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How to Ask Questions to Inspire Thinking

Are you tired of only getting "Yes," "No," and "I don't know" from your children when you ask them about something?

You are not alone.

When I was teaching, I had a parent who came to me and complained about how their children didn't share a lot with them at home. For a second, I thought that was a little weird because that child would share a lot with me and in class. As I continued my conversation, I realized that the difference came from the questions we asked. I shared some of my tips with the parent, and she was happy that she could interact with her children better.

Teachers are trained to ask questions that provoke thinking. I refused to settle with a "Yes," "No," or "I don't know" in the classroom. I ask for more. Here are some of the tricks that I used that worked fabulously.


Use Less Closed Questions

Closed questions are the questions you can answer with a single word like "Yes" or "No," or a short phrase. These questions often don't provoke further conversations. Here are some examples of closed questions:

Have you brushed your teeth? (Possible answers: Yes / No)

Where is your cup? (Possible answers: On the desk / In the kitchen etc.)

These questions are necessary for day-to-day activities. However, they do not promote further thinking when it comes to having a conversation with your children. If you want to hear more from your children, try open questions. Open Questions cannot be answered by a single word or short phrase because the question demands details. Here are some examples of open questions:

How is 4th grade different from 5th grade?

(Possible answers: My teacher is different, also...)

Why did you pick this outfit today?

(Possible answers: I pick this outfit because...color/style etc.)

Open questions encourage your children to share more because the nature of the question demands more information.

You might be wondering - How do you know if you are asking a close or open question?

The easiest way is to ask yourself the question, and see if you can answer it with a simple "Yes" or "No."

If you can, you might want to rephrase your question.

If you can't, Congratulations! Have a great conversation with your children.


Start your questions with "Why" and "How"

Let's take a look at some interrogative words:

What / Which / When / Where / Who / Why / How

Among all of them, "Why" and "How" tend to demand details from the answerer the most. "Why" questions ask for "the reason" behind the subject, and "How" questions ask for "the way or method." Most of the time, these cannot be answered by a single word or simple phrase. Hence, these questions encourage your children to think harder and share more.


The Magic Phrase - Tell Me More

Sometimes, you might have asked an open question, but your child was not responding to it with many details. One of my go-to phrases is "Tell me more!". I love this phrase because it serves two purposes - 1) it prompts the children to share more, and 2) it shows that I am interested in what they say. Here's an example:

Child: I played basketball at gym class today and I made three throws today.

Parent: Oh really? Tell me more about it.


I hope these suggestions can help you communicate better with your children. Some of you might have the opposite problem - your children ask a lot of questions. Embrace their curiosity and be their guide in their exploration to the answer. If you have any questions about this post, please share them with us in the comments.

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