Benefits of Open-Ended Questions

Last updated: March 22, 2023, at 4:58 a.m. PT

Originally published: September 8, 2020, at 12:10 p.m. PT

open ended questions

It can be tough getting your child to talk about their day sometimes. You ask, “How was your day at school?” and they respond with, “good,” “fine,” or “ok” and then the conversation is over. This is an example of a close-ended question, which usually elicits only a minimal response and doesn’t really spark conversation. Conversations can be so much more engaging for a child when you ask open-ended questions!

What is an Open-Ended Question? 

An open-ended question is designed to encourage a full, meaningful answer using your child’s own knowledge or feelings. Open-ended questions typically begin with words such as “why” or “how” and phrases such as “tell me about…” Open-ended questions do not allow for one-word answers.

Importance of Open-Ended Questions

When children are asked open-ended questions, it shows them that their opinions, ideas, thoughts, and feelings are important. Therefore, asking open-ended questions says to a child that their contribution matters. All of this helps strengthen a child's self-esteem and self-image. Open-ended questions encourage children to:

  • Use language by giving longer answers that help build a wider range of vocabulary
  • Think about their answers and give details to reasonably answer the question presented to them
  • Elaborate on details, express thoughts, and offer opinions
  • Be creative, think of new ideas, and use their imagination
  • Problem-solve and use cognitive (intellectual) skills. Children must search for vocabulary and form sentences which conveys thoughts, opinions, and ideas, rather than simply answering “yes” or “no”
  • Build relationships by actively engaging in conversations and relating to the person with whom they are communicating

Examples of Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions can be used in almost any situation. Some examples of generic open-ended questions are:

  • What was your favorite thing about school today? 
  • What is the most amazing thing about you?
  • When you feel sad, what cheers you up?
  • What are the qualities that make you a good friend?
  • How long do you think it would take to fly to the moon?
  • What did you do this weekend/what will you do this weekend?
  • What is the silliest thing you can think of?
  • What would you do if you were invisible for the day?
  • If you could have a dinosaur as a pet, what would you do with him/her?
  • What is the best dream you’ve ever had?
  • Can you tell me about your family?
  • If you could eat anything you wanted for one day, what would you choose?

There are many opportunities to turn a close-ended question into an open-ended question, but keep in mind that you might need to be patient and practice this approach. Asking open-ended questions requires more thought and effort, but the outcome for your child will be worth it. So, have fun and get your kids talking!