One of the best ways to learn what your Bible students are thinking is to get them talking. Unfortunately, for many reasons, young people have learned that being silent in a class keeps them “safe”. Just because they are in a church environment, where grades aren’t given, doesn’t mean they will necessarily be more talkative.
Yet, how else will you know if they remember what they have been taught? How will you know if they understood the Bible lesson and its application? How will you discover the questions, doubts and problems with which they may be struggling?
There are actually some things you can do to make students more willing to speak in class. Here are some of our favorites.
- Make the classroom a safe place to share. It’s important to make sure students know your room is a safe place for people to share what they are thinking and feeling. They need regular reminders that what is said in class, stays in class – no gossiping. Students also need to know you won’t share everything with their parents. Make sure they know if you believe their parents need to know about something they shared (usually because they are putting themselves in danger), you will go with them to talk to their parents – not run secretly behind their backs.
- Ask a lot of different types of questions. Some students may not know all of the answers to questions requiring them to remember details of a Bible story, but can speak very wisely about what an application principle looks like in real life. Varying the types of questions will give students with different skill sets an opportunity to shine in their areas.
- Give opportunities for silent answers. Having students write down their answers anonymously and turn them in or hold up different colors of cards to represent different answers can help them feel more protected by the crowd of answers or the anonymity. This can be especially helpful to shy or introverted students.
- Allow students to indicate confusion or mastery without embarrassment. Instead of asking a specific question with only one right answer, try asking something more general. For example, “Who still is a bit confused by what Paul means in this chapter?” or “Who thinks they understand this application principle well enough to teach it to someone younger?”
- Occasionally ask questions for which there are many possible answers or for which you just want their opinions. When you remove the fear of giving the wrong answer, many students will speak up and answer questions.
- Let students work together in pairs or small groups before giving answers the entire class can hear. It’s important to remember, most of us aren’t teaching in an academic situation. We want learning to occur in any way we can get it to happen. If someone struggling can learn something more easily from a fellow student, that’s fine. Working in pairs can mean a student is only risking being embarrassed in front of one person, as the final answer will be more likely to be correct.
- Be careful how you and other students respond or are allowed to respond to answers that are wrong or “outside of the box”. If even one student gets mocked, put down or laughed at for their response to a question, most of the others will stop risking the same fate and sit silently.
- Don’t let one or two students answer every question. This one can be tough to manage. Young people who do well in school are often encouraged to showcase their knowledge. In Bible class though, it’s more important you know what everyone is thinking, not confirming one student knows all of the answers. You also don’t want to call on people who aren’t prepared to answer, making them even more uncomfortable. Often a simple, “Does anyone else think they may have an answer” can help encourage other students to raise their hands.
- Let everyone shout out the answers. This method is only for those who have great classroom management skills and can question and observe at the same time or have a helper to observe. When everyone is encouraged to call out the answers, those who know the answer will usually feel safe to say it. Watch for those who still aren’t talking or who mouth an incorrect response (some will be able to switch and say the correct answer mid-word). You don’t want to say anything. You are just making a mental note of whom seems to still be struggling.
Questions are one way of assessing basic student understanding of a topic. Discussions can encourage students to begin revealing their hearts. None of that will happen though, if you can’t convince them to talk. Try these techniques and see if you can’t get all of your students talking in class.