I cannot claim that any of this content is totally unique. You can find some version of this in almost every youth ministry book that includes a section on leading discussion. With that disclaimer, here are some tips and ideas for making the crickets go away next time you lead discussion with students:
- Wait it out. This is the number one mistake that people make when trying to get students to talk. Ask a question and then wait (however long it takes) until someone offers an answer. Remember, they’ll let you talk if you don’t wait. So, wait, and eventually someone will ask you to restate the question. After which you... wait! Eventually someone will answer. By answer I don't mean "I don't know" you are waiting for real content. If they truly don't know, ask them what is difficult to understand, etc.
- Ask questions concerning family/siblings. Sometimes bringing the discussion around to family will give them lots of practical application to talk about. If you are talking about envy try asking, "What is something you have envied of your brother's/sister's?"
- Use Open Ended Questions. Ask questions that do not prompt a yes or no answer. These questions often start with words like “how,” or “why.” Adding "why or why not" to the end of a question does not make it open ended, and usually won't work with a group that is not engaging.
Creative Types of questions:
- The devotional question: This is the basic level, most materials you will use will have questions printed in them to start group discussions. These are a place to start, but are often inadequate because of the datedness of the authors or because no resource fits every culture.
- Emotional Questions: Many times students will begin to use the “I don’t know” escape. Students may answer “I don’t know” for many reasons; laziness, embarrassment, coolness, or even misunderstanding. Most often a student will answer this way because they are afraid to get the “wrong” answer. When rephrasing the questions doesn’t help, use an emotional question that will take the “correctness” out of the answer. Ask a student how they “feel” about a some part of the content at hand. Try creating a hypothetical situation that a student can personally find him or herself in. Then, guide them in connecting the original questions with the hypothetical situation.
- Interview Questions: If students are having a problem opening up to a whole group, especially when some strong personality types are acting out, try pairing the students up and have them interview each other with the questions you have, taking turns asking and responding. After they finish interviewing each other, go around the room and have each pair share some of their comments. This is especially good when the group is new and everyone is a little shy.
Be Careful, this question can turn into a free for all gossip or chit chat time within the group. Limit the time, and when you can see that several groups are finished, bring everyone back together... don’t wait for everyone to finish their interviews!
- Group Creativity Questions: This works especially well if you have an artsy, creative group. If analytical discussion is failing you, allow the group to answer questions creativity be creating skits, songs, poems, drawings, etc. This not only allows for more interesting interaction between students, but it allows them to use 0their gifts as ministry.
- Consensus Questions: Sometimes the best thing you can do for discussion is to get out of the leadership role. Ask non-feeling related questions to the group, and give them a set amount of time to come to a consensus. Make sure that these questions are broad questions like: Who did the right thing in this story, etc.