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Those Juniors, Part 30: Six Honest Serving Men

by Eric B. Hare

Last week: A teacher’s voice should be cultured and clear. Voice culture should be taught to students, as well. You can put color and feeling into Bible verses, or anything else, by using expression in your tone of voice. It can be beneficial to omit pieces of a passage that will cause distraction in class.

We have already studied the deductive and inductive principles in teaching, and have noticed how the question method stimulates the thinking and discovery of inductive teaching. In this chapter we want to study the art of asking questions, for we recognize that some questions are weak stimulators and others are strong. In order to keep the principles of deduction and induction in mind, we will teach the first section on questions by the deductive method and the second section by the inductive.

Three Kinds of Questions (Example of Deduction)
There are three kinds of questions:

  1. Rhetorical
  2. Elliptical
  3. Clear, direct, simple

A rhetorical question is one that is used in a discourse, to which no answer is expected. One teacher makes a statement, then says, “Isn’t it?” Another says, “Of course, you can do this, can’t you?” In a flight of oratory Zophar the Naamathite cried out before Job, “Canst thou by searching find out God?”*  But neither teachers nor Zophar expected an answer or waited for one. The answer was too obvious. The question was only rhetorical and was asked by way of emphasis.

An elliptical question is really not a question at all. It is the part statement of a fact, made in such a way that the pupil is encouraged to complete it. The teacher might say, “On the first day God created——” then he pauses and looks or points to someone, expecting him to complete the statement with “light.”

TEACHER: “Honor thy father and thy mother: that——.”

PUPIL: “Thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

While elliptical questions are not very stimulating, they are very useful in obtaining some kind of response from the timid pupil. It is far better to get even this kind of response than to get none, and it is very difficult for a pupil to keep continued interest in a class in which he does nothing but sit and listen.

“What did God create on the fifth day?” is a thought-provoking question and one that demands thinking. But if the pupil is new or timid, he might hesitate in answering, lest his answer be wrong and he lose face. In cases like this the experienced teacher uses the elliptical question.
“On the fifth day God created birds and—” It would be an exceptionally timid pupil who would not complete this statement with “fishes.”

The questions mostly used, however, are clear, direct simple questions. They are asked for information, and an answer is expected and usually obtained.

“Where do you live?”

“In Glendale.”

“Are you hungry?”


When we say “simple” we do not mean “easy.” A simple question may be a very difficult one to answer.

“Who wrote the book of Acts?” is a simple question, but it is difficult to answer.

But, “Who said what, and why did he say it, when he saw the servants of Cornelius at the door?” is not a simple question; it is a very complex question, though the answer may be comparatively easy to give. We do not advise the use of complex questions, for very obvious reasons.

To be direct, a question needs to be so worded as to point directly at one answer. “Where was Jonah going?” may be answered, “To Joppa,” “To Tarshish,” “To Nineveh,” and all three answers are correct. But if I worded it, “After leaving Joppa where was Jonah hoping to go?” then the only answer is, “To Tarshish.” So it is important for teachers to study to make their questions clear, direct, and simple.

NOTE.—This section is typical of deductive teaching. It starts with the rule, then explains it with examples. It starts with the general law and ends with specific statements. The teacher does the pouring in.

Yes-No Answer Questions and Thought-Provoking Questions (Example of Induction)
We now want to discover the law that governs the formation of yes-no answer questions and thought-provoking questions.

I want you to ask me some questions—any questions—then notice carefully the kind of answers I give to them and on what side of the "board" I write them on, below. Ready?

“Is it hot?”                                         “No.”

“Where do you live?”                        “In Glendale.”

“Do you like apples?”                        “Yes.”

“How is your wife today?”               “Quite well, thank you.”

“Have you any pennies?”                  “Yes.”

“When will classes be over?”            “Tomorrow at noon.”

“Are you hungry?”                            “No.”

“Why do you stand to teach?”          “Because I can see the members of the class better.”

“Was that man your brother?”           “No.”

“Who spoke just then?”                     “Johnnie did.”

“May I bring a friend?”                     “Yes.”

“Which book do you want?”             “Adams’ Primer on Teaching.”

“Shall I underline that word?”          “No.”

“What did he say?”                           “He said, ‘No.’”

“Must we stand up?”                         “No.”

“Whose pen is that?”                         “I do not know.”

“Should I found out?”                      “Yes.”

“Whom shall I send?”                       “Send me.”

Is it hot?                                             Where do you live?

Do you like apples?                           How is your wife?

Have you any pennies?                      When will classes be over?

Are you hungry?                                Why do you stand to teach?

Was that man your brother?              Who spoke just then?

May I bring a friend?                         Which book do you want?

Shall I underline that word?              What did he say?

Must we stand up?                             Whose pen is that?

Should I find out?                             Whom shall I send?

What do you notice about the questions on the left? They can be all answered with “yes” or “no.” What do you notice about the questions to the right? They all need a sentence or a thought for an answer. That is right. Fancy trying to answer the question, “Where do you live?” with “yes” or “no.” It just does not make sense.

“Now, what parts of speech are the introductory words to the yes-no answer questions—is, do, have, are, was, etc.?”

“They are all auxiliary verbs.”

“What parts of speech are how, why, when, and where?”

“They are interrogative adverbs.”

“And what parts of speech are who, which, what, whose, and whom?”

“They are interrogative pronouns.”

“So, class, we have made a remarkable discovery. Who will state it for me?”

“Questions introduced by auxiliary verbs can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ while questions introduced by interrogative adverbs or pronouns require a sentence or a thought for an answer.”

NOTE.—This is typical inductive teaching. You see how we start with the examples and end with the law. We begin with the specific and end with the general. It is the method of discovery whereby the teacher draws the lesson out of the pupil.

You have also concluded that it takes much more thought to answer the questions commencing with interrogative adverbs and pronouns, and that they are, therefore, stronger questions than those introduced with auxiliary verbs. If you have had difficulty asking questions that stimulate thought, write the words how, why, when, where, who, whose, whom, which, what, on a little card and keep it in your lesson pamphlet or in your Bible where your eyes can frequently look at it.
Kipling is credited with this little verse:

“I have six honest serving men,
(They taught me all I knew) ;
Their names are What and Why and When,
And How and Where and Who.”

(Next week: “Ask Questions!”)

* Job 11:7.

Copyright © 1973 by Eric B. Hare. Used by permission

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