How To Use Open-Ended Questions With Children

QuestionsAsking open-ended questions is a great way to actively involve your child in a good children’s book.

What is an open-ended question? Glad you asked.

Open-Ended Questions – A Definition
There are two types of questions:
• Open-ended questions
• Closed-ended questions

Open-ended questions cannot be answered with one word answers such as “yes” or “no”.

For example:
• Why do you think the bear is feeling grumpy?
• How did the frog end up on top of the man’s head?

Open-ended questions often begin with:
• what
• how
• who
• why

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”.

For example:
• Do you like ice-cream? Answer: Yes/No
• Do you want an apple? 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?
Open-ended questions encourage children to:

• use language. Instead of just answering ‘yes’ or ‘no (answers closed-ended questions often prompt)’, children need to give fuller answers that draw on a wider range of vocabulary. Hint: encourage children to use whole sentences when answering rather than just fragments or phrases.

• think about their answers and give details to reasonably answer the question.

• elaborate with details, express thoughts or offer an opinion

• be creative

• think of new ideas

• use imagination

• give more information

• problem-solve and use cognitive (intellectual) skills. Children must search for vocabulary and form sentences which conveys thoughts, opinions, ideas, etc. 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 something of meaning and respond to the person/people with whom they are communicating. In this way, open-ended questions be used to positively build and deepen relationships.

In contract 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 do not require the child actively engage in the conversation as they can remain disassociated. They do not have to give an opinion, explain thoughts, offer ideas. In reality, the thinking behind answering closed-ended questions needn’t be in-depth or take any great effort.

Open-Ended Questions & Children’s Self-Esteem
When children are asked open-ended questions, it shows them that their opinions, ideas, thought, feelings, etc, matter. After all, if you didn’t want to know, you wouldn’t ask.

Therefore, asking open-ended questions says to a 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 your child’s positive self-esteem and self-image, as well as strengthening your relationship with your child.

Using Open-Ended Questions Together With Books

• Start with the cover.
Ask, “What do you think this story will be about?” Clues can be drawn from the illustration on the cover along with the title. This question involves the intellectual skills of prediction.

• As you read through the book, ask questions.
Sometimes I find it more productive to do this on the second reading of the book – especially if it’s a picture book that really has captured my child’s imagination. A child can sometimes become frustrated with the stopping and starting as all she/he wants to do is find out what happens next. How will the problem be solved? What will happen to the character? Will he make it out of this looming disaster okay?

Once the first reading of the picture book has been completed, the urgency has passed as the questions have been resolved. However, this is where the opportunity arises to revisit and relook at the story, expanding on ideas, thoughts, opinions and reasonings.

Great questions to ask on the second reading may include:

Why do you think ….?
What is happening ….?
Why is the …?

• Ask questions which help your child relate the story to their own life and experiences. For example,

What would happen if …… came to your house?
What would happen if ….. the fly landed on your birthday cake?

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 boy at the zoo, you could ask:

• Closed-ended question: Have you ever been to the zoo?
• Open-ended question: “What happened when you went there?” Or “What did you enjoy the most about going to the zoo?”

• Closed-ended question: “Which animal did you like the most?”
• Open-ended question: “Why did you like the … (giraffes)… the most?” “What did they do when you were watching them?”

In these examples, the closed-ended questions are used to establish facts upon which the open-ended questions can be used to expand the conversation with more information, details, thoughts, opinions, etc.

An Example of How to Use Open-Ended Questions With Books
Gotcha written by Gail Jorgensen We’ve created a list of possible open-ended questions which can be used with the children’s picture book, “Gotcha”, which was written by Gail Jorgensen and illustrated by Kerry Argent.

Try writing your own list of open-ended questions relating to one of your favourite books. Try them out with your child.

A word of warning: open-ended questions are designed to make your child think and use language more fully. However, there’s an added bonus. Coming up with these questions will also make you think! In general, we use a lot more closed-ended questions than open-ended questions in our daily conversations unless we purposefully set out to use the latter more often. You may be surprised how many closed-ended questions you use each day. Have fun creating open-ended questions in your conversations today. It’s very rewarding!

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