"I haven't had great success with listening questions in the past..." I’ve been thinking about this comment (this post) for several days, mostly because it is such a sincere expression and because I need to acknowledge the problems you might have when you use this method of teaching. I think there are a couple of fundamental reasons why using questions might fall flat. I’ll address one reason today and another tomorrow.
When we use discovery questions, we are expecting the children to take part. They have to think of the question and then listen for the answer. So unless they are willing to truly participate, with their mind, they won’t be engaged in the process. Unfortunately, many of our primary children DON’T listen much of the time and some of their minds are not very disciplined. I know it seems cliche to say it, but it does feel like the children expect you to entertain them. Some are reluctant to do anything that doesn’t feel like fun, fun, fun! Many seem to be inclined to be more passive than to work.
You will have noticed that startled look when you call on a child with any question and they seem to say “What! Are you talking to me? I don’t understand what you want me to do.” There has to be a little bit of training on your part in order to help the children learn to participate in this method. But I think the children can learn to do this, and I think it is worth helping them learn this skill. The reasons are many and some of them don't have anything to do with learning the song. Our children need to learn to listen and to find the principle in what they read or hear. This is so fundamental to the way we are taught the gospel. Anyway, once the children catch on to what you are asking them to do, I find that they are mostly willing to participate.
Persistence is part of the training. You can’t give up if the children appear bored or if they don't seem to understand. You need to persist long enough to give both you and the children the chance to get the hang of it. You could begin training the children by asking a discovery question before you sing the opening song or the prayer song. Once they catch on to listening, you can add a few more of these questions to your teaching time. Ask clear questions and start out with the easy ones. If the children don’t understand the question, they won’t be able to listen for the answer. Don’t accept answers that are incorrect or that are imprecise. This is really hard for us to do. I certainly don't expect that anyone will be rude or hard-nosed, but I’m convinced that we are not doing the children any favors when we let them get by with a thoughtless response. Respectfully repeat the question, remind them to listen for what the song says and then sing it again.
A good attention getter at the beginning of singing time helps, as does learning how to redirect the attention back to you when the children get restless. There will always be one or two children who just resist doing anything that wasn’t their idea to begin with. I simply try not to react to them and continue to teach the rest of the group.
None of us wants to be boring, but part of our job is to help these precious children take responsibility for learning the gospel. Our job is to find active techniques that will invite the spirit and increase the probability that the children will discover gospel principles and be motivated to live them. This is a big job and a serious stewardship. Fun and games are completely secondary. I don’t want to stand before the Savior and report “Well, they liked me and I think they had fun!” There is usually time for a little fun as well, but sometimes learning the gospel involves work. If the children are challenged a bit, just remember that it is good for them.
Sorry, I didn't mean to rant --a (hopefully) helpful tip coming tomorrow.