? ? ? Asking Questions that Promote Growth
by Elvin Klassen1
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.
Look at these examples:
What color is this?…Blue
Is that your toy?…Yes
How are you?…Fine
Closed questions 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. Once a child has answered a closed question, there is really not much more to say.
Open-ended questions have many possible answers. They invite the children to think and solve problems. As children express their ideas, they learn to participate in the back-and-forth flow of conversation. Here are some examples:
What do you think will happen now?
If you were the cook, what kinds of things would you fix us for lunch?
If you were the mayor of our city, 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
don’t demand a response; it’s okay for the child not to answer,
don’t have right or wrong answers,
encourage thinking and problem-solving,
ask children to use their imaginations,
end a strong message that says, “I value what you think; I’m interested in hearing your ideas.”
Asking open-ended questions can be an effective way to encourage conversation. Skilled adults ask open-ended questions that encourage children to explore new possibilities, clarify their thinking, and solve problems. They ask questions that encourage children to talk and share ideas.
Learn to ask open-ended questions by becoming familiar with some of the most common ways to phrase them:
What would happen if…?
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…?
By incorporating these phrases into their thinking and talking, you will be able to have richer and more varied conversations with your children.
Open-ended questions don’t have right and wrong answers. They invite children to express their own ideas in their own words. These questions signal to children that their opinion counts, and you would like to hear what they think.
Open-ended questions encourage children to recall what they’ve done and to practice talking about it. Children love to explain to an interested adult how they did something. These questions help them share how they accomplished something, what happened, why things came out the way they did, and how they felt. The conversation is all about what really interests the children.
Open-ended questions can produce more than one kind of response. Asking questions can encourage children to become even more involved in their activities, or they can produce an extended conversation. It encourages the children to use their imaginations, to think a little differently about what they are doing, and to respond in whatever way they like.
Open-ended questions are appropriate almost any time during almost any activity. When a child is beginning a task
you can ask, “I wonder what you’re going to do with these blocks?” This encourages the child to plan ahead and talk about it.
Open-ended questions can be used to help teach children to solve problems. Questions like, “Tell me, what is it you want to do here?” and “What else might work?” encourage children to clarify their ideas and generate alternatives. Another aspect of problem-solving is learning to predict. “What do you think will happen?” and “Well, that’s a good idea. I wonder what would happen if you tried it?” are questions that send the message, “You’re in charge and I’m interested in how you’re going to do that.” They encourage children to follow through on their own ideas, test them, discover what works, and talk about them.
Asking open-ended questions can stimulate children to use more specific vocabulary to explain what they’re doing.
Adult: (Watching a child painting) How did you get that orange color?
Child: Mixed it.
Adult: Mixed it. How do you mean? Tell me more.
Child: Put red in yellow.
Problem solving also requires the ability to think and talk in specific rather than general or global terms.
Help your children grow by learning to ask more open-ended questions.
Permission is granted to copy, but not for commercial use.
Elvin Klassen worked as a teacher, principal and district administrator in Canada.