Convergent and Divergent Questions for Teachers: Examples, Explanations, Pros and Cons

Convergent and Divergent Questioning for Teachers in the Classroom

What Are Convergent and Divergent Questions?

Convergent and Divergent questions were first proposed by JP Guilford in the 1950s.

Convergent questions encourage students to bring together ideas and knowledge from two or more fields and synthesise them to generate a common, logical conclusion. 

Divergent questions generate divergent thinking and encourage students to think more broadly about a specific topic, drawing on different scenarios, disciplines and ideas.

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CONVERGENT QUESTIONS

What Are
CONVERGENT QUESTIONS?

Convergent questions require students to bring together ideas and knowledge from two or more fields and synthesise them to generate a logical conclusion. 

These questions are often used for problem solving, particularly when the problem is multi-disciplinary in nature.

Students are required to find a single, optimal solution to the problem. 

Convergent questions are opposite to divergent questions.  

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CONVERGENT QUESTIONS

A basic example of convergent thinking is determining the answer to a multiple choice question.

A more complex example of convergent thinking is providing a student with a range of potential solutions to a problem, asking the student to evaluate each solution and determine the most appropriate solution to solve the problem.

Both of these examples require convergent thinking as the student is required to assess different information and come to an optimal, single conclusion.

Convergent questions are often associated with lower levels of thinking, which is often the case, but convergent questions can also challenge students to think in a more complex manner.

The level and depth of thinking required to answer a convergent question is dependent on the requirements of the question and the level of the student.

The level of challenge provided by convergent questions is demonstrated by the two examples above.

Examples of CONVERGENT QUESTIONS For Teachers

Below are 10 examples of convergent questions where students start with information and converge on an optimal solution.

  • What one word would best describe this topic?
  • What is the common theme here?
  • What happened as a result of those actions?
  • How can these items be categorised?
  • What was the reason why this happened?
  • What are the components of an owl’s diet?
  • What are the long-term consequences of this decision?
  • Why did you take the action you took?
  • Which principle is most suited to solving this problem?
  • What new colour would be produced if you mixed these five colours?

Pros And Cons Of Using CONVERGENT QUESTIONS In Lessons

Pros: Cons:
Easier for students to answer.
Not all problems can be solved with easily ranked solutions.
Easier to analyse responses due to a single optimal response.
If the question requires a solution from limited options the student could guess correctly and the teacher would believe them to understand the topic.
Require students to analyse and evaluate information and ideas.
Less opportunity for discussion and debate due to common responses being given by students.
Accessible for students as they typically require lower-order thinking skills.
Students are expected to respond in a pre-determined way and their preferred answer may not be valued.
Provide an opportunity for the teacher to check learning.
Students may provide simplistic responses to complex topics and problems.
Quick and easy to administer for the teacher.
Limited opportunity for new thinking and learning due to students predominantly assessing existing knoweldge.

When Should CONVERGENT QUESTIONS Be Used In Lessons?

Teachers can use convergent questions at any point in a lesson.

Commonly, convergent questions are used at the start of a lesson to assess student understanding of the topic to be taught in that lesson or to check what the students are able to remember from the previous lesson.

Convergent questions are also commonly used at the end of the lesson as part of a plenary activity to check understanding. 

But divergent questions can be used at any point in a lesson where the teacher feels they will be beneficial to student progress.  

Typically, convergent questions are used when the teacher wants to check a student’s understanding on of a topic.

Specifically, when there is a clear right or wrong answer or where a specific solution is most likely to be the optimal solution. 

For example, the teacher can share a problem with the students and ask a convergent question asking them to propose a solution to the problem. The solution would be one which is most likely to resolve the problem in most cases. The teacher will have an expectation of the student’s response and will be able to check understanding accordingly. 

There is less need and opportunity for discussion to follow in this instance but it can be worth asking the student to explain their answer to check their reasons for selecting that specific response can be justified.

Convergent Thinking In The Workplace

There are many situations at work when you have to make a decision and be decisive. 

This is an example of convergent thinking in action. 

You are presented with various information regarding the decision that needs to be made and you use this information to make an informed decision as to the best solution to take. 

Convergent thinking is more commonly used when a decision needs to be made, with little time to discuss, debate and explore multiple solutions.  

Typically, there will be sufficient information available to make the decision and the number of potential solutions will be limited. 

Normally there will be a logical solution which has a good chance of resolving the problem. 

DIVERGENT QUESTIONS

What Are
DIVERGENT QUESTIONS?

Divergent questions begin with a prompt and require students to think creatively and critically to identify multiple potential answers.

Divergent questions have no specific answer and can be used by teachers to encourage students to think more broadly about a specific topic.

Students will consider different scenarios, alternative ideas and examples as they explore the question.

Divergent questions generate divergent thinking which will require students to evaluate, analyse and synthesis information.

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DIVERGENT QUESTIONS

The ‘prompt’ refers to the question being asked, which is typically and open question; but not always.

Divergent thinking requires higher level thinking skills to be demonstrated by students. 

A mix of creative thinking and being critical in thought are necessary skills when answering divergent questions.

Creativity is necessary for ideation and thinking ‘outside the box’ and critical thought it necessary for critiquing ideas and solutions.

Divergent Questions for Teachers in the Classroom

Examples of DIVERGENT QUESTIONS For Teachers

Below are examples of divergent questions where students are given a prompt and expected to generate multiple solutions.

  • What different strategies could be used to solve this problem?
  • What predications might you make about the future?
  • If a team are given a project to complete, but no leader is assigned, what might happen?
  • What is another way of looking at this?
  • Why would someone live near an active volcano?
  • What are some alternatives to this approach?
  • What would the world be like if the UK had voted to remain in the European Union?
  • How could this be done differently?
  • How will Covid-19 change how we work in the future?
  • How could you go about achieving this objective?

Pros And Cons Of Using DIVERGENT QUESTIONS In Lessons

Pros: Cons:
They allow a potentially unlimited number of possible responses.
Students can fail to make a clear point as they offer too much detail and elaboration.
They allow complex topics to be explored in greater detail.
Variation in responses can potentially be difficult to analyse and summarise.
They promote higher-order thinking skills.
Questions are less accessible for students who find it difficult to use higher-order thinking skills.
They provide opportunities for new thinking and new learning.
More time needs to be allocated for thinking, responding and discussion.
As there is no single correct answer students are comfortable to provide a response.
Some students can find these questions intimidating, particularly if others disagree with their own perspective.
Generates discussion and debate as students explain, justify and elaborate on their differing answers.
More challenging for the teacher to check learning and understanding due to the variety and subjectivity of student responses.

When Should DIVERGENT QUESTIONS Be Used In Lessons?

Teachers can use divergent questions at any point in a lesson.

Ultimately, divergent questions should be used whenever the teacher wants students to engage in discussion and debate.

Due to their open-ended nature, divergent questions will allow students to express a range of views and thoughts on a specific topic allowing for agreement, disagreement and discussion.

Divergent questions can be used at the start of a lesson to provide students with an opportunity to express their views and thoughts on the topic being taught. 

This is a great way to start a lesson as it immediately generates discussion and student engagement.

Using divergent questions at the start of a lesson provides the teacher with an opportunity to assess the views and understanding of the class. This will inform the lesson ahead. 

Divergent questions are also commonly used at the end of the lesson as part of a plenary activity to explore some of the key themes discussed in the lesson. 

Divergent questions can actually be used at any point in a lesson where the teacher feels the students would benefit from divergent thinking,  discussion and debate.

Therefore, divergent questions obviously work best when teaching topics that are not easily defined and where there is room for differences in opinion and no single correct answer is required.   

For example, if the student is learning about what makes a good leader, there is no single correct answer that the student can provide.

Instead, different students would contribute their thoughts and opinions on this topic. Although some may be more appropriate than others, there is no single correct answer and all responses will be valid if they can be explained and justified. 

Divergent questions will encourage higher order thinking skills in students such as analysis, evaluation and critical thinking.

Divergent Thinking In The Workplace

Divergent thinking is commonly experienced in the workplace.

Typically, when a decision needs to be made to resolve a solution but there is limited information available, there is no immediate timescale and where there are multiple potential solutions which could produce similar levels of success.

In situations such as these divergent thinking is required to ensure the problem is tackled with creativity, critical thought and multiple potential solutions can be generated for analysis.

Divergent thinking is more commonly used when the problem is more complex in nature and requires a deeper level of thinking. 

How Can Teachers Use CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT Questions in Combination?

Although this article has explored convergent and divergent questions for teachers in isolation, these two types of questions will typically be used in combination in lessons.

Let’s use two examples to demonstrate how convergent and divergent questions can be used in combination. The first examples begins with a convergent question which is followed up with a divergent question, and second example begins with a divergent question which is followed by a convergent question. 

Example 1: Convergent question followed by divergent question

The teacher may begin by asking a convergent question:

“What are the components of an owl’s diet?”

Students would think about everything they know about owls and generate a response which they feel best addresses this question.

The teacher may then follow this up with a divergent question:

“What would happen if you took an owl from its normal habitat and placed in a new habitat which was not conducive to its usual diet?”

Students will be required to think about all potential outcomes of this action and generate multiple solutions to this question. 

Example 2: Divergent question followed by convergent question

The teacher could begin by asking a divergent question:

“What would the world be like if Darwin had never proposed the theory of evolution?”

Students will explore a range of potential outcomes to this hypothetical scenario. 

The teacher could then follow this up by asking a convergent question. 

“Considering all of the potential scenarios you have generated, review each and consider: Which is most likely to occur.”

Are Convergent and Divergent Questions The Same as Open and Closed Questions

It is common to hear people say that convergent and divergent questions are the same as open and closed questions.

However, this is not actually accurate. 

It is true that convergent questions are often posed as closed questions and divergent questions are often posed as open question.

But, to categorise them in this simplistic way fails to capture the true essence of these question types.

We need to consider the purpose of asking these questions and the thinking they promote rather than whether they are specifically open or closed. 

For convergent questions, students are required to bring together ideas and knowledge from two or more fields and synthesise them to generate a logical conclusion.

It is this synthesis of information to produce an answer that is of importance here, not whether the question is closed or open. 

For divergent questions, students are encouraged to consider different scenarios and alternative ideas as they explore the question.

Divergent questions generate divergent thinking which will require students to evaluate, analyse and synthesis information.

Again, it is these higher order thinking skills which are of most importance, not whether the question is open and closed. 

There are also many examples of convergent questions which can be open and divergent questions which can be closed.

If you are interested in finding out what my favourite questioning techniques are you should check our this article:

My Top 5 Questioning Techniques for Teachers: Generate More Discussion and Debate

I hope you found this article on convergent and divergent questions for teachers interesting and enjoyable. 

Author: Jonathan Sandling