Open-ended and Close-ended Questions

Purpose:  English language learners often have difficulty identifying the difference between open-ended and close-ended questions.   Making the distinction is very important in situations like job interviews, where a potential employer wants more information about a person’s skills or experience. 

Prep Time:  15 minutes

Materials:  copies of handout

Prep:  You’ll need plenty of examples to illustrate the difference between open-ended and close-ended questions, and copies of the handout for your student(s).

Definitions:

  • Questions that require a “yes” or “no” answer are close-ended questions, because no more information in needed or required.
    • Q: “Did you eat lunch today?”  A: “Yes, I did.”
    • Q: “Have you ever used a computer?”  A: “Yes, I have.”
  • Questions that require the answerer to give more information or details are open-ended, because they “open” a conversation and provide an opportunity for new questions to be asked.
    • Q: “Why didn’t you come to school yesterday?”  A: “My son was sick and I had to take him to the doctor.  Then I had to go to  the drugstore to fill a prescription, …”
    • Q: “When are you available to work?”  A: “I can work days, evenings, and some weekends.”

Procedure:

  1. Introduce the idea of open-ended and close-ended by asking your students a series of questions.  As they respond, talk about the difference between their answers and help them to categorize the questions you’ve asked into open-ended and close-ended.  Be sure to ask questions that are clearly one or the other.
  2. Ask students to pose questions that they think are close-ended.  Talk about whether or not they are and why.  Repeat with open-ended questions.
  3. Give students the handout and review the definitions again.  Look at Exercise I and go over the directions together. 
  4. Students complete Ex. 1 in pairs, reading the examples aloud and adding their own example.
  5. Ask students to share their ideas with the class.
  6. Students work individually to complete Exercise II, then practice asking and answering the open-ended questions they’ve written with a partner.
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