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Using Reflection Questions in Storytelling

Are questions beneficial for a storyteller?

Spoken questions from the audience can cause problems during a telling, but questions after the story is told can be beneficial for both teller and audience. In particular, there are three questions that can help your young audiences get more from your stories.

I am blessed with the opportunity to speak yearly at Pine Cove’s Kids Conferences. These weekend retreats are designed for grade-school age children and their adult sponsors. The weekends feature a variety of camp activities and three speaker sessions. I divide one large story into three twenty minute chunks that end in cliff hangers. At the end of each speaker session, the weekend sponsors and the children break into small groups and discuss the story using reflection questions.

The next time you tell a meaningful story, try following it up with reflection questions. Reflection questions can be used with various small groups. They are appropriate for any age (though younger children will need an adult to facilitate discussion). These small group discussions not only help your audience process what they heard from you, but they also promote community. Sometimes I join these small groups to further develop the relationship between teller and audience. Another benefit of joining in a discussion group is that I get immediate feedback. By listening to the discussion, I find out what ideas were communicated effectively and what concepts got lost in the transfer from teller to hearer.

The process of writing questions is fairly simple. For weekend retreats, I type them up and make copies for each camp sponsor. When I write reflection questions, I generally use three to five questions. Three basic questions are all you need to be effective. These are the same questions used when debriefing ropes course participants.

Question one: WHAT?

Like Joe Friday, you start with “just the facts.” Since this is not a school assignment, you don’t need to make your group give you who, what, when, where, why, and how. One question will suffice. You may want to ask what part your audience liked best. This introductory question will help refresh the story in your audience’s mind. Also, this opening question is non-threatening, so even the introverts in your group can share their opinion.

Question two: SO WHAT?

Now you want your audience to consider why the facts of the story are important. Because the told story is a work of art (in Greek, poema, a crafted thing), the details are there for a reason. Help your listeners recognize this. A simple way to accomplish this is to ask your listeners why they liked the parts they liked. The details of a well told story not only advance the plot, they impact the listener.

If there is a particularly important fact in the story, feel free to draw attention to it. Ask your audience why they think this detail is in the story. Help them consider what makes this particular detail so important.

Question three: NOW WHAT?

For many tellers it is enough to simply tell the story and let the audience draw their own conclusions. Reflection questions are beneficial because they allow the listener to make his understanding of the story more concrete. Some people think best out loud and sharing conclusions with the group helps them process information. This is especially important regarding stories with a moral content.

In the Hebrew Bible, wisdom is more than simply being smart; it is the ability to apply what you know. Use reflection questions to encourage your hearers to consider practical steps they can take based on the truths of your story.

Here are some reflection questions I wrote for a three-part Abraham story.

Who were the important people in today’s story and what did they do?

What promises did God make to Abraham in today’s story?

What did Abraham do to show his faith in those promises?

What did Abraham do to show that he did not always trust those promises?

What promises has God made to us? How can we show our faith in these promises?

Are reflection questions beneficial? Certainly. Well-chosen questions allow a discussion group to meditate on the many truths (to use a technical term, the polysemous meaning) contained in meaningful stories. Even more, these discussions can help the audience apply story-truths to their own lives. This application gives the story additional life. Help your stories live. Use discussion questions.

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