On Preparing Questions for a Group Discussion

14 01 2011

These are some good tips to help you prepare questions for our group book discussions:

Read The Book!

Obviously reading the book is crucial to setting good questions. When reading the book keep a note pad and pen to hand and make a note of any issues that arise. For instance if there is a point in the book which has you spluttering with disbelief, laughter or tears, make a note of the page number. This will help provide an important source of question material. When reading the book make notes of features such as:

  • Characters: The characters and personalities in the book make good discussion material. The stronger the character the more there is to talk about. These needn’t be the main characters, often the minor characters can make a meaningful contribution to the plot and warrant exploration further.
  • Relationships: How the characters in the book interact is an important part of the book and it is often the forming or breaking down of a relationship that moves the plot on in a book. These form a good basis for discussions, for instance, how did the break down of the relationship between X and Y alter the course of the book.
  • Location: Discussing the importance of a particular location to the plot can lead to interesting discussions. Questions might include whether the story would work as well if the book was set in town A instead of city B.
  • Writing Style: If the author used a different or unusual writing style then a interesting question would be how this influenced the understanding and enjoyment of the book. For instance. did the fact that the author wrote the book using flashbacks add to your understanding or enjoyment of the book.
  • Overall Feelings About the Book: After reading the book how do you feel? Are there any immediate thoughts that come to mind or scenes you keep replaying to yourself? Again, these immediate thoughts at the end of the book will indicate some of the important points in the story and will make interesting discussion. For instance if you are left wondering ‘well how did that happen’ or ‘what happened to…’, the chances are someone else will be thinking the same and interesting discussions can follow.
  • General Questions: In addition to specific questions such as those above, some more general questions are useful to encourage discussion. These might include the very basic – what aspect of the book did you enjoy the most / least, or more specific questions such whether a particular event influenced the outcome of the book.

There are a few rules to setting good book discussion questions. Make sure the questions are:

  • Interesting: Boring questions will get boring answers
  • Relevant: Questions that are not relevant to the book just cause confusion. This is particularly important with books that are part of a series.
  • Accessible: Make sure the questions are easy to understand. People don’t want to feel stupid because they don’t understand what the questioner is alluding to. When writing your own book discussion questions, avoid questions that are too general, like “What did you think of the book?” Also avoid questions that have yes or no answers. You want to ask questions that are open-ended and help people talk about themes and how the book relates to deeper issues.

Other tips on facilitating a book discussion:

  1. Write down important page numbers – If there are parts of the book that made an impact on you or that you think may come up in discussion, write down the page numbers so that you can access the passages easily while preparing and leading your group’s discussion.
  2. Let others answer first – When you are asking questions, you want to facilitate discussion, not come off as a teacher. By letting others in the book club answer first, you will promote conversation and help everyone feel like their opinions matter. Note: Sometimes people may need to think before they answer. Part of being a good leader is being comfortable with silence. Don’t feel like you have to jump in if no one answers immediately. If needed, clarify, expand or rephrase the question.
  3. Make connections between comments – If someone gives an answer to question 2 that connects well with question 5, don’t feel obligated to ask questions 3 and 4 before moving to 5. You are the leader and you can go in whatever order you want. Even if you go in order, try to find a link between an answer and the next question. By connecting people’s comments to the questions, you’ll help build momentum in the conversation.
  4. Occasionally direct questions toward quiet people – You don’t want to put anyone on the spot, but you want everyone to know their opinions are valued. If you have a few talkative people who always jump right in, directing a question to a specific person may help draw out the quieter people (and let the loud people know it is time to give someone else a turn).
  5. Don’t feel obligated to get through all the questions – The best questions sometimes lead to intense conversations. That’s a good thing! The questions are there as a guide. While you will want to get through at least three or four questions, it will probably be rare that you finish all ten. Respect people’s time by wrapping up the discussion when the meeting time is over rather than pushing on until you finish everything you planned.
  6. Wrap up the discussion. Review the major points discussed and thank everyone for participating. Maybe leaving some points for reflection can also make the group think beyond what came up in the discussion and remember the most important aspects of the book and the discussion.

Sources:

http://www.suite101.com/content/setting-book-club-questions-a41548

http://bestsellers.about.com/od/bookclubresources/ht/how_lead_talk.htm

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