May 24, 2024


Technology and Age

Using Open-Ended Questions in Student-Centered Learning

A person who is mostly out of frame is seated at a desk and clasping their hands over a laptop.

“How was your weekend?”

The teacher writes the morning’s writing prompt on the board, hoping to hear all about the students’ experiences and adventures over the last two days. Sadly, the only responses she receives are “Fine” and “Okay.”

What went wrong?

Student Centered Learning

The difference between using closed-ended questions and open-ended questions in the classroom can be like night and day. Close-ended questions encourage terse, often single-word responses (“yes” or “no,” for example). On the other hand, open-ended questions are designed to promote full, meaningful answers that stem from the students’ own knowledge, thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Furthermore, when teachers use open-ended questioning techniques, they encourage objectivity, as such questions are less leading in nature.

Why are Open-Ended Questions Important?

Benjamin Bloom and others categorized various objectives for educational settings. These categories are: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.

Student-centered teaching is the best way to achieve these skills and abilities, as it skillfully incorporates open-ended questioning techniques into every lesson and interaction with students. This relays the message that what the students feel and think matters and is important to their learning and mastery of the content.

Likewise, Webb’s DOK was developed to identify the complexity of an assignment or assessment. DOK 1 is the easiest, and DOK 4 is the hardest. As the DOK increases, the level of knowledge and understanding does as well. Open-ending questions and student-centered learned naturally lend themselves to higher DOKs and deeper understanding.


Here are a few examples of how close-ended and open-ended questions compare:

Close-Ended Question: Who was your favorite character?
Open-Ended Alternative: How do you feel about the characters?

Close-Ended Question: Do you enjoy your classes this school year?
Open-Ended Alternative: What do you think of your classes this school year?

Close-Ended Question: What is your science project topic?
Open-Ended Alternative: Tell me about the science project topic you have selected.



You may notice that the last open-ended “question” listed above is not truly in question format. That’s okay! A well-worded statement can also implicitly require a thoughtful response. Use either style in the classroom lessons and resources you create to help move the focus from the teacher asking the question to the student(s) responding.

All open-ended questions and statements should prompt hearty discussion and debate within a classroom, as well as within the individual students themselves. Higher-cognitive questions are just about always open-ended and help students utilize their critical-thinking skills as they come up with responses.Student Centered Learning

Student-centered teaching and learning resources should incorporate open-ended questioning techniques to help facilitate student learning across all content areas. We often think of English Language Arts and Social Studies first when it comes to using open-ended questions. However, it is also extremely useful to use this technique when creating mathematics lessons and resources. Here are a few examples of open-ended questions that can help stimulate mathematical thinking: 

  • How can you use the pattern to help you come up with the answer?
  • What is the same about these two objects?
  • How are these two equations different?
  • How would you group the following shapes?
  • What might happen if you switched the order of the digits?
  • What happens when you double the length of one side?
  • How would you extend the pattern? 

Including open-ended questions in your classroom resources can help create a richer learning environment for students. Doing so can help make educational materials serve as inspiration for both teachers and students, as the classroom is transformed from a dull, lifeless place to an environment that is teeming with enthusiasm and energy.

Instructional designers who are well-versed in student-centered learning can help you adjust your curriculum and better align with Bloom’s taxonomy and Webb’s DOK, to increase student learning and develop stronger, more participatory assessments.