Open-Ended Questions: What’s In Your Back Pocket?

This guest post is from Crystal Brown, Senior Director of Gender & Well-Being at BGCA.

Have you ever asked a Club member a question and they provided you with an answer that gave you little to no information?

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Questions like, “How are you?” or “Do you like coming to the Club?” will typically result in a yes/no response or provide you with a word like good, fine or bad. If we don’t follow-up with, “why” or “how” when we ask these questions, we can feel quickly deflated and the opportunity for rich conversation passes us by. These types of questions are closed-ended questions.  They only require simple and brief responses. While they have their place, they don’t give kids and teens an opportunity to “tell their story” in their own words.

When we think about the purpose of the questions we ask of youth, we are hoping for a few things to happen. We first want kids and teens to know that we are truly interested in what they are thinking about as a way for us to build trusting and supportive relationships. Asking a good question is what a safe, positive, environment (one of the Five Key Elements for Positive Youth Development!) can look like in practice. Secondly, we tend to be curious about our members as growing human beings and we want to know how we can improve the experiences and activities we create or co-create with them.  Finally, we want to know more about their lives so that they connect new experiences to the context of their everyday realities.

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Open-ended questions are those questions that give us a window into what another person is thinking, feeling, or experiencing, and their responses are usually those things that are important to the individual. Further, they give us a good amount of information about someone else and create moments to have deeper, more fulfilling conversations. The National Afterschool Association contends that open-ended questions engage young people in dynamic thinking, where they must synthesize information, analyze ideas, and draw their own conclusions. (Click here for more information from them on using open-ended questions specifically in the STEM environment!)

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So our task, if we choose to accept it, is to begin to reframe our thinking regarding the types of questions we ask. Here is your challenge: For one week prior to beginning a lesson in a program, gather the group in a circle- this is called a circle share. Once gathered in a circle, ask an open-ended question of your choice. Go around the circle and provide an opportunity for each member to respond. You can start and model a response. Below are a few open-ended questions to start with, but be sure to consider the ages of your group when selecting a question for your circle share.

Sample Open-Ended Questions:

-If you were the weather what would you be?

– What are the good things and less good things about _________?

– What do you imagine if ________ were to happen?

– What do you think you would lose if you gave up ________?

-What did you experience when you had to do _________?

At the end of the week, reflect on what new information you learned from these conversations, both on your own and with your youth. Consider what you are now curious about and some additional questions to explore. What open-ended questions are in your back pocket?

Crystal

Before coming to BGCA, Crystal worked at Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. She has been in the Movement for 10 years. You can read her previous post for the Club Experience Blog on Traumatic Community Events here.

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