The Why and the How Of Asking Open-Ended Questions

Working as a literacy coach this year,  I always referred to my Wolfpack Works “evidence-based practices” to help guide and support my work with my beginning teachers. When reflecting on these indicators, I noticed that Practice 8 had the most personal notes beside it.  Wolfpack WORKS Practice 8 reads–Comprehension: Teach students how to comprehend increasingly complex narratives and informational texts. I spent a great deal of time modeling, explaining, and observing this practice throughout the school year. Although this practice seems to be self-explanatory,  it is a very deep and complex practice that takes practice, patience, and dedication to develop and implement.

In coaching my teachers in this practice, I was very intentional about guiding them in one aspect of helping students with comprehension in particular. I began coaching the teachers with whom I worked to use open-ended questions,  showing them the “why” and the “how” of questioning.

Why are open-ended questions so important?

Opened ended questions can create contexts for meaningful interactions in the classroom for learning, prompting children to reason and reflect while encouraging their use of language. Asking these types of questions takes time and effort, as teachers need to learn how to build up their “question banks.”  I tell my teachers to think about the questions they want to ask while planning lessons so that their questions are reflective and intentional.

Here are some of the strategies I introduced to my teachers that helped assist them in asking open-ended questions in their classrooms:

  • Before reading a book with children, write questions and statements on sticky notes and “flag” the pages of the book on which you want to ask questions. Use questions stems such as: “Why?” “Can you tell me more?” “What do you think?”
  • Ask: “How did you decide to…?” to encourage children to talk about something they are doing. Help them articulate their decision-making process by following up with questions such as “What if you…?” or “How else could you…?” and presenting an alternative to the actions they took.
  • Provide lots of opportunities for children to practice responding to open-ended questions and make sure you wait for them to answer. Make time for individualized, back-and-forth conversations on the playground, at lunchtime, while waiting in line, or during literacy centers. Ask questions, then demonstrate interest in the child’s unique response by asking follow-up questions such as, “Can you tell me more?” and “Why do you think that?”

Open-ended questions are just one way that you can foster comprehension and language development in your classroom. If asking open-ended questions becomes a part of your regular routine, you will create many meaningful  learning opportunities for your students. Doing so will, in turn, will help develop your students’ comprehension…and so much more!


La Niece Newkirk-Denis
Wolfpack WORKS Literacy Coach

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