Usually in children's work we tell a story, and then perhaps, run a quiz in which the questions are based on the story. But, strangely, it can also work very well the other way round - i.e. have the quiz before they have ever heard the story! The story needs to be one that none of the children is likely to have heard before, and for this reason we use biographies of Christians, rather than bible stories.

Because this unusual quiz is much easier to demonstrate than describe, the explanation given below is fairly lengthy and detailed. However it is worth reading carefully, because this is a really excellent quiz that is particularly suitable for older children, and is very popular with them. It is based on a TV show called "Mastermind" in which contestants have to answer a series of rapid-fire questions on their own chosen specialist subject. This quiz provides a fun way of teaching a story by means of repetition and memorisation. A minimum total of about twenty minutes is required for running the quiz, and this should be split into three or four "rounds" with a different short item (songs, announcements etc.) between rounds.


First it is necessary to find an interesting short biography of a Christian. Several suitable examples can be found in two excellent books called "Men of Purpose" and "Men of Destiny" by Peter Masters which are published in the UK by Wakeman Trust, and are available by mail order from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Bookshop. These biographies include that of Sir James Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform, and we will be using this as a typical example. The person running the quiz needs to read the biography thoroughly, to become familiar with it, but since the ones referred to above are only a few pages long, this can be done in half an hour or so.

The next step is to write down a series of 22 to 24 carefully chosen questions and answers based on key facts from the biography. Anybody reading the questions, and their answers should, in effect, be reading a brief summary of the Subject's life, focussing on their Christian testimony. The selection of these questions, and their answers, is therefore of paramount importance, and the following points need to noted:-

  1. The questions and answers should tell the story.

  2. The answers to the questions should generally be short - names, places or dates are ideal. Sometimes longer answers will be necessary, but these should be in the minority.

  3. Some of the answers should be similar in form to other answers. For instance if one of the answers is a man's name, then it is desirable that the answer to one of the other questions is a different man's name.

  4. Two or three questions, and their answers, should clearly present the Subject's Christian testimony. These questions should not come right at the bottom of the list and, should not all be together.

In order to illustrate the above, here is a typical list of questions and answers that could be used for the life of Sir James Simpson:-

  1. In 1811 James Simpson was born at which town 25 miles from Edinburgh on the Glasgow Road? [Bathgate]
  2. What was his father's business? [baker's shop]
  3. How old was James when his mother died? [9]
  4. At the age of 14 he went to which university? [Edinburgh]
  5. What was situated on the top floor of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary? [an operating theatre]
  6. What did James qualify for at the age of 18? [Royal College of Surgeons]
  7. How much did he earn as an assistant member of the hospital staff? [50 per year]
  8. When he was 24 James held what position in the Royal Medical Society? [Senior President]
  9. Where was the house situated which James bought and used for consulting rooms? [Queen Street]
  10. What was the name of the girl he married? [Jessie]
  11. His wife Jessie come from which city? [Liverpool]
  12. What in James' opinion was "good at death, but not in life"? [Christianity]
  13. Who had tried ether as an anaesthetic in Scotland? [Robert Lister]
  14. James tried something else as an anaesthetic in 1846. What was it? [Chloroform]
  15. He first tried Chloroform on a mother who was having a baby. What name did she give it afterwards? [Anaesthesia]
  16. The death of which close friend made James think more deeply about spiritual things? [John Reid].
  17. What were the dying words of John Reid? ["The world is behind"]
  18. In what year did James become a Christian? [1858]
  19. How was James honoured when he was in his 50's? [Given a Knighthood]
  20. What did James Simpson say was his greatest discovery? ["That I have a Saviour"]
  21. How old was he when he died? [58]
  22. How many people followed the hearse at the funeral? [2000]

Looking at the answers to the above questions, observe the following:-

a) the answers to questions 3 and 21 are both numbers
b) the answers to questions 4 and 11 are both cities
c) the answers to questions 13 and 16 are both men's names
d) the answers to questions 10 and 15 are both girls' names

e) the answers to questions 17 and 20 are both quotations

f) questions 12, 16, 17, 18 and 20 are all to do with Christian testimony

The questions should be typed out very clearly on a piece of paper, along with the answers. Next, the answers should be printed on separate sheets of paper - of random colours to help make it more visually appealing. The letters should be large enough so that they can be read by the children on the back row. Three or four sheets with bogus answers on them should now be added. For example since one of the answers is a year - "1858" - a sheet with "1958" could be added. Similarly, "a cinema" would be a suitable bogus answer to Question 5. The papers with the answers on them should be stuck in random sequence on the front wall (or on a large board) using "blu tack". As an alternative the answers could be printed on an OHP transparency and projected onto a screen. This requires less work, but may not have quite the same visual impact.

The question-master needs to be somebody who can read extremely quickly, in a clear loud voice, without getting tongue-tied. A timekeeper (with a digital watch and something to signal when a 1-minute period has expired) should be appointed, and also another helper to count correct answers and "passes", and to write down the scores. A small variable-height spotlight will help to add to the overall atmosphere, although it is not essential.

Running the Quiz

At a given point in the programme, a volunteer (somebody quite bright) is selected to come and play mastermind. No explanation should be given. They sit down in a chair placed centrally in front of the audience, with their back to them, and facing the wall (or board, or screen) on which they can see all the answers (including some bogus ones). After they have sat down and everybody is quiet, a small spotlight is switched on, shining at their head, but not in their eyes. Then they are told "You have been selected to play mastermind, and your chosen specialist subject is 'the life of Sir James Simpson'. You have one minute starting now!"

The first child is possibly somewhat dismayed initially, because they have never even heard of their "chosen" specialist subject. But then they begin to realise that the words they can see in front of them are, in fact, the answers, and all they have to do is select the right one. In many cases they can make an educated guess. For example if the answer to the question is obviously a person's name, and there are only two pieces of paper with names on them, then they should have a 50% chance of being correct.

The question-master asks the questions at a fairly relaxed pace. They must speak loudly and clearly so that all the other children can hear as well. Whenever the child gives a correct answer, the question-master says "Correct!" and repeats the correct answer to make sure everybody hears it. When the child gives an incorrect answer the question-master says "Wrong! The correct answer is . . . ." The child is also allowed to say "Pass" in which case the question-master repeats "Pass" and goes straight on to the next question without giving the answer. A scorekeeper records the number of correct answers, and the number of passes. At some stage the timekeeper indicates that one minute has expired. If the question-master has just started to ask the next question he says "I've started, so I'll finish", then completes the question, and allows a few seconds for the child to give their answer. The question-master (or the scorekeeper) then says something like this "You scored seven correct answers, and you passed on two" These figures are then written down against the child's name on a board.

The next volunteer is then selected, and the process is repeated. The question-master starts off in exactly the same way: "You have been selected to play Mastermind, and Your chosen specialist subject is the life of Sir James Simpson". He then starts reading out exactly the same sequence of questions. This time of course, the child should be able to remember some of the correct answers and will probably achieve a higher score. The process is then repeated once or twice more using different children. The question-master then says something like this"At the end of the first round Sarah is in the lead, with ten correct answers and only one pass" (in the event of a tie on the number of correct answers the child with the least number of passes is the leader).

At this point there is a break for a different item - perhaps a couple of songs or announcements. Ideally there should be three or four rounds, with different items in between.

As the quiz progresses some gradual changes occur. Firstly the children begin to realise (or if they don't realise they should be told) that they don't have to wait for each question to be completed before they give their answer. Secondly, the question-master begins to speed up the rate at which the questions are read, only slowing down when reaching a question that has not been asked before. For questions which have been correctly answered several times, there is no longer any need to repeat the answer after saying "Correct!" Eventually things move at a frantic pace, the children are reeling off the answers even before the questions have been asked, and it is actually possible to get through all 22 questions in the one-minute period.

At some stage, the first couple of children to take part should be given another opportunity to play, because there is an obvious disadvantage in going first.

Telling the Story

Having done the quiz , it is good to tell the story about a week or two later in order to fill in the details, and to underline the most important aspects (e.g. the great impression that the death of his friend had on James Simpson).This could be followed by a more conventional sort of quiz on the story, in which case the questions should not be exactly the same as those used for the Mastermind quiz.

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