“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

Thinking is the magic word in American education today. This is as it should be … because it is the lack of curriculum integrated thinking skills activities that has produced a nation of children who can get the “right” answer but often do not know how they got it! Research is showing that our children need more experience with “using” information beyond memorizing and regurgitating it. When we ask questions that encourage a variety of levels of thinking we take any activity we do with children to a higher level of understanding.

“Thinking” is not only inherent in the activities we do with children … it is also the way we talk to children and how we interpret their thinking by observing their responses and their play.

It is necessary to understand thinking processes in order to incorporate thinking skills into the curriculum. Thinking processes can be defined as a way to order the world an individual knows… a means to learn about the unknown and a way to strengthen ones’ ability to create. Some of the different thinking processes are:

Critical Thinking: The process of breaking the whole into parts. Activities such as: sorting, classifying, analyzing, comparing, and contrasting.
Creative Thinking: The process of developing fluent and flexible thinking. Looking at things and ideas in new ways. Activities such as: brainstorming, developing original products (ideas) from old materials (ideas), compare and contrast the same elements in different situations, creating imaginative solutions to problems.
Logical Thinking: The process of going from the general to the specific and vice versa. Deduction: the ability to reach a logical conclusion by interpreting clues. Activities include: making analogies, predictions, inferences, recognizing cause and effect and patterns.
Problems Solving: The process of defining a problem, analyzing possible solutions, choosing one and taking action upon it. Activities include: hypothesizing, validating judging, researching and analyzing information.

What are open-ended questions?
They are questions that have no one right answer. There is also no wrong answer.
Open-ended (or divergent) questions invite children to think and to give individual responses. They encourage give-and-take conversations. Open-ended questions encourage language development. A child can answer a convergent question with one word. But an open-ended question requires several words and even a phrase or sentence to answer it!
Most importantly, open-ended questions do not look for a “correct” answer. Often there isn’t one. They are more an invitation to wonder and think, to express or even continue questioning. For example: question like “Is this round?” calls for a yes or no answer. But “How many ways round things can you find?” or “What can you do with something that is round?’ invites conversation and thinking.
Open-ended questions used with literature provide children with opportunities to explore and to think creatively. “How did the little boy in the story find his lost ball?” asks for the child to recall an answer. But …“If you lost your ball like the boy in the story, what might you do to find it?” invites children to think on a deeper level, to problem solve, to see connections and to make discoveries on their own that continue the thought process.
Open-ended questions set the stage for discovery. They yield multiple solutions, and they involve children in the “why” of their thinking or their answers. Through open-ended questions, children become engaged in the thought process. “Which ball rolled down the ramp faster?” doe not invite children to become involved and to explore in the same ways as, “Why do you think one ball rolled down the ramp faster than the other ball?” “What would happen if you tried a different ball?”

Using open-ended questions

Try to limit the amount of convergent questions you ask. Avoid ones that begin with “do, did, is, can, will, would or should”.
The basis for open-ended questions is the use of wording that naturally invites critical thinking and problem solving.
Some divergent question starters include:
“What did you notice…….?                    “How many ways can you…….?”
“What might happen if…..?”                 “If this is so, then….?”
“What can you tell me about…..?”        “What else can you tell me…..?”
“Did you ever wonder …..?                    “How can you do this a different way?
“How could you…?”                                “Why did you….”

Be patient and wait for children to answer. Don’t answer for them, but give them time to think and wonder. You can always ask another question to spark their thinking!

Remember that you are not testing children with your questions. Questions that test or quiz children’s knowledge can stop the follow of creative and critical thinking. Children can be afraid to be “wrong” and will not even try to answer the question. Open-ended questions take away the fear of being wrong because there are NO wrong answers!