Open and Closed Questions for Teachers: Examples, Explanations, Pros and Cons

OPEN QUESTIONS CLOSED QUESTIONS EXAMPLES PROS AND CONS

Open and Closed Questions for Teachers

Open and closed questions can be used in combination in lessons to check learning and generate discussion and debate. 

Closed questions require students to respond with a single discrete answer, such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Closed question require students to recall existing knowledge and information. 

Open questions provide students with an opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions. There is no single, correct response to an open question and all student responses are valid resulting in enhanced discussion and debate. Open questions provide an opportunity for new thinking and new learning. 

If you would like to explore other types of questions teachers can ask in lessons I recommend that you read the following article:

18 Types of Questions Teachers Can Ask In Lessons

We will now explore open and closed questions for teachers individually, beginning with closed questions. 

CLOSED QUESTIONS

What Are CLOSED QUESTIONS?

A closed question is a question which can be answered with a specific response, such as, ‘yes’ or ‘no’. 

Closed questions are often used by teachers to check understanding by asking students to recall specific, factual information.

Closed questions with therefore provide limited information and insight from the student. 

However, they will not provide a student with the opportunity to offer an explanation or justification for their answer.

Closed questions often start with, what, when, where and who?

Video: CLOSED QUESTIONS

CLOSED QUESTIONS FOR TEACHERS

When Should CLOSED QUESTIONS Be Used In Lessons?

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

Commonly, closed 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 can remember from the previous lesson.

Closed questions are also commonly used at the end of the lesson as part of a plenary activity. 

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

Typically closed questions are used when the teacher wants to check a students understanding on of a topic. Specifically, when there is a clear right and wrong answer. 

For example, if the student is learning human anatomy, where there are specific biological names for different body parts, it would make sense for the teacher to ask a closed question, such as, ‘what is this bone called?’

There is no real need for a discussion to be had in this instance around what the student believes the bone is called, or what the student thinks it should be called.

The bone has a name and the student simply needs to know this piece of information.

Closed questions are therefore used when factual information is being taught, such as, names of famous people from history, dates when historical events happened, when something has a specific name, the stages of a process, or any other factual topic which students need to learn.

When conducting research, closed questions are used to obtain quantifiable data and quantitative analysis

Examples Of CLOSED QUESTIONS For Teachers

Closed questions limit student responses to a single, discrete answer.

  • What is the capital of France?
  • What year did the First World War begin?
  • What is the square root of 36?
  • What is the largest state in the USA?
  • What is your favourite movie?
  • What is a proton?
  • When did the Berlin Wall fall?
  • When did Hawaii become a state of the USA?
  • When were the police force established in the UK?
  • When would you use a semicolon?
  • When would you use a firewall?
  • Who was the first person to walk on the moon?
  • When did the Titanic sink?
  • Who directed Pulp Fiction? 
  • Who holds the current 100m world record?
  • Who sang Sweet Child Of Mine?
  • Who is the current Prime Minister in the UK?
  • Who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird?

Pros And Cons Of Using CLOSED QUESTIONS In Lessons

Pros: Cons:
Easy for students to answer.
Students with no prior knowledge or opinion will not be able to answer.
Easy to analyse responses.
If a yes or no answer is required a student could guess correctly and the teacher would believe them to understand the topic.
Limit the use of irrelevant or ambiguous responses.
Do not allow students an opportunity to explain or elaborate on their answer.
Accessible for students as they require lower-order thinking skills.
Students are forced to respond in a pre-determined way and their preferred answer may not be an option.
Provide an opportunity for the teacher to check learning.
Student may provide simplistic responses to complex topics.
Quick and easy to administer for the teacher.
Do not provide students with opportunities for new learning, only opportunities to recall existing knowledge.

OPEN QUESTIONS

What Are OPEN QUESTIONS?

An open question is opposite to a closed question in that it cannot be answered with a simple static response, such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’. 

Instead, there are multiple potential responses that could be provided by students. 

Open questions can be used to check understanding, but they are more often used to promote thinking

Student responses are usually more detailed and varied which supports greater discussion and debate.

Open questions often start with, why and how?

Video: OPEN QUESTIONS

OPEN QUESTIONS FOR TEACHERS

When Should OPEN QUESTIONS Be Used In Lessons?

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

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

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

Commonly, open questions are 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 open 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. 

Open 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. 

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

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

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. 

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

When conducting research, open questions are used to obtain subjective information and support qualitative analysis

Examples Of OPEN QUESTIONS For Teachers

Open questions provide students with the opportunity to express a range of different thoughts and ideas in their responses.

  • Why do we need leaders?
  • Why do teachers ask so many questions?
  • Why do we dream?
  • Why do people live near volcanoes?
  • Why did the UK vote in favour of Brexit?
  • Why does the artist Banksy not share his true identity?
  • How can we reduce our carbon footprint?
  • How does the weather influence sporting performance?
  • How will Covid-19 change how we work in the future? 
  • How can students achieve high grades?
  • How did life begin on Earth?
  • How much money would you need to retire at 40 years old?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • What is the primary cause of global warming?
  • What benefits have come from space exploration?
  • What qualities would make you a good citizen?
  • What does it mean to be powerful?
  • What are the most important factors for a good friendship?

Pros And Cons Of Using OPEN 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 richer 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 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.
Allow students to explain, justify and elaborate on their answer.
More challenging for the teacher to check learning and understanding due to the variety and subjectivity of student responses.

How To Use Open and Closed Questions in Combination Together

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

However, multiple observational studies have shown that teachers tend to massively overuse closed questions and massively underuse open questions.

With this in mind, it is important to consider the increased use of open questions to ensure students are challenged beyond simply recalling information.

Let’s use an example to explain how open and closed questions can be used in combination.

Example: The Titanic

If students were learning about the Titanic the teacher could ask both open and closed questions.

Closed questions may include:

  • In which year did the Titanic sink
  • What did the Titanic crash into?
  • Were there enough life boats for all passengers?
  • Who was the Captain of the Titanic?
  • Do you think the Captain was fit to do the job?

Open questions may include:

  • Why do you think the Titanic was believed to be unsinkable?
  • Do you think any mistakes were made after the Titanic hit the iceberg?
  • Why do you think there weren’t enough life boats for all passengers?
  • Why do you think the Captain was/wasn’t fit do to the job?

With these questions in mind the use of them in combination would perhaps play out as follows:

“In which year did the Titanic sink?” (closed)

“Why do you think the Titanic was believed to be unsinkable?” (open)

“What did the Titanic crash into?” (closed)

“Do you think any mistakes were made after the Titanic hit the iceberg?” (open)

“Were there enough life boats for all passengers?” (closed)

“Why do you think there weren’t enough life boats for all passengers?” (open)

“Who was the Captain of the Titanic?” (closed)

“Do you think the Captain was fit to do the job?” (closed)

“Why do you think the Captain was/wasn’t fit do to the job?” (open)

This use of open and closed questions in combination allows the teacher to ask clarifying questions to students through closed questions, which require students to recall information and commit to a specific perspective on the topic being taught. 

By using open questions, in combination with closed questions, the teacher can ask students to justify their opinions, explain their thoughts and challenge other students in a constructive way. 

For example, when the students were asked if they thought the Captain was fit to do the job (closed), they would have either said yes, no or maybe. This was then followed up with an open question which allowed the student to explain why they felt the Captain was or wasn’t fit to do the job. 

If open and closed questions are used in combination with a structured questioning technique it can be a highly effective way to generate discussion and debate in lessons. 

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 open and closed questions for teachers interesting and enjoyable and I would welcome you to share any thoughts or feedback you may have in the comments below. 

Author: Jonathan Sandling

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