Adding a fun bit of "gamey-ness" to your discussions creates engagement and taps into their desire to "play."
For the most part, any game idea can be turned into a discussion technique. The trick is to ask good questions that aren't too hard, and to patiently wait for (and help prod) their response.
The props, puppets, and gameplay are also a bit of MIS-DIRECTION. The playfulness of the technique leverages fun and smiles over an against anxiety and some students' desire to hide from or dominate discussion. The seeming randomness of "who has to answer" puts everyone on the spot in a fun way. It also allows you to come up with new questions and point out new insights on the fly without appearing to just be talking all the time.
There is no game rule you cannot change, and frankly, you should change the "rules" as you go to facilitate discussion.
Aside: As one of Rotation.org's regular Writing Team writers, I can tell you that we have put A LOT of different discussion techniques into the Team's lessons.
We often KEY the discussion technique to the workshop medium. For example, in the Art workshop we might use an art supply or activity to facilitate the discussion. Or in the Cooking workshop we might use food as the discussion prop. Gaming in the Game Workshop, of course, and a dramatic technique to respond to a question in the Drama Workshop. This is another way that the Rotation Model makes sure your students are exposed to a variety of techniques, instead of the same-old teacher's same-old discussion style all year long.
Here's a basic game that has a hundred variations...
"Story Questions from a Hat"
Put questions on slips of paper and have kids draw them from a hat. Yes, you can keep "discussion score" on the board with some silly points or "number of fatted calfs" if you're studying the Prodigal Son, for example. Questions are a mixture of story facts and open-ended questions.
- "How did so-and-so feel when...."
- "If you had been there, what would you have done differently?"
- "What should that person have done?"
- "Why did God/Jesus do what he did in the story?"
- "If you were ____ in the story, what would you have done differently?
- What's the book/chapter that this verse is from?
- Quote any phrase or sentence from the passage we just studied.
- Make the person to the left of you answer this slip's question!
- Receive 1 point for every thing you can tell us about the story.
- Act out such-and-such part of the story and explain their reaction.
- Summarize this story for a four-year-old.
Variations on this: Work as teams, let each team pick three questions to ask the other team. Let each team then prepare their answer in advance (looking at the scripture, for example, and talking with you!. Have a podium to have them step forward to answer their question. Hold up a sign that says 1, 2, or 3 points on it (like in the Olympics).
Every question and answer is an opportunity to slip in more info and prod them for more response. Works wonders, especially with older children who tend to be more competitive.
Toss the Story Prop
Toss the SuperHero or Puppet
I've used many variations of this one. Tossing GI Joe King David and asking a question to the kid who caught him (that kid had to answer like GI Joe). Toss and Catch Baby Jesus is a fun way to ask questions about story. For a discussion about Elijah, I brought out our super-hero puppet (cape and all), tossed it to a kid and asked them a question which they had to respond to with the Elijah puppet. I asked the question using another puppet. You can make up rules as you go, like you get one pass to "toss" to someone else.
Many years ago I used a "Batman" plush doll and Batmobile toy that had been left at the church as a "discussion reward." When a kid said something extra thoughtful, we rolled the Batmobile to sit in front of them -until the next special response, and asked the class why that response was particularly good. Fast forward to the mom who asked me after church why her son was "talking about winning the Batman today." Younger Child Variation: Stickers.
In one puppet-infused discussion Exodus discussion we gave everyone a puppet-character from the story, and created questions for each character. Then "on 3" we tossed the puppets in the air and they had to grab one. If they dropped it or didn't grab one, they had to answer the question. The golden calf was a plastic horse with a piece of yellow cloth tied around it. His questions were kind of funny. We also played "Toss the Commandment Numbers in the Air" and the students had to pick up the number which landed closest to them, and come up with a way to obey that commandment.
"Pass the Talking Stick"
This is a fun one with many variations. A "Rain Stick" is a good one to pass, you hand it to the student who wants to answer, and they get to "make it rain" after their answer. Variation: Pass the Moses Beard,
"Step to the Mountain Podium"
Funny how kids will want to answer a question IF you give them a fun place to do it. A lectern with a microphone, for example. A table top for Mt Sinai. A posterboard megaphone through which they had to speak God's words in a whisper. I used this "megaphone" and then "whisper" technique for the two ways God spoke to Elijah -in the cave, and outside the cave.
Musical Chairs (yes)
Underneath two of the chairs were a list of questions. When the music stopped and you were in one of those chairs, you had to read and answer the question. It's interesting to see the look of dread and anticipation at landing on the question chair. At first, they don't want to, but then they all do.
Now in the days of great Christian Music Videos on YouTube, I've wanted to play this discussion game again using a song that we were also discussing as part of the lesson.