Tips for Asking Open Ended Questions When I Teach

The Savior Asked Questions:

“He asked questions that caused them to think and feel deeply. He was sincerely interested in their answers and rejoiced in their expressions of faith. He gave them opportunities to ask their own questions and share their own insights, and He responded to their questions and listened to their experiences. Because of His love, they felt safe sharing their thoughts and personal feelings.”

Characteristics of effective questions

  • They require a person to pause, think, and reflect.
  • Answers, typically, will not be facts, but personal feelings, opinions, or ideas about a subject.
  • When using open-ended questions, the control of the conversation switches over to the person being asked the question, which begins an exchange between people. If the control of the conversation stays with the person asking questions, you are asking closed-ended questions.
  • Tips from class members: Don’t be afraid to give students time to think about your question, even let them know that you are doing so in advance. Don’t be afraid of a few moments of silence while students think. You can always repeat the question while they think or give context and then come back to the question.

The language of open ended questions:

  • How . . . , why . . . , what . . . , explain . . . , describe . . . , tell me about . . . , what do you think about . . .

Characteristics of close ended questions

  • In general try to avoid questions that have the following characteristics:
    • answers that provide facts
    • easy to answer questions or answers that require little to no thought (Sunday School answers)

Can a question be too open ended? Yes! How so?

  • How was school?
    • (Tends to produce a one word answer, “good” or “fine”)
  • What were the best and worst things that happened at school today?
    • (This is a more focused open-ended question that might be more successful at soliciting a conversation).

It is okay to say “I Don’t Know”
Remember that Elder Ballard counseled us to not be afraid to say, “I don’t know” in response to a question but then do your homework and find an answer. If you need resources, the Sunday School Presidency would love to help and may know of a good article to read that might have answers.

  • Tips from class members: 1. If a student asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, tell them that you are willing to search for an answer and invite them to search for an answer too and then come back next week ready to share your answers and learn from each other. 2. One teacher uses this approach with his children: If you and a student have a different perspective on a matter, invite the student to research the question and both come prepared to share your answers. 3. It is okay to open a question up to the entire class, “That is a good question, let’s see what the class thinks about it.” More often than not the best answers are sitting in the hearts and minds of your students.

Elder Ballard also counseled:

“One way to know what questions your students have is to listen attentively to them.”

Action Items:

In the spirit of Elder Ballard’s counsel, our two action items for this month are below:

  • 1. Write and ask at least two open ended questions for each of the lessons you teach this month.
    • Be willing to share your successes and failures next month.
  • 2. Ask your students: “What questions do you have that it seems like we never talk about at church?”
    • Give them pen and paper
    • Allow them to answer anonymously
    • Maybe have a question box in class every Sunday where a student can drop an anonymous question

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