Posing Open-Ended Questions in the Special Needs Ministry Environment
I’ve been working on a project to modify curriculum for the special needs setting. I’ve learned so much after a speech pathologist has provided feedback on the scripts written for Bible stories and adapted activities. One of the first proposed changes the speech pathologist sent back was the advisement to remove and alter open-ended questions. Posing questions is a great way to capture the attention and creativity of children. But for kids with processing disorders and communication challenges (so common to the special needs population), answering open-ended questions may be difficult if not impossible. I’ve since learned better ways to ask questions and engage kids with special needs – and to avoid using open-ended questions.
Pose a question that has a specific and short answer. Kids who struggle to process information or to verbalize their thoughts can better respond when the answer can be offered in a single word. And better yet, a “yes” or “no” response may enable a non-verbal individual to participate with a nod of the head. This is the reason the app “Answers: YesNo HD” is so popular. And this is also why I recommend Yes/No Sticks for ministry environments (typical kids love this tool as well.)
Ask a question immediately after the answer has been given. For example, asking “What do you think happened next?” may actually be confusing and ambiguous to listeners with a learning disability. Instead, wait to pose a question until right after the correct answer has been given. For example:
Mary & Joseph spent the night inside the stable. While they were staying in the stable, Baby Jesus was born. What happened when Mary & Joseph spent the night in the stable? That’s right! Baby Jesus was born.
To make this question even easier, you might ask “Who was born in the stable?” and that way a single word, “Jesus” can be offered. And for a yes/no question, ask something like “Was Jesus born in a hospital?”
Provide Alternatives to Questions Because some kids with special needs (and many without!) aren’t great communicators, find other ways to engage participants. Rather than asking a question, provide three or four objects representing parts of the Bible story. Allow the children to hold the objects during the Bible story and as they are referenced. After the Bible story is over, invite children to place the representative items in the sequential order of the story. For example, when reinforcing the Christmas story, you might hide a few figures from the Fisher Price Nativity set inside a tub of dried beans. Encourage students to fish for the buried objects. After they have all been retrieved, have the child to place the nativity figures in the order they appeared in the story. Many kids with special needs, e.g. autism, have an uncanny desire/ability to place things in sequential order. Undoubtedly a child who does not communicate well verbally will enjoy demonstrating their knowledge through an activity like this one.
~ Amy Fenton Lee
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