No such thing as a stupid question?

by Alex Bauman

used by permission from

“When is your baby due?” Have you ever asked that question only to deeply regret it moments later? My wife and I have made it a point never to ask a seemingly expectant mother when her baby is due. Everyone is embarrassed when the “mother-to-be” replies that the baby is now at home with Dad.

That one question disproves the saying, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.”

In teaching we encourage our learners to ask questions no matter how stupid the questions may seem. However, teachers do not have that same freedom! Unfortunately a teacher’s bad questions during a lesson may strangle an otherwise good lesson. A lesson is better with no teacher’s questions than it is with bad ones.

As teachers, we must carefully construct our questions so they help the learners think through and apply the Word.

If you don’t want your lessons to become bogged down and go nowhere, then avoid the question pitfalls. Instead, pay attention to the signposts pointing to good questions that will help you present God’s Word effectively and will help your learners apply it to their lives.


Pitfall 1: Ditch Questions

“Ditch questions” are questions you should ditch lest you end up in a ditch as you move through your lesson! Obvious-answer questions are ditch questions.

No teacher likes to ask a question and then stand at the front of the class with glassy-eyed learners looking back at him or her. Most teachers hate that awkward silence. So to avoid silence, teachers will often ask questions that require little brain matter to answer; for example, “Who does God love?” or “Who is mentioned in verse 3?”

Asking questions that have obvious answers does not solve the problem of silence. It makes it worse! Adults will not answer obvious questions. Why? Because they feel foolish answering questions that require no thought process.

Avoid the pitfall of asking obvious questions that make everyone feel awkward.

Signpost 1: On-ramp Questions

Let your learners use their brains. Ask questions that require analysis, thought, summary, reflection, or opinion. Look at these examples:

Analytical: What did Christ mean when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself”?

Thought-provoking: What are some practical ways we could show love to our neighbors?

Summary: We have just made a list of ways that we can love our neighbors. What characterizes the items in this list?

Reflection: How have you loved your neighbors recently?

Opinion: What do you think is the most effective way to love your neighbor?

These types of questions are the “on-ramps” that will engage your learners’ brains. Ask questions like these, and you will get answers! More importantly, you will involve your learners throughout the lesson and increase the possibility that at the end of the lesson they will apply the truth from God’s Word.


Pitfall 2: Hairpin Questions

Watch the faces of your learners after you ask a question. If they did not understand what you were asking, they will furrow their brows or give you I-have-no-clue looks. When that happens, don’t blame the learners. Your question was probably too complicated.

Here is an example of a complicated question: Since Jesus tells us to love our neighbors and everyone is our neighbor, what should you do if, when you are at work, you see someone else not loving his neighbor—and you know that he should, but he isn’t—and you are not sure if he will accept any advice from you, since you are not the best of friends after what happened a few days earlier?

Complicated questions are like hairpin turns. You are not sure where you’re headed and you cannot see where you’ve been.

Avoid the pitfall of asking complicated questions that can hamper your lesson and cause distracting delays.

Signpost 2: Open Road Questions

Most clear, concise questions take time to craft. Teachers who wait until they are in front of their learners to create questions are in danger of asking complicated questions.

Think through your questions ahead of time. Look at the questions in the Bible study book and leader’s guide. Are they adequate for what you want to accomplish in the lesson? Do you need to create additional questions? If so, write them out and plan when you will ask the questions.

Discipline yourself to be ready with thoughtful questions that are simple yet meaningful. Planning your questions will help you avoid the distraction of hairpin questions and will help keep your lesson moving, as if on an open road.


Pitfall 3: Dead-end Questions

When you are moving through a lesson, the last thing you want to do is stop the flow. That is what a dead-end question will do to your lesson. A dead-end question requires only a yes or no answer and leaves nothing to further the discussion.

Do you like it when someone asks you a dead-end question? Most likely your answer is no. Not a very interesting answer, is it? You can remedy a dead-end question by asking the learner to explain his yes or no answer. But that practice will not always work. You put the learner in a potentially embarrassing situation when you ask him or her to come up with an explanation on the spot. Then your learners will watch the struggling learner and make a mental note not to answer anymore questions lest they be asked to explain themselves too.

Avoid potentially grinding your lesson to a halt by asking a dead-end question.

Signpost 3: Express Lane Questions

To keep the lesson moving, use “express lane questions” rather than dead-end questions. Express lane questions ask the learners to express themselves up front.

For example, instead of asking, “Does Christ expect you to love your neighbor?” ask, “What goes through your mind when your neighbor lets his dog use your yard as a bathroom?” Notice that the second question opens the door for sharing about loving difficult neighbors. Everyone can identify with situations similar to the one in the question. The question does not stop the flow of the lesson; rather it puts it into high gear.


Pitfall 4: Scenic Route Questions

Scenic routes are usually the most appealing routes to take. However, when you take a scenic route, you will most likely arrive late at your destination or will not get there at all. “Scenic route questions” take your lesson in a direction that you never intended it to go.

As you teach, interesting and sometimes controversial side topics come up. You have the freedom to pursue those side topics through questions. However, taking the lesson in an alternate direction through scenic route questions will keep you from bringing your learners to the point of internalizing God’s Word and realizing change.

Resist the urge to ask scenic route questions.

Signpost 4: Bridge Questions

Ask questions that serve as bridges, bringing your learners closer and closer to the point of internalizing the truth of God’s Word. Instead of taking the scenic route, cross the bridges that connect you with the route you originally planned to take. Promise to come back to the scenic routes at another time, and stay the course.

This does not mean you should never deviate from the lesson you planned to teach. However, the reason for deviation should be more than wanting to argue a controversial issue or wanting to impress your learners with your knowledge. Detours that help you deal with learners’ lack of knowledge or understanding, not scenic routes, are sometimes necessary to reach your destination.

At the end of your lesson, you want your learners impressed with the Word of God and the change it calls for rather than with the “scenes” they saw along the way.



While planning your next lesson, write out all of your questions ahead of time. Evaluate the questions. What kind of questions are they? Will they help you take your learners to the destination you have laid out for them?

When you teach the lesson, do something really brave: Ask someone in your class to record every question you ask. At the end of the lesson, get the list of questions from him or her and evaluate how well you stuck to your plan. Ask that learner to briefly evaluate how your questions helped him or her understand and apply the Bible passage.

No such thing as a stupid question? Think again. Make sure your questions help your learners understand God’s Word and personally apply it.





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