Using open-ended questions is a wonderful way to promote children’s curiosity, reasoning ability, creativity, and confidence.

Asking open-ended questions gives teachers an opportunity to see what a child is thinking and feeling. A question like, “What colour is that block?” usually results in a one-word answer. An open-ended question like, “Tell me about the blocks you are using,” encourages children to apply their language to describe the material they’re using and the activity they’re doing in more detail.

An open-ended question is a question that allows someone to give a broader, free-formed answer, as opposed to a close-ended question, which may be answered in short with a “Yes,” “No,” and/or with a limited series of answers. As an example, “What’s your favourite ice cream flavour?” is a close-ended question, as opposed to “What do you like about ice cream?”, an open-ended question. By simply asking “why?” after the first question we can turn that into an open-ended one. The key is to get more information from the children on how they feel and react to a certain topic.

At Safari Kid, our teachers engage in meaningful conversations with children, as this is the best way to improve their language skills. Teachers find opportunities for a rich conversational talk in everyday activities (e.g., snack time, story time, or even while children wash their hands) as these may turn into intimate moments to engage in small talk on what they’ve been doing or how they’re feeling. Conversational talk also encourages children to express themselves confidently by helping them to incorporate new vocabulary when they don’t have the words they need to articulate their opinions by having them work and learn with/from each other during small group activities.

Inside & Outside the classroom

In the business world, open-ended questions are frequently used to better connect with customers or clients on a more personal level, and to try and get a closer understanding of their likes/dislikes on a specific product or service. The key to open-ended questions is that they usually allow us to get more information from our interlocutor as they may express more than what we expected to have been said.

A good open-ended question should also provide an opportunity to explain and describe what a person already knows about a specific subject and what else they would want to know about it, something that we should be particularly interested in as teachers and/or parents. As we’ve said before, these questions aim to get more of a story instead of monosyllabic or simple answers.

Open-ended questions give children a better opportunity to express themselves, and their answers can give us a closer look at their interests and concerns. There is no right or wrong answer to an open-ended question, so all children can be successful in answering them. This gives open-ended questions a great educational value and makes them a key strategy in developing more meaningful conversations.

If you’re interested in learning more about the importance of engaging in meaningful conversations with children, please watch the following video: