Students love to talk. Some will talk about anything. Others will wait until they feel they’ve got something to say. The beauty of a well crafted discussion starter is that most students will feel like they have something significant to contribute.
Ideally, a Biblically based discussion starter helps students ponder and process issues pertaining to the topic being taught and the Christian worldview. Some question may not appear at first blush to be Biblical, but will turn out to be in discussion.
Should one pay taxes while visiting or living in a foreign country, especially if one disagrees with the political status of that country?
The question seems neutral enough, but it is fairly similar to the question posed to Jesus in Luke 20:19-26. On the surface, the question is about taxes. After further discussion, it could easily lead to discussions on obligation, citizenship, law, and morality.
Things to Consider
That is the beauty of a well written discussion starter. It should bring the topic into a whole new light. There are a few simple things to consider when coming up with a discussion starter.
- It should be open-ended. Students should not be able to answer it with a yes, a no, or a simple answer.
- It should be a little broad, encompassing a couple of ideas, but not too broad that it is too hard to discuss
- It should touch on biblical truths.
- It should involve thinking at one of the top three levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.
How to Write Discussion Starters
Ok, so it should be a broad, open-ended, higher level thinking question that focuses on a biblical truth. Sounds easy enough, but how do you write it? It helps to have a topic and biblical truth picked out ahead of time. What is the class going to be learning about? What is the basic biblical truth that encompasses that? (See the Biblical integration posters page for a list of over 30 Biblically principles used in the classroom.)
It might help to think about what students like to talk about: themselves, entertainment (movies, music, books), their beliefs, justice and morality, etc. The following are just a few ideas to generate discussion starters.
- How is the knowledge of the topic being taught used and abused? (How is the topic manipulated for good or evil?)
- What controversial or counterintuitive issues can be discussed about the topic?
- What are other worldviews regarding that topic?
- What are the ramifications of the different worldviews?
- Do all cultures view the topic the same way?
- Can an absolute standard be applied to the topic for all cases at all times?
- How does the topic relate to the students, their family, society at large?
- What are the current events regarding the topic, and do the current events reveal a religious or philosophical position?
- Does the topic differ when applied to children, youth, adults, or the elderly?
- Which form of entertainment reveal the topic at a controversial or absolute level?
Benefits of Discussion Starters
Classroom discussions not only give the teacher insight into what students think and believe, it helps the teacher see which areas may warrant further discussion. When a teacher lectures all day, it is hard to tell what is going on in the students’ minds.
Classroom discussions will be most effective if the teacher has considered the questions ahead of time, and has a general direction he wants to take. Students may have differing opinions before, during, and after the discussions, but by-and-large, the teacher should try to help the students to come across the biblical Truths.
Even after biblical truths have been discussed, students may not wish to believe them, but that is a personal decision. The teacher’s job is to highlight the truth with grace, and help students find where the truth has been twisted or distorted. If the teacher takes a strong-arm approach and rams the truth down students’ throats, those with different viewpoints may become less willing to share in class discussions.
With a little practice, you really can turn your class into a hotbed of discussion.
Discussion Starters Examples
The following are some sample discussion starters divided into different subject categories. Download a PDF of all the discussion starters for every subject.
- If you could live forever at your age, would you want to? Why or why not?
- What is the difference between a trial and a temptation? (James 1)
- Do preachers and Sunday school teachers need to be held to a higher standard than public school teachers? Why or why not?
- Why would God keep the future (by-and-large) unknown? How would knowing the future affect life?
- What do you think makes God truly rejoice; what truly grieves him; what does God hate and why?
- Ecclesiastes 3:6 talks about a time to search and a time to give up. Is giving up a sign of failure? “Never give up, never surrender!” Buzz Lightyear.
- Why would God choose to be silent?
- What if God did not judge the righteous? What if the righteous knew they were not going to be judged?
- Ecclesiastes 7:28 talks about being one upright man in a thousand. Would you want to be the one upright man, or the 999 other men? Why?
- In the armor of God in Ephesians 6, why is there no armor for the back?
- Who needs armor? What should Christians expect if they need armor? Based on the different pieces of armor, what should a Christian be prepared to do?
- How can a person tell the difference between a cult or sect and a true religion?
- How does faith affect what an author writes?
- How does faith affect how a reader understands a book?
Math / Economics
- Why is tithing based on a percent rather than a flat rate? Who benefits from the percentage scale?
- What is so important about setting standards? Standard weights, standard grading scales, standard requirements for passing a class, standards for right and wrong, etc.
- What determines a person’s value or worth?
- Why do people get paid a different amount of money?
- Why/how do living things like animals and plants grow with timing and size mechanisms? (When to grow, to what length, to stop growing, etc.)
- Why do living things like animals and plants grow symmetrically?
- What separates man from animals? (How are animals different from man?)
- If man is just an evolved animal, why is it wrong to kill men, but not other animals?
- Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
- Which came first, the cell or the DNA or RNA?
- How can the knowledge of the respiratory system (atoms, states of matter, energy, force and motion, families, the judicial system, economics, etc.) be used for good or evil?
- What would life be like without pain? What is the purpose of pain and suffering?
- How does a person’s religion affect how he does his job? (Police officer, soldier, banker, baker, cleaner, waiter, business person, etc.)
- Why do firemen risk their lives to save others?
- What famous person would you want to be like, and why?
- What are the different messages people send by the way they dress? Is the message sent always the message received? (suit, jeans, baggy/saggy pants, slovenly/messy, gothic, skimpy/sexily, oversized, skin-tight, flashy/with bling, etc.)
- Which would you rather have and why, respect, power, money, fame faith, intelligence, pleasure, youth?
- Bumper Stickers: Do you agree or disagree with the sticker: “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
- Bumper Stickers: Do you agree or disagree with the bumper sticker: “Well behaved women seldom make history?”
- Bumper Stickers: Do you agree or disagree with the sticker: “Life sucks, then you die.”
- Bumper Stickers: Do you agree or disagree with the sticker: “It’s a dog eat dog world.”
- Bumper Stickers: Do you agree or disagree with the sticker: “Celebrate Diversity.”
- What do you want to be when you grow up? Why?
- How should life be different for Christians than non-Christians?
- Which gods/religions operate out of love? How does that affect the followers and society at large?
- How can a person avoid wasting his life?
- How would the world be different if children ruled the world? What impact would that have on education, war, justice, healthcare, agriculture, nutrition, discovery, manufacturing, the arts, fashion, transportation, etc.
- What is the difference between a slave and a servant?
- What is so bad about breaking the law, rebelling, adultery, perversion, lying, perjury? What if a large percentage of society had trouble with these things?
- Who is best to decide what children should learn at school?
- How does the faith of a teacher (school, university, etc.) affect the classroom, students, and society?
- How are the roles of parents and children different?
- How are men and women designed differently?
- What are ideal parents like? Ideal children?
- What decisions do parents have to make on a regular basis that children do not?
- Why do children rebel? What is the goal?
- How can faith affect the kinds of laws a government will pass?
- Why is evil, or the dark side, so appealing? Can evil really fulfill the desire?
- Why is there an age requirement for voting? (If you could change the voting age, what would you change it to, and why?)
- Why do people go to war?
- What makes a judge qualified to decide a case?
- Who needs law, and why?
- Why is it hard on the evil and righteous when punishment/justice is delayed?
- Does every society need a leader?
- What are the traits of a good leader?
- Are leaders born or made?
- Are you a follower or a leader? When and who do you follow? Who follows you? When?
- Are you a good follower? Are you a good leader?
- Does Jesus qualify as a good leader? Why or why not?
- How are citizens’ right different from aliens’ rights?
- What is the difference between human and civil rights?
- Why is more than one witness necessary in a court of law?
- Why does or doesn’t the past matter?
- Why do people enslave or suppress others?
- Why is it ok to end the life of a living thing before it is born, but not after?
- What is truth?
- What is the difference between good and evil?
- How does one’s faith affect what a person sees as the meaning of life?
- Why or why isn’t man responsible to help the poor and weak?
- What makes something right or wrong? (Ie. killing, drunkenness, lying, cheating, stealing, smoking, drugs, etc.)
- What makes someone mature versus immature?
- What is the difference between a wise person and a fool? Can a teenager be wise?
- What is ambition? How can it be good and bad?
- What are things that people know they should do but don’t do them? If people know they are things they should do, why don’t they do them? Why do people knowingly do the wrong thing?
- How do youth and adults find significance in life in similar and different ways?
- Why is there evil in the world?
- Why do bad things happen to good people and vice versa?
- What is hope? Why is it so important? Where do people place their hope?
- Is there any value in doing good if the reward is delayed or never comes?
For more resources see Biblical Integration