How to lead a great group discussion with preteens
Creating an environment for great group discussion isn’t easy. But when those interacting with each other (and you) are 8- to 12-year-olds gathered in a church classroom, meaningful conversation becomes an even greater challenge. You want to shape their lives with powerful, life-changing truths; they’re wondering when a new Hannah Montana episode will air.
So how do you set the stage for flourishing discussion? Here are a few guidelines for getting great group talk with preteens.
1. Silence is golden. Some teachers get nervous when they ask a question and the room goes quiet. But sometimes it’s best to let the silence linger. This does a few things: First, it shows you actually want discussion and aren’t just lecturing. It also gives the students time to think. Third, it reveals to you the types of students you have (their depth of thought, the talkers vs. the non-talkers, etc.).
2. Don’t ask yes-or-no questions. It’s OK every now and then to pose a question that has a definitive right or wrong answer. But if you really want to get conversation going, opinion questions are more effective at opening the doors for group involvement. There’s a difference between asking, “What did the blind man do when Jesus healed him?” and “Why do you think the blind man did what he did when he was healed?”
3. Affirm participation. When a tween chimes in with a thought, don’t criticize his remarks. Nothing quiets a crowd faster than a critical leader. Make a point to also use affirming nonverbal communication.
4. Involve everyone. Sometimes it’s helpful to have an “everyone answers” question. These can range from basic opinion questions to funny discussion starters. Go around the room and have everyone respond, even if it’s with a short answer. This breaks the ice for everyone and makes each person more likely to answer deeper questions later.
5. Give individual attention. Each participant in your group approaches discussion differently. You may need to prod the quiet ones by asking, “What do you think?” Others will tend to dominate discussion. If this becomes an issue, an easy solution is to say, “I appreciate your input—what do the rest of you think?” Recognize that students reveal something about themselves in these situations. Why are they shy? What makes them have a story for everything? Do they have a low self-image? Are they seeking attention?
6. Don’t trump everything. When teaching tweens, you’ll undoubtedly know more about what you’re discussing than they do. But which is more valuable: telling students something or having them discover it on their own? Allow students to struggle with ideas before giving them the answer. Ask follow-up questions when something sticks out as relevant, even if it’s not in your lesson plan. Give students room to discover truth independently of your teaching. When they teach themselves, things tend to “stick” much better.
7. Maintain control. Although you want as much participation as possible, don’t forget that you’re the leader. Steer things back on track when they get way off course. Never allow a student to intimidate or make fun of another. Remember, it’s your job to keep the conversation flowing in a safe, productive way.
Great discussion doesn’t require years of training, extra space or expensive resources. With a solid batch of questions and a few simple hints, your lessons can come to life in new and exciting ways for your students.
Titus Benton is a student minister at First Christian Church in Florissant, Mo.