“How was your weekend?” The teacher writes the morning’s writing prompt on the board, hoping to hear all about the students’ experiences and adventures over the last two days. Sadly, the only responses that she sees once the students turn in their papers are “Fine” and “Okay.” What could have gone wrong?
The difference between using closed ended questions and open ended questions in the classroom can be like night and day. Close ended questions encourage terse, often single-word responses, whereas open ended questions are designed to promote full, meaningful answers that stem from the students’ own knowledge, thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Furthermore, when teachers use open ended questioning techniques, they project objectivity, as such questions are less leading in nature.
Student centered teaching skillfully incorporates open ended questioning techniques into every lesson and interaction with students. This relays the message that what the students feel and think matters and is important to their learning and mastery of the content. Here are a few examples of how close ended and open ended questions compare with each other:
Who was your favorite character?
How do you feel about the characters?
Do you enjoy your classes this school year?
What do you think of your classes this school year?
What is your science project topic?
Tell me about the science project topic you have selected.
You may notice that the last open-ended question listed above is not truly in question format. That is okay. A well-worded statement can also implicitly require a thoughtful response. Use either style in the classroom lessons and resources that you create to help move the focus from the teacher asking the question to the student(s) responding. All open-ended questions and statements should stir hearty discussion and debate within a classroom as well as within the individual students themselves. Higher-cognitive questions are just about always open-ended and help students utilize their critical-thinking skills as they come up with responses.
Student-centered teaching and learning resources should incorporate open-ended questioning techniques to help facilitate student learning across all content areas. We often think of English Language Arts and Social Studies first when it comes to using open-ended questions. However, it is also extremely useful to use this technique when creating mathematics lessons and resources. Here are a few examples of open-ended questions that can help stimulate mathematical thinking:
- How can you use the pattern to help you come up with the answer?
- What is the same about these two objects?
- How are these two equations different?
- How would you group the following shapes?
- What might happen if you switched the order of the digits?
- What happens when you double the length of one side?
- How would you extend the pattern?
Including open-ended questions in your classroom resources can help create a richer learning environment for students. Doing so can help make educational materials serve as inspiration for both teachers and students, as the classroom is transformed from a dull, lifeless place to an environment that is teeming with enthusiasm and energy.
How will you include open-ended questioning in your next resource?