I have been working with a family with a little girl of 6 and we have been looking at helping her parents ask more ‘Open-ended questions’ to develop her independence, creativity and confidence.
Questions are a natural part of our conversations. They help us exchange information and clarify what is being said. However, closed questions, the kind we most often ask, don’t usually help keep conversations going or help a child think for themselves.
Look at these examples:
What colour is this dress? …. yellow
Is that your toy? …Yes
How are you? …Fine
Closed questions only require a one or two-word response or just a nod of the head. Closed questions also tend to have right or wrong answers. They can make children feel as if they’re being quizzed, judged or in the wrong. Once your child has answered a closed question, there really isn’t much more to say.
Open-ended questions have many possible answers.
They invite your child to think and solve problems. As children express their ideas, they learn to participate in the back-and-forth flow of conversation and they gain clarity, confidence and independence.
Here are some examples:
- What do you think will happen now?
- If you were in charge of cooking today, what kinds of things would you make us for lunch?
- If you were the Prime Minister, how would you solve the pollution problem?
When asked open-ended questions, children can choose to say whatever they’re thinking, and these questions often lead to interesting conversations.
Open-ended questions are super because they…..
- don’t demand an immediate answer; it’s okay for your child not to answer, straight away as they pause to ponder and formulate their thoughts and answer
- don’t have right or wrong answers,
- encourage thinking and problem-solving,
- ask children to use their imaginations,
- send a strong message that says, “I value what you think; I’m interested in hearing your ideas.” “Your opinion matters”
Open-ended questions often begin with:
- What would happen if…?
- I wonder…?
- What do you suppose…?
- In what way…?
- How did that happen…?
- What do you think…?
- Tell me about…?
- What would you do…?
- How can we…?
- How did you…?
The opposite of open-ended questions are closed – ended questions.
Closed-ended questions can be answered with one or two word answers such as “yes” or “no”.
- Do you like pancakes? Answer: Yes/No
- Do you want a banana? Answer: Yes/No
Closed-ended questions often begin with:
- Did you …?
- When …?
- Do you want to …?
- Will you …?
- Have you …?
Why Are Open-Ended Questions Better Than Closed-Ended Questions?
- they use expanded language. Instead of just answering ‘yes’ or ‘no (which closed-ended questions often prompt)’, children need to give fuller answers that draw on a wider range of vocabulary. Open ended questions encourage children to use whole sentences when answering rather than just fragments or phrases.
- think about their answers to the question.
- elaborate with details, express their thoughts or offer their opinion
- be creative
- think of new ideas
- to use their imagination
- to expand and give more information
- problem-solve and use their cognitive (intellectual) skills. Children have to search for vocabulary and form sentences which conveys their thoughts, opinions, & ideas rather than simply answering “yes” or “no”
- build relationships. Children become more invested in the conversation when they have to actively engage in it with full sentences. They are able to relate & respond to the person they are talking to. So open-ended questions can be used to positively build and deepen relationships.
In contrast to open-ended questions, closed-ended questions limit answers to one or two words and don’t allow for extra information, opinions, thoughts or the expansion of ideas and concepts. Closed-ended questions don’t require your child to actively engage in the conversation as they can remain detached. They don’t have to give an opinion, explain their thoughts, offer ideas, or justify their opinion. They don’t have to make much of an effort!
Open – ended Questions & Children’s Self Esteem
When children are asked open-ended questions, it shows them that their opinions, ideas, thoughts & feelings matter. After all, if you didn’t want to know, you wouldn’t ask.
Therefore, asking open-ended questions says to your child that their contribution matters. You want to know what they think. You value their opinion. You are genuinely interested in their ideas. All of this goes to strengthening, developing & building your child’s positive self-esteem and self-image, as well as strengthening your relationship with your child.
As a former Deputy Head using open-ended questions together when you are reading books, is a great way to help your child grow in confidence, and to learn to enjoy stories, while also developing their language and prediction skills.
Here’s some ideas.
Start with the cover.
Ask, “What do you think this story will be about?” Use the clues from the front cover picture as well as the title. This question involves the intellectual skills of prediction.
As you read through the book, ask open ended questions.
It’s often a good idea with younger children to wait until the second time you read the story as little ones can get fed up and frustrated with all the stopping and starting as all they want to do is to find out what happens next.
Ask…. “How will the problem be solved do you think?”
“What will happen next to the character?”
“Will the bear make it out of the woods okay?”
Great questions to ask after the 1st reading may include:
- Why do you think ….?
- What is happening ….?
- Why is the …?
- What do you think?….
- Ask questions which help your child relate the story to their own life and experiences. For example “What would happen if the Tiger Came To Tea …… at our house?
- What would happen if ….. the caterpillar landed on your nose?
Using Open- Ended Questions With Closed-Ended Questions
Sometimes, it’s helpful to combine open end questions and closed questions together.
For example, if you’re reading a book about a girl at the circus, you could ask:
- Closed-ended question: “Have you ever been to the Circus?
- Open-ended question: “What happened when you went there?”
- Closed-ended question: “Did you enjoy the Circus?”
- Open-ended question: “What did you like most about the Circus tell me the best bit for you?”
Playing around with asking your children questions can be fun and you can mix and match which ones you use – the closed-ended questions to establish the facts, which you can then expand and build on, with the open-ended questions to expand the conversation with more information, details, thoughts & your child’s opinions.
Open-ended questions can help build your child’s confidence, self – esteem and language and cognitive skills.
You may be surprised how many closed-ended questions you use each day so just for this week have fun asking your child more open ended questions and watch your child’s confidence blossom and bloom.