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5 Open-Ended Questions to Add to Your Teaching Toolkit

November 2nd, 2017 | 2 min. read

By Ashleigh Craven

How can students and teachers keep up in today’s world? That’s a hard question many education professionals are trying to answer. With the education climate rapidly shifting as technological innovations and globalization change the way the world is run, teachers have to think up new ways to approach their lesson plans in order to best prepare their students for the fast-paced world.

So what can early education teachers do? Ellen Booth Church, author of Nurturing Next Generation Innovators, has some suggestions. In her book, she talks about how the rapidly changing global market favors creative thinkers. Gone are the days of rote memorization! To build these skills in young children, education must be open-ended, allowing children to explore information and think critically about what they are learning. One way to do this is with open-ended questions. Below are some questions you can add to your everyday lessons that encourage innovative thinking for both teachers and students!

  1. How are _____ different? This may seem like a simple question, but you’ll be surprised by the variety of answers children give! For example, if you ask how the names of everyone in the class are different, one child may say, “Catherine’s name is longer than Ahmed’s!” while another says, “Charlie’s name is crunchier than Delia’s.” Children have no end to their creativity when describing things, and beginning with this question lets the class explore how each person thinks. What does “crunchy” mean when talking about a name? The conversational possibilities are endless!
  2. How does _____ happen? This is a great question for math and science lessons. Asking “how” encourages children to think about the process of something while encouraging them to put the phenomenon into their own words. Do they like to personify, saying “The sun puts the water in the clouds?” Or are they more direct, instead saying “The water evaporates.” Hearing how each person describes an action allows children to see something familiar from a new perspective, broadening their understanding of the world.
  3. Why do you think _____happened? This great question has uses for both class time and playtime. When reading a story, teachers can ask this question about the characters and see how children rationalize their actions. This provides an opportunity to talk about literacy and reading comprehension, and it is also a means of teaching empathy. If this question is asked during a conflict, it encourages children to try and see the situation from someone else’s perspective. By asking Amalia “Why do you think Emily got mad?” Amalia is forced to consider Emily’s feelings. This can make forgiving easier and encourage students to keep other’s emotions in mind.
  4. How can we fix ______? Like question three, this query has many uses. It can be taken literally, asking how the children can stop a leak or fix a block tower; or it can encourage children to think up a solution to a less concrete problem, like if two people disagree and need to find compromise. Giving children the opportunity to brainstorm can lead to some very innovative places. Perhaps you never would have thought to fix the drippy sink by taping the faulty faucet knob in place, but Jason did!
  5. Do you think _____ will work? On the flip side of question four, proposing a solution and asking if it will work causes children to think up the pros and cons of an idea. Take the leaky sink again. If you suggest putting a piece of tape over the faucet head, will that fix the problem? Well, it might stop the dripping, but then you couldn’t use the sink! Asking children to critically analyze a solution encourages them to think things through, strengthening their reasoning skills and making problem-solving easier in the long run.

Author(s)Ellen Booth Church

Ashleigh Craven

Ashleigh Craven has a decade and a half of diverse category experience from agency communications to athletic apparel to automotive to education, developing and executing communication strategies in both traditional and social media. She has supported national product launches and corporate events for the likes of Soffe, Buick, Chevrolet, Wake Forest University , Kaplan, and others. She has an BA from the University of Michigan in English and Communication Studies and an MA from Wake Forest University, where she focused her studies on argumentation and presidential rhetoric and speechwriting. She served as director of marketing for Gryphon House from 2017- 2020.