OER4Schools/Open and closed questions

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Resource details
Title Open and closed questions
Topic Questioning,  OER4Schools,  Teacher Education Resources for Sub-Saharan Africa


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This resource is part of the OER4Schools programme.

How do you find out whether your question is open or closed? How do you find out whether your question is surface or deep? Let's first look at some examples:

Background reading

Closed versus Open questions:

  • Closed questions are factual and focus on a correct response. Some examples are: Name the different parts of a plant? What are the five nutrients that must be present in a balanced diet? How many sides does a triangle have? What is the formula for calculating perimeter of a square? How many planets are there in the solar system? Name two sources of renewable energy.
  • Open questions have many answers. Some examples are: What could be the consequences of water contamination? How does a balanced diet help us? How could we use flowers from plants? Suggest ways to prevent the spread of malaria in your community?

Surface versus Deep questions:

  • Surface questions elicit one idea or some ideas. For example, What is the difference between organic and inorganic fertilizers? What is the use of carbohydrates in a balanced diet? Which part of the sugar cane plant is used for eating? Which features of a cactus plant are useful for its survival in desert regions?
  • Deep questions elicit relations between ideas and extended ideas. For example: What would happen if only inorganic fertilizers are used for growing plants? What connections do you see between the climate of a region and its vegetation? Why is the water in the nearby pond not safe for drinking?

‘What if’ and ‘Why’... questions can help you delve deeper into pupils’ thinking.

Here are some questions you can use about your questions!

  • Does this question have one correct answer?
  • Is there more than one answer to this question?
  • Are you using this question to get a student to give you a particular answer?
  • Could a student come up with the answer through their own thinking, or is it something that they either know or don't know?
  • If the question is answered by somebody, would it be possible for somebody to object to the answer, and come up with a different answer (that can be justified, or one that at least isn't easy to dismiss).

Also try to answer the question yourself: Is it a productive question? You could also test your question on a colleague: Again, how do they answer the question?

Also see OER4Schools/Questions you can ask, and also see Starting the enquiry based learning process regarding "productive questions".