Open-Ended Questions Are Classy

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ePals is a great way to meet teachers from around the world

I am extremely excited to announce that I have connected with a teacher from another country whose students will be collaborating with mine on a project or two and potentially pen palling each other. I found this class and teacher through the use of ePals. The country that my new colleague is from is very far from mine in both distance and culture. I thought that it would be fun to play the game 20 questions between the two classes to guess where each is located. My new pen pal has never heard of this classic American game. In thinking about how to communicate the rules and strategy of the simple game to my foreign friend, I came up with a use for playing it with my WIN class.

Research Questions

Friday’s WIN class found me teaching research questions. My students are progressing in their “Who Would WIN?” projects. We have decided on animals, checked books out of the library, and are getting ready to learn about our topics. What should we learn, though? And, how do we find the information? We search for it using research questions.

These are open-ended questions that begin with words and phrases like…

When… ?

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Students are finding books about their animals

What type or kind… ?

How… ?

Where… ?

Why… ?

Why are these open-ended questions better than yes/no questions?

I decided to play 20 Questions to show the students the limitations of yes/no ?s.

Rules/Strategies:

You get 20 questions.

Each question must be a yes/no question. It can only receive a yes/no answer. If you accidentally ask an open-ended question, it will still be answered with a “Yes” or a “No”. For instance, someone may ask, “What color is it?” That person would get the reply, “No,” which obviously does not make any sense and is not helpful. Do not waste your questions.

One question per person. And, since we have more than 20 kids in the class, not everyone will get to ask one. Sorry, maybe next time. But, definitely no one will get to ask more than one. If you do get a chance to ask a question, make sure it is a good one. You must remember all of the answers of previous questions, so that you do not repeat any of those and waste your turn and one of the group’s precious questions!

Also, you want to pay close attention to answers, so that you can build on information that’s already been learned.

You want your question to continue trains of thought that seem to be leading down information paths that could end up revealing something that would give away what the answer is. For example, perhaps someone asked if the thing being guessed is alive. If the answer was no, it wouldn’t make any sense to ask a question about something living! You would want to find out where this inanimate thing is located or what it is used for. In this way, your questions will be working together. You must think of yourselves as a team.

When it comes time to guess what the thing is, that counts as one of your questions. You may make this inquiry at any time during the game, but keep in mind that you would be using up one of the 20 questions. It would be wasteful to ask, “Is it Superman?” when you don’t have any information suggesting that it could be. Narrow down the options with your questions.

Now that you understand the game, let’s play. I’m thinking of an animal. It is a wild animal that is not featured in any of the “Who Would Win” books by Jerry Pallota. No one in the class has chosen to research this animal. What is it?

Ways to narrow the field of information include focusing on the following:

Size–Is it smaller than this chair? Yes. Is it smaller than my hand? No. Now you know that it is somewhere between a hand and chair. Don’t guess any more size questions. Focus on another feature.

Habitat–Does it live in the water? Sometimes. (It is at the discretion of the interviewee to answer the questions however he/she thinks best. There may be times when the question, even though it be an appropriate yes/no question cannot be answered with only one of those two answers, satisfactorily. My animal is an amphibian. I didn’t want to kill all chance of my guessers for figuring it out. Also, the person being questioned may provide hints if it seems like the answer is too hard. You may want to steer the guessers in the right direction. Remember, it is just a game.)

Habits–Is it a carnivore? Sort of. So, does it eat meat and plants? Yes. Okay, does it eat bugs? Yes, it loves bugs. (Notice, I am giving them a hint, here.)

Location–Does it exist here in our town? Yes.

Looks–Is it furry? No. Is it scaly? No. Is it a hot color? No. Does it have long legs? Yes, most definitely, for its size, its legs are enormous!

Me: You have many clues as to what it is, are you ready to guess what it is? No. We want to narrow it down a little more.

The students continued to ask more and more detailed questions until they were stumped. They had begun discussing with each other the fact that the animal had to be a frog, but those were usually smaller than a hand. “Is it a frog that is bigger than a hand?”

“Do you want to use one of your questions to ask that?” (They only had a couple left, and I wanted them to be successful.)

“No.” More classroom discussion.

“What do you know about frogs? Are there any that are larger than a hand?”

As if no one had thought of that, surprise lit up faces throughout the room. Finally, someone blurted out, “Is it a bullfrog?”

“Yes.”amphibian-aquatic-animal-close-416206

The Power of Open-Ended Questions

I then prompted more classroom discussion, “What question or questions would have gotten you to the answer faster, if you were not limited to yes/no options?”

Students shared with their turn/talk partners.

After listening to a few ideas, we concluded that the fastest was “What animal are you thinking about?” We also discussed better ways to dig up information about your animal. What does it eat? How does it eat that? Where does it get its food? When does it eat? How often does it eat? Before students’ minds exploded, I had them type some sample research questions in the Notes App on their iPads.atlas-close-up-dark-592753

What Country Are You From?

While that would be much easier a question to ask and get answered, my favorite part of teaching is making things difficult and challenging for my students. So, we will play 20 questions with our pen pals. Hopefully we will learn more than just the name of their country. That’s the idea, anyway.

Have you had interesting experiences playing 20 Questions? Oh no! That was a lame yes/no question;(

What interesting experiences have you had playing 20 Questions? Explain.

When have you played the game? I used to play with my sister on long car rides when we were growing up. It helped to pass the time.

What was the best answer or question that you remember someone using?

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Research Questions send you on a QUEST.

Must Mention

I always point out the root word in “Research” and discuss that this term means “searching deeper.” It is like you didn’t find all of the information, so you “Re-Search”.

An extremely creative and bright student pointed out a root word in the word “Question”. Research is like going on a “Quest”. I was blown away. This is the classiest group of kids, I tell ya!

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Published by

Matt Weimann

Classy to the core, I teach the whole #3rdGrade child @EPSDWillowLane. I have eclectic tastes with interests in chess, cuisine, art, good literature, strong coffee and other drinks, jazz, and fashion... Mostly bowties;)

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