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Those Juniors, Part 31: Ask Questions!


by Eric B. Hare

Last week: There are three kinds of questions that can be asked—some are more beneficial than others when it comes to teaching. Ask your students questions that will make them think.


Streamlining the Socratic Method

Away back in 469 BC was born the famous Greek philosopher Socrates, and while Ezra and Nehemiah were busy rebuilding Jerusalem and its walls, this old gentleman walked the streets of Athens with a new idea. He did not claim to be teaching; he was professing ignorance. He accosted people in the market or in the street and asked them questions. He built his theory on the wide-spread belief of the reincarnation of the soul and believed that he was only drawing out knowledge stored away in some previous existence. He developed a technique of questioning which first showed up the ignorance of the pupil, then led him on to certainty in his conclusions. His method showed to the world the stimulating force there could be toward real thinking in “questions.”

We have already seen the superior strength there is in questions introduced by interrogative adverbs and pronouns. Let us go a step further and notice what a tremendous force there is in a “streamlined” question and how much more thinking it stimulates.

First let me make a statement as we do in deductive teaching, and as it is made, you try to measure the amount of thought it stimulates. Then I will ask a yes-no answer question, then a thought-provoking question, then a streamlined question, and you try to measure the thought stimulated in each case.

Deductive Statement—“Goliath was a giant.” Note that there is very little thought stimulated, but let us say it took one unit of thought to assent to this statement.

Yes-No Answer Question—“Was Goliath taller than David?” Note the answer is “yes,” of course. You still didn’t have to think very much, but maybe a little more than for the assent to the deductive statement, so let us call this two units of thought.

Thought-provoking Question—“How tall was Goliath in feet?” Note that now you really think. How much is a cubit? One foot, six inches. Six cubits will be nine feet. A span is half a cubit; that is nine inches. So Goliath is nine feet nine inches tall. Shall we say this took four units of thought? It was certainly twice as much thought as the yes-no answer question required.

Streamlined Question—Choose the correct answer. “How much taller was Goliath than David?


  1. Four feet.
  2. Three feet.
  3. Two feet.”

NOTE: See what happens? You ask for those who think four feet is the correct answer to put hands up. Some hands go up. Then you ask for hands up on three feet and two feet. You ask one of the four-foot answerers to state why, a three-foot answerer to state why, and immediately the ice is broken, interest is aroused, the class discusses the length of a cubit, the height of Goliath, the fact that Saul was head and shoulders above the average, that his armor was too big for David, that David was maybe about six feet tall. Therefore, the four-foot answer is nearest correct. Have you thought twice as much as you did for the previous thought-provoking question? Then here are at least eight units of thought stimulated, compared with only one stimulated by the pouring-in lecture method. And yet, the majority of our teachers are satisfied with the old funnel method.

Let us take another example without comment, but weigh carefully the stimulation in each statement or question.

Deductive Statement—“The wise men came to Bethlehem sometime after the shepherds and brought their gifts to Jesus.” (That is so.)

Yes-No Answer Question—“Did the wise men come to worship Jesus the same day as the shepherds?” “No.”

Thought-provoking Question—“Where did the wise men find Jesus when they brought their gifts?” “In a house.”

Streamlined Question—Choose the correct answer. “How long after the shepherds worshipped Jesus did the wise men arrive in Bethlehem with their gifts?

  1. 30 days.
  2. 1 year.
  3. 2 years.”
And in coming to the conclusion that it must have been “at least six months after and less than two years” you have discussed and compared the length of the wise men’s journey, the fact that they found Him in a house, also that it took Ezra five months to make a similar journey and that Herod’s decree, whereby he hoped to kill the infant Jesus, included children up to two years to make sure.

Let us take one more example.

Deductive Statement—“Jonathan was the son of Saul, and he might have been king after his father.”

Yes-No Answer Question—“Would Jonathan ordinarily have been king after Saul?”

Thought-provoking Question—“Who was the rightful heir to Saul’s throne?”

Streamlined Question—”Put your hands up when you recognize the person from these clues:

“1. I am thinking of a certain prince whose name means ‘Jehovah gave.’

“2. He was born in Gibeah of the tribe of Benjamin. (1 Sam. 10:26; 13:16.)

“3. At that time there were only two spears and two swords in Israel, and he had one of each. (1 Sam. 13:19-22.)

“4. Once his father was going to kill him because he ate some honey.

“5. He was the most wonderful friend to David.

“6. His name was ———.”

The technique of streamlining questions, however, is not limited to multiple answers and clues. The patterns are numerous. Any method that stimulates thought and captures the attention, that harnesses the curiosity, and satisfies the junior appetite for variety is streamlined. The book Go Till You Guess by Amos Wells is a book of clues. It is an excellent book, but since my burden is to put patterns in your hands by which you can cut out the material of our own lessons week by week, I recommend to you, as containing the greatest variety of patterns, Mildred Olive Honors’ four little books: Bible Clues, Bible Quotations, Bible Quizzes, and More Bible Quizzes. I think, however, that samples of some of the most usable patterns deserve a place in this series.

(Next week: “Powerful Patterns, Part 1.”)

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

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