Getting Students to Talk
Teenagers are the masters of one-word answers and annoying grunts. Whether you’re sitting across from a quiet student at a coffee shop or leading a small group conversation with guys who are trying to maintain their low average of words per day, conversations with teenagers can quickly become awkward and difficult. So how do you talk to teenagers? How can you get them to open up to you in one-on-one conversations or in small group discussions?
Here are some tips and ideas for how to encourage teens to talk:
1. Be prepared with icebreaker questions.
Have a list of go-to icebreakers you use when you’re getting to know a student or opening up your small group. Some ideas:
- “Would you rather” questions: Would you rather wake up with a snake in your sleeping bag or a spider on your face?
- “Name your favorite” or “top three” questions: Name your favorite drink to order at Starbucks. Choose your top three superhero powers.
- “Have you ever” questions: Have you ever been embarrassed by your parents? Talk about that experience.
There are many great questions you can use to start conversations with students by making them laugh, think, and share some of their interests and life stories with you.
2. Avoid simple questions.
It’s really easy to ask yes-or-no questions or simple questions that lead to one-word answers. How was school? Okay. Any tests or homework? Yep. What’s your favorite class? Lunch. These questions quickly end the conversation and allow students to move on without connecting to you at all.
When it comes to small group discussions, ask questions that create conversation. Think about the goals of your small group. What do you want students to take away from these conversations? Use questions that will lead you to your goals.
3. Ask follow-up questions.
Sometimes, simple questions are unavoidable: What’s your name? What school do you go to? What activities are you involved in? When you ask these questions, be prepared to ask follow-up questions to get students to share more details about their lives and interests: What do you like/dislike about your school? Tell me about your school activity? How did that become an interest in your life? What do you like about it? Describe your ideal school, class, teacher, day, vacation, etc. Give students an opportunity to think, share their passions, and use their imaginations.
In small group discussions, ask challenging questions. This may lead to silence at first, but that often means students are thinking and processing before they answer. Find ways to ask open-ended questions that help students think and give answers that are more about feelings than knowledge. Ask application questions—find ways to help students apply God’s Word to their lives today.
4. Pay attention to them.
Teenagers aren’t used to having adults who actually want to know them and invest in their lives. One of the best ways you can get them to open up is simply by noticing them and listening. What kind of clothes are they wearing? Ask them about the sports teams or bands or whatever else is promoted on their T-shirts. Often, students use their phones as a way to look busy or avoid feeling awkward, so ask them about the music they’re listening to or the Netflix shows they’re watching. As you spend time around students, pay attention to the things they’re passionate about. Ask questions about those things, because students will most likely have a lot to say about them.
[bctt tweet=”Don’t use small group time to lecture—instead lead a conversation with students.” username=”ys_scoop”]
When you lead small group, try to limit how much you talk. Students rarely remember what they’re taught, but when they’re engaged in a conversation and able to share what they’re learning and feeling, they can remember a lot more. This also allows us to know where God is speaking to them so we can pray for and encourage them outside of small group.
Teenagers are looking for someone who will genuinely care about them, respect them, and take an interest in who they are. It’s important to take the time to really love them and show them that you value who God has created them to be. When you allow God’s love and grace to overflow from your life into the lives of teenagers, they’ll want to be around you, they’ll laugh with you, and they’ll share life with you.
the older students and leaders, they’ll want to be ANDY JUVINALL is the Director of Junior High Ministry at Second Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, IL. He is the husband to Melissa, Father to a baby girl named Magdalene, and has been working in Middle School Youth Ministry for twelve years.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.