How to Ask Open Ended Questions!

Chinese Girl PaintingI’ve been boning up on making art with Early Years and in many of the papers it says to ask the children lots of open ended questions. That’s great but it’s not something that is very easy to do unless you fully understand what an open ended question is and why it’s good to ask them. So, here’s a quick guide.


What is an Open Ended Question?
An open ended question requires an answer that is full and uses the responder’s own knowledge and feelings.

Your question should be objective, non-leading and the answer should provide plenty of information. For example:

Tell me about your picture?
Why did you use green?
How did you do that?
What do you think about … ?


What is a Closed Question?
A closed question usually elicits a single word or very short response. They are usually used to gain specific information. For example:

Do you like your picture?
What colour is this?
What is this called?

These are very useful to assess specific knowledge but not so great if you want to find out more or develop a conversation.


How to Start an Open Ended Question
Generally open ended questions will start with:

Tell me about
What do you think about

Avoid starting your question with the following:


Give Time for Your Question to be Answered
You must allow time for an answer to be given as your question will demand that the child:

- pauses, thinks and reflects on the answer.
- gives an answer about feelings, opinions or ideas not facts.
- takes control of the conversation with their answer.


Mixing Open and Closed Questions
By mixing open and closed questions you can help to establish facts on which you can build a conversation. This may be good with a shy child. However you must avoid influencing their response.

Here’s an example of using an open ended question to get a child talking:

Q. What colour is this?
A. Green.
Q. How does green make you feel?
A. It makes me feel happy.
Q. Why does green make you feel happy?
A. My granny wears a green jumper when I see her on a Sunday.
Q. What do you do with your granny when you see her?

And so on. As you can see from the example, simply starting from a single colour you have found out something about the child’s feelings and what they like. Now the reason the child gave about why green makes them feel happy could have been something else and the conversation would have gone in a totally different direction. In my experience at toddler group something quite unexpected usually comes out.

As you can see with the example, it’s very important that you listen carefully to the answers so you can build your conversation on the answer given and not what you anticipate the answer to be.


Why are Open Ended Questions Good?
Open ended questions are great for encouraging discussion. The children have to give considered answers, opinions and solutions to a question. This in turn helps to develop language and creative thinking.

Open ended questions also encourage children to expand the limits of their thinking. For example, if you ask:

What would happen if …

This question helps the children to think through possible scenarios and outcomes.

Open ended questions also help to build children’s self esteem. It shows them that their thoughts, ideas, opinions and feelings are important and matter to you.


Practise Asking Open Ended Questions
It’s hard asking open ended questions so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t always get it right. What you need to do is be mindful of the questions you do ask and practise, practise, practise. And don’t just practise on the children, try asking open ended questions with everyone. You’ll find that it gets easier the more you do it.


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