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Open and Closed Questions


If you’ve been following this series of articles, you’ll know that I’ve been promoting learning through dialogue. In dialogic learning, teachers think of themselves less as the “sage on the stage” and more as the “guide on the side.” Since dialogic learning works through dialogue, the instructor will need to ask questions that promote discussion. You’ll want to steer your ship and passengers away from the shallow waters of closed questions, where you’re likely to run aground and end any possibility of a journey. That’s because closed questions invite a short, focused answer (often yes or no), while open questions invite the respondent to reflect and to draw comparisons.

Open-Closed-Windows-QuestionsInstead of asking, “How many petitions are there in the Lord’s Prayer?” ask, “Which petition of the Lord’s Prayer do you feel is most important for you and your family? Why?” The open question allows for more reflective thinking and will lead to a discussion.

Jane Vella, a strong proponent of dialogic learning said, “An open question doesn’t belittle facts and figures; it simply moves directly to examine them, to analyze the connections, and to consider the implications.”1

Here is another example.

What did Paul ask his readers to do in Colossians 4:2,3?

What do the following italicized words and phrases from Colossians 4:2,3 teach us about prayer? Take five minutes to jot down thoughts that come to mind.

2Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains” (Colossians 4:2,3).
• Devote
• Watchful
• Thankful
• That God may open a door for our message

While it’s good to know that Paul urged his readers to devote themselves to prayer while being watchful and thankful, wouldn’t we ultimately want our students to know why Paul would urge this? And how exactly does one devote himself to prayer while being “watchful”? If your class can wrestle with and answer those questions, they will walk away from the lesson having learned something valuable for their own prayer life.

1Jane Vella, On Teaching and Learning (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008), 113.