Working on Questioning Techniques? Why You Should Use Open AND Closed Questions

Instructional coaches who support teachers have a variety of questioning techniques in their coaching repertoire.

Strong questioning techniques from coaches help teachers reflect more deeply on their teaching practices and generate classroom strategies on their own.

But, is there a “right” type of question for instructional coaches to ask? Are open-ended questions “better” to ask teachers than closed-ended questions?

According to Jim Knight, instructional coaching expert and author of “The Definitive Guide to Instructional Coaching”, effective questioning techniques include using different types of questions strategically.

In this PLtogether Lounge Talk with Jim Knight and Edthena founder Adam Geller, the two discussed how teacher coaches can use both open-ended and closed-ended questions in coaching conversations.

Watch the full discussion above, or read on for highlights about when to use the different types of coaching questions and how to strengthen your questioning techniques.

What is the difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions?

Strong questioning techniques are an important part of engaging with teachers. Asking teachers questions helps educators to identify their own solutions or strategies to try in the classroom.

Questions can be categorized as either open-ended or closed-ended.

Closed-ended questions have a limited number of specific responses or options.

For example, if an instructional coach asks “Did that lesson have an exit ticket?” to the teacher, the question could be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

Other examples of closed-ended questions might begin with:

  • On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate …?
  • Which do you like better …?
  • Do/would you …?

Open-ended questions invite responses that are not limited – the teacher can answer more freely and in their own words.

In a coaching conversation, open questions are more broad and exploratory than closed-ended questions.

Examples of open-ended questions are “How did you feel about that lesson?” and “Why do you think students are struggling with that objective?”

Asking teachers both open- and closed-ended questions strategically within a coaching conversation is key to stronger questioning techniques that help drive a coaching conversation forward.

Instructional coaches’ questioning techniques should include asking open-ended AND closed-ended questions

Closed-ended questions are often thought of as ineffective compared to open-ended questions. However, neither type of question is right nor wrong to ask teachers during a coaching conversation.background photo of red racecar on race track with two passengers with text "Your questions can help drive a coaching conversation forward" for post about questioning techniques

Jim Knight explained, “Open questions are not superior to closed questions … they serve different purposes.”

So when should the different question types be used?

“I usually start a coaching conversation with a closed question, like ‘On a scale of one to ten, how close did that class go to your idea?” said Jim Knight.

Using a closed-ended question at the beginning of a coaching conversation brings focus.

Closed questions are also effective when wrapping up a coaching session.

Instructional coaches can try ending conversations with, “Which of these classroom strategies gives you the most energy?” or “Is there anything else we haven’t talked about that we need to talk about?”

These examples of closed-ended questions can help teachers narrow down their thinking or ideas.

On the other hand, Jim Knight noted, “Open questions broaden things out. Open questions give you a bigger picture.”

When an instructional coach asks open-ended questions, they can often get more information or insight from a teacher.

For example, asking “What would it look like if your kids were doing X?” or “How did you feel about that PD session” can open a coaching conversation up.

When coaches ask teachers open-ended questions, teachers can provide more qualitative details. This encourages educators to reflect more deeply on their teaching and learning.

Open-ended questions throughout a coaching conversation can also give instructional coaches a better understanding of their teachers’ thoughts and needs. These insights help coaches better support those educators.

When teacher coaches include both open and closed questions as part of their questioning techniques, more robust coaching conversations can take place.

Step up your instructional coaching with strategic questioning

By intentionally incorporating open-ended and closed-ended questions into a coaching conversation, instructional coaches can strengthen their questioning techniques.

Stronger questioning invites more meaningful discussion and helps coaches support and guide teachers more effectively.

Want more insights from instructional coaching expert Jim Knight? Check out this blog post: Curious about the Jim Knight Coaching Model for Teachers? Let’s Break it Down

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