5 ways to engage students with an open question

Thomas Courtley, ex teacher and LessonUp education specialist

Thomas Courtley

Education Specialist

Teachers use open questions regularly during their lessons. Surprisingly, though, repeated studies find a much higher rate of closed than open questions in teachers’ practice. Many teachers like to combine open and closed questions, depending on the subject and skills they are focussing on. Open questions give students more freedom and opportunity. Yet there are many different ways of using them effectively during a lesson.

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1. Exit ticket plenaries

A learning objective is only valuable if you double check its effect at the end of the lesson. Sometimes your expectations don’t match those of your students.  Exit tickets plenaries provide an excellent opportunity to assess your students' comprehension. They encourage learners’ ability to reflect, think critically, and become mindful learners. Through three (or more) seemingly straightforward questions, you can motivate your students to fine-tune their metacognitive skills.

TIP! Implement a poll with happy to sad emojis as exit ticket plenary. Check how your students ‘feel’ about what they learnt.

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2. Exam-question practice

Help your students improve their attainment by practising regular exam questions in the classroom or at home. They could answer open questions on paper, or digitally, as in LessonUp. Typing in LessonUp isn’t a substitute for writing, but it helps you keep a nice, centralised record of all answers. You could also choose to model exam questions, and enquire with your students why they think you give a certain answer. It might be interesting to discuss this together in the classroom.

TIP! Provide your students with a framework for addressing open questions, and let them free to determine the content.

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3. Unveiling stories

With the learning technique ‘Unveiling stories’, students are stimulated to dive deeper into the meaning of a picture. Looking at it isn’t enough. They are encouraged to think about the global and individual stories behind the image. While doing so, they discover themselves as storytellers. This technique allows students to work on inference practice, critical thinking, source analysis, and reflective practice. It’s a great way to practise all these skills at once.

TIP! The most important thing is to choose a meaningful image, with enough visual data to flare up interesting conversations.

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4. Student e-portfolios

E-portfolios can help students facilitate, document, and archive their own learning. An excellent description is offered by Paulson, Paulson and Meyer, who write: ‘a portfolio is a laboratory where students construct meaning from their accumulated experience.’ They can become a learning tool to clarify students’ educational goals, integrate and consolidate their learning through reflection, and showcase their achievements to teachers, caretakers, or future employers.

TIP! A portfolio could be as holistic as you like: strictly academic or related to personal development and/or mental wellbeing (PSHE sessions) .

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5. Step into your learning

Encourage immersive learning: help your students step into another reality and lose themselves in it. Thanks to creative writing prompts formulated as open-ended questions, and with the aid of inspiring imagery, you can help activate their imagination. Once they are able to direct their attention to another reality and keep their focus, answering questions about it becomes very natural. Typing helps them write faster, almost at one pace with their thoughts. 

TIP! Ask your students to write as fast as they want, and to check grammar and punctuation only is a second moment.

Research suggests that 25% of teachers use open questions during their lessons. LessonUp's wealth of interactive features play a crucial role in enabling teachers to gather assessment data.