find the kind of information the teacher is looking for.
Ask Questions that Touch the Heart and Mind
Most questions that are easy to ask and easy to answer are fact based. But the questions that cause us to really learn and feel things are opinion and experience based. Examples might include things like:
- “How do you think they felt when ...”
- “What has been your experience with this principle?”
- “Did you ever have a time in your life when ...?”
These questions get people thinking how the gospel affected their feelings and decisions in life.
There are rarely answers that come in the form of one right response. Consider many responses might prove instructional to the members of the class. It is good to have the class learn that people can have different experiences with the gospel and still be “right” in their feelings and understanding of a doctrine.
Spiritual maturity takes time and it is far more inclusive of other’s experiences than we sometimes think it should be. For example, take learning how to share with others. What we teach to and expect from a six year old, is quite different from what we would be teaching to a 16 year old or a 46 year old. We grow in abilities and capabilities with age and experience.
Almost all principles have layers of complexity and promise. The spiritually mature are accepting of those who are at different levels of understanding. Teachers need to be promoting tolerance and acceptance among class members for each other’s differences.
Ask Questions that Invite Learners to Act
This section introduces a third category of questions, the introspective question. Once we have asked the factual questions, and we have discussed the opinion and feeling type of questions, it is time to turn the focus inward to see how the discussion can open ways for each of us to change and be better in the upcoming week.
The manual talks about the need to not be afraid of silence. Just as music is as much about silence as it is about sound, so too conversation is as much about thinking as it is about talking. Be sure to give your students some time to think about their answers and to consider what you have talked about in class.
We don’t have to have prolonged moments of silence, but short pauses to give people time to consider a point are good. They help people put their thoughts in order or to determine how they really feel about something. Silence if probably more difficult for the new teacher than for anyone else.
Silence is not a sign of unpreparedness or a lack of understanding. At least it isn’t unless you are stuttering and stammering the whole time. Learn to just be quiet in front of your class while you watch to see when they are ready to speak. Even a five-second pause can seem like a long time, but learning to listen is a great skill to acquire.
Introspective questions require time to consider. You may or may not want a response from class members. You certainly don’t want people sharing things of a deeply personal nature in class. You need to judge what is appropriate to share. So when you ask introspective questions, feel free to tell the class that you aren’t really looking for a response, you just want them to consider the question and how it might affect them.
Ask Questions that Invite Learners to Bear Testimony
We mentioned earlier that testimony bearing invites the Spirit. Once you have discussed a principle, have challenged people to consider certain behaviors and how to apply them in their lives, asking for testimonies from the class is a good choice.
This is one of those questions where we need to be prepared to pause and wait for an answer. People often need to feel the promptings of the Spirit before they feel comfortable sharing their testimony about certain subjects. They often need to have time to put their feelings into words. Hence the need to pause and wait for responses.
When we ask for testimonies, learning to ask specific questions is an important feature of the moment. If we ask for testimonies from the class but ask it in such a generic way that no one really knows what they are supposed to be talking about you could get any response. But if you frame your request for testimonies in a specific format the students will understand what kind of testimony you are looking to be born. For example, the manual uses the question, “How have you come to know that Jesus Christ atoned for your sins?” This is a very specific question and sticks to the topic being discussed. The students know exactly what you want to hear.
The students need to hear your testimony. You need to hear their testimonies. Between you and your students, all will be edified.
Ask Questions that Encourage Self-Evaluation
The questions that encourage self-evaluation don’t necessarily need to be answered in class. These are questions meant for each person’s personal inventory. We don’t want to ask Sister Jones if she has the faith to pay her tithing. If we asked such a question directly and expected a response, she may never return to class. But we certainly need to ask the question and encourage the class members to consider their answers.
They also need to ask themselves to evaluate why they answered as they did. If you were to ask the class: “Do you tell your family that you love them?” You might follow it up with: “If you don’t, why do you think that is? Why don’t you tell them?” Again, ask the question to get them to consider the answer, but don’t require that they answer out loud. This could be very embarrassing for many.
In the last question example about telling your family you love them, some might not have come from a family where love is ever directly expressed. Some families express love all the time. We need to take into account differences in family dynamics. It will be more difficult for some to learn to express love than for others, especially if they were not raised hearing love expressed.
Ask Questions that Assess Understanding
Questions that assess understanding can come at the beginning of a subject to see what students already know about it. They can also come at the end of the discussion to see what students have learned about it.
Assessing-type questions can be factual, opinion/feeling, or introspective in nature. A good mix of these is often required to see if you got your points across and if they have felt the Spirit in the course of the lesson.