Top 3 Questions to get Students Talking by Ricky Lewis
Our organization (TEEN LIFELINE) provides 8-week Support Groups that thrive on creating and sustaining conversation with students. The difference we try to create is conversations that equip, encourage and empower students to find the tools and resources that will help them navigate life better. Many times with students, discussions can feel like they aren’t going anywhere. If you are working with students often, this can become frustrating. But what if you had just a few questions that could help you keep the conversation moving and, even better, guide students to relationships and resources that are going to benefit them on their journey?
A key tip to using these questions is to be willing to share from your own experience (in a relevant, appropriate way). This level of vulnerability helps students build trust and be more open themselves.
WHAT IS SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT THAT HAS HAPPENED THIS PAST WEEK?
This first question is important because it lets the students know that they get to decide what “significant” means. Something “significant” can be as small as eating a meal they love or as big as making the team or getting a new job. Using this question to start the conversation opens the door to follow up questions like these:
- What makes that significant for you?
- How were you able to do that this week?
- Is this something you hope to do again?
As is the case with all of these questions, using the initial question to get to the follow-up and deeper questions can help you, as the leader, find ways to be helpful and point to resources that the students need.
HOW HAVE YOU SURVIVED WHAT YOU HAVE ALREADY BEEN THROUGH?
This can be a tough question, but it is an important one. The big deal with this question is that you want to help the students recognize something positive that has helped them overcome trials in the past. It doesn’t have to be major, but it does need to be possible to replicate. For example, a significant relationship with someone who has died is not a legitimate resource any more. That being said, here are some examples for what could be great ideas:
- A regular work out or team activity
- An adult that is a good listener and great role model
- Good decisions about schedule: school, sleep, eating, etc.
- Healthy eating habits
All of these can contribute to students surviving the tough times they face in life. When asking this question, encourage students to take ownership of their ability to survive in the past. They have been through tough situations and have made it through – they are able to do the same thing again in the future!
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU CAN DO THIS NEXT WEEK TO MOVE YOU CLOSER TO WHERE YOU WANT TO BE?
The importance of this last question is to help the students choose something that is achievable. This is also a great place for you to model by choosing a goal that you will work toward over the next week as well. Some examples of achievable goals are:
- Getting more sleep to better focus during the day
- Studying more for the next test to get better grades
- Identifying 1 friend that can be a good accountability partner
- Getting closer to parents by helping with chores around the house
There are 2 main pieces at play in this question. As I already mentioned, you want the student to choose something that they can realistically accomplish and you can follow up with them about. Keep in mind though, while you want to encourage them to choose something that can actually be done, it is not the end of the world if they don’t complete it. It is more important to have follow-up discussion and walk them through how they succeeded or why they failed. If they did make some steps toward the goal, that is a great opportunity for you to encourage and praise them for their accomplishment. No matter what progress they made on their goal, help them explore what the next steps are to move them closer to where they want to be.
These questions continue to give me success in gaining ground with students. This means that it also leads me to better know what resources those students need, and knowing those resources allows me to point them in the right direction to help shape a positive perspective about their life.