When children are in school they often hear the phrase, “There are no stupid questions.” As cruel as it sounds, this childhood sentiment isn’t entirely true -- especially through adulthood. Learning to ask the right questions is a skill that will take students far in their professional lives, whether they’re trying to get an opinion from a manager, train a new employee, or discuss a new project with a colleague.
“Though not every questions requires a dialogue, when a meaningful exchange is the desired outcome, opening up the questions we ask can have dramatic effects on the exchange that follows,” writes ASPCA Vice President B.J. Rogers, CAWA for ProLearning.
There are thousands of examples of specific industries and professions whose success depends entirely on the ability to ask the right questions to solve challenging problems. For instance, consider design problems: professionals such as web designers have to ask the right questions in order to understand the problem they have been hired to solve.
The success of the entire project depends on the web designer’s ability to initiate a dialogue. The right questions allow them to develop a plan that can be delivered on time and within budget, while meeting the agreed upon expectations.
Conversely, when a business owner is searching for a web designer they need to engage the designer with questions that elicit a quantitative response. Quantitative responses will reveal the designer’s thought process, problem-solving skills, and expertise. All necessary for hiring the right person for the job.
In this example you can replace the word “web designer” with any job title: architect, accountant, doctor, computer technician, plumber… Teaching students to ask that right questions will set them up for success in any career path they choose to follow.
The Value of Open-Ended Questions
The first and only rule to asking better questions to solve more challenging problems is to avoid closed-ended questions: questions that only generate a yes or no response. Of course there are situations where you may need to keep questions to a clear, simple, and concise response but when problem-solving, it’s important to ask questions that dig deeper.
How can students apply this to their learning? Take a look below.
Closed-Ended Question: Did the outcome of the war impact the economy France?
Open-Ended Question: How did the outcome of the war impact the economy France?
Closed-Ended Question: Was the Pope’s stance considered liberal?
Open-Ended Question: How was the Pope’s stance perceived politically at the time?
Closed-Ended Question: Was the outcome of the experiment what you expected?
Open-Ended Question: How did the outcome of the experiment differ from your original hypothesis?
The first questions require only a yes or no. The second question encourages the students to probe their teacher or professor for more information. Rephrasing the questions as open-ended questions creates a meaningful dialogue between a teacher and a student.
Students aren’t the only ones who can benefit from this simple strategy. Teachers often need help engaging students students who aren’t willing to participate in the classroom. Open-ended questions will help teachers draw shy students out of their shells.
6 Key Traits of a ‘Good Question’
The most effective questions create value. A good question:
By asking better open-ended questions, students can solve harder problems, improve their creativity, and engage others in meaningful dialogue both within and beyond the classroom. For more learning tips and educational resources and insight, visit TeachNest at teachnest.com/blogs/news.
- Creates clarity.
- Is constructive.
- Encourages analytical or creative thinking.
- Inspires reflection to shift perspective.
- Encourages new approaches to problem-solving.
- Challenges assumptions.