Open Ended Questioning

We have all done it several times over. Answered a highly important, closed question with the required “Yes” or “No”. Style of question with young children is very important. After recently watching a group of toddlers at Lawton Road as they investigated a tray of biscuits, I started to consider the importance of open ended questioning in expanding young children’s vocabulary.

It is all too easy to fall into the trap of using closed questions such as “can you break the biscuit?” instead of asking “how can I make this biscuit smaller?” The first question results in the yes, no or sometimes of course, no answer. The latter results in the child being able to analyse, predict, experiment and discuss.

In this case, our clever toddler responded “Yes if I break it – look”. So, not only did I get the response, I also got a prediction, the experiment and a quantifiable result, all from a two year old. This was science, language, maths and a focus upon understanding the world all wrapped up in one snippet of a conversation.

So what’s the picture of the robin redbreast got to do with all this? Well how many times as adults have we looked at such a photograph with children and enquired “What is that?” This is an open-ended question after all. How many times have we had a single word answer such as “a bird” or maybe “a robin”. But if we ask; “Oh look, what can you tell me about the bird over there that is sitting on the fence?” This would generally promote a more detailed response.

Habitually the use of what, why, where, or when, has resulted in the most detailed of responses. As a baseline of promoting language and vocabulary in young children, they are an excellent place to begin.

At Townhouse, we use ‘Stop, look, listen’ when having discussions with young children. Traditionally used in road safety, it is equally important here. If we stop to consider the response we require, or may achieve, whilst also looking at the style of learning we are promoting and actually listen to the voices of our children, we can have a greater impact upon their subsequent replies.

Finally, we must also remember that once we have our detailed response, do not forget to further inspire children’s vocabulary by continuing with your own additional knowledge and support. For example, how did I then gain additional knowledge from the toddler that broke the biscuit in half? I used the question, “What would happen if you did that again?” To which she replied “we get more”. We did and we counted all six together too!

The best advice is to think carefully and creatively about your questioning in order to receive the most detailed and imaginative responses. Whether an answer is right or wrong does not matter when we are talking to young children. They will explain and expand upon their understanding only if we provide the right interactions and opportunities.


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