The Importance of Open-Ended Questions

Whether it be with a child, family member, partner, or other loved one, we have all received a “fine” or “nothing” response when we were hoping to find out more. In fact, it happens more than we would like, and it often leaves us wondering, “how do I get them to open up more?” Using open-ended questions and statements has been shown to give us more detailed responses.


Open-ended questions do more than just give us access to multiple word answers. These questions provide a safe space for young people (and adults) to think, express, question, and formulate responses without the fear of being “wrong”. Many educator programs are informing teachers about the value and importance of language and questioning.  Studies have shown that young people and girls open up more with open-ended dialogue (Downey, Johnson, Surcheck, and Wilkin).


Open-ended questions provide the space for young people to explain their thoughts and feelings. Because of this, they get to be creative with their responses and have the chance to play with and try out new/different vocabulary and language. Young people’s minds are driven by exploration and discovery; so naturally, open-ended questions provide them with a space to express themselves, all while helping you gain more insight.


In short, open-ended questions:

  • Open up the conversation

  • Cause people to grow, stretch, and try out language

  • Spark curiosity and creativity

  • Guide people to reasoning abilities

  • Create space for people to fully understand their choice/decision

  • Allow space for people to have independence and ownership of their choices and ideas

  • Gather information to get to the heart of what is going on

  • Engage people in critical thinking and analysis


Using this language provides adults with the following: insight into a young person’s thinking, the opportunity to gain information without interrogation, and the space to build knowledge with and guide young people to discovery without taking over their learning. You can use these examples repeatedly and ask multiple open-ended questions in order to create an engaging dialogue. The requirement of the adult is to model active listening to show your interest, respect, and care for the conversation and the person.


General open-ended questions begin with our five w’s: who, what, when, where, and why. There are also general statements that you can use to find out more.



  • “Can you tell me more about that…”

  • “Tell me about…”

  • “How did that make you feel?”

  • “Can you share with me what you did here?”

  • “What do you think would happen if…?”

  • “What else can you do…?”

  • “Why do you think this happened?”

  • “Is there another way to…?”


For further reading and guidance on the importance of language and open-ended questions/statements, check out these books and articles:


Choice WordsOpening MindsMarin SchoolsTeachstoneA Place of Our Own, and Very Smart Girls.


Girls Empowerment Network recognizes using open-ended questions and statements as a best practice in our programs because it builds a connection with girls that is rooted in respect, genuine interest, and the building of trust. Open-ended dialogue allows for confidence building in girls, and active listening from adults helps create a strong and trusting relationship. For more information about GEN programs, check out our website.

Vanessa Wright