Using Open Ended Questions

  • November 1, 2017
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Mature students learning art skills

Giving Residents Time to Talk

Language, or the spoken word, is one of the most powerful ways we have to help residents and members connect with their community. As you know, one goal of a lifelong learning experience is to present residents with multiple opportunities to talk, share & discuss. Using open ended questions is one of the best ways to encourage group interaction, and thinking & analyzing skills: three things that are very important for cognitive stimulation. One way to get residents talking & sharing is by using open-ended questions. An open-ended question is one that:

• Does not have a “yes” or “no” answer
• Stretches participant’s curiosity, reasoning ability, creativity and independence
• Opens minds

What is the difference between a closed response question and an open ended question?

A closed response question:

Q: “What color paint are you going to use?”
A: “Blue.”
An open-ended question:
Q: “Tell me what color you have selected and why you choose that color.”
A: “I choose blue because it reminds me of the bright sky that I remember from my childhood. My mother always used to tell us, “It’s a fine, pretty day. The sun is shining and the sky is bright blue. Go outside and play.”

How do I learn to use open-ended questions?

Keep it simple.

• “What do you think the artist was trying to show us?”
• “Can you describe . . . “
• “How are these things related?”
• “How would you prioritize . . . ?”
• “Give us three reasons why you think . . . “
• “Tell us why you think that . . .”

After you ask a question, stop and wait. Provide time for anyone in the group to respond. If no one responds it usually means that they don’t want to give the wrong answer or they don’t know what you are asking.

Reframe your question. Example: “Tell me everything you know about . . .” or “Describe what you see,” or “Tell me the differences or similarities between . . . “

Practice. Keep track of the number of times each day you ask closed response questions and watch for opportunities to reframe the question so that the other person is doing all the talking.

Every class has one. Every teacher on the planet will say that they have one student who always has their hand waving to answer a question. Combining open-ended questions with small group learning can help solve this problem. Divide the large group into small groups; instruct each group to think of as many responses as they can for a topic. Then ask them to decide the one that all agree is the most important. Have the group select a spokesperson; go around the room and let each group present their idea. (Note; we’ll explore small group learning in our next ALLE Learning™ email).