Open-Ended Questions for Students: How to Craft Them (20+ Examples)

An image of a Poll Everywhere open-ended question activity type.

As an educator, your main responsibility is to instill critical thinking skills in your students.

No student becomes successful in their career simply because they memorized and used facts in their jobs. Success comes from the ability to think deeply about the subject matter and interpret it in ways that let them apply it to real-world situations.

It’s hard for students to go beyond their textbooks unless you ask open-ended questions that allow them to engage in such thought processes.

To help you facilitate such discussions in the classroom, we’ll explore a list of open-ended question examples for students. In addition, we’ll also look at ways to craft thoughtful questions and analyze responses with ease.

Open-ended vs. closed-ended questions

The key difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions is that the former has no predefined answer. It encourages the individual to think about the question in their own way and respond accordingly.

As typical university assessments use close-ended questions with specific answers, students tend to think from a one-dimensional perspective. For example, yes/no types of questions.

While the method is sound to test their grasp of a topic’s theoretical roots, more lively discussions are needed to develop other skills.

Also, as open-ended questions require more cognitive effort, it results in a pool of answers that offer more insights compared with simple yes/no questions. This leads to more fruitful discussions in the classroom as students actively participate and put their questions and points of view forward.

Open-ended question examples for students in different subjects

Usually, open-ended questions start with a “what,” “who,” “which,” “why,” or “how.” They force the student to articulate their thoughts in a structured manner and go beyond single-word answers.

If you’re stuck trying to spin up questions for your next lecture, here are a few examples of open-ended questions to get you started:

Arts and Literature

  1. How does the cultural context of a novel influence its themes and characters?
  2. How do gender dynamics shape the narratives in classical literature versus contemporary works?
  3. How has digital media changed traditional forms of art and literature?
  4. In what ways does the [book you discussed] reflect the societal issues of its time?
  5. How does the “anti-hero” concept in literature challenge traditional notions of heroism?
  6. How do the narrative techniques in [specific book] affect your story interpretation?


  1. How do genetic mutations contribute to the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria?
  2. Why do you think your environment plays a significant role in your mental health?
  3. What are the ethical implications of [new medical intervention] in humans?
  4. Which renewable energy technologies will prove to be sustainable 20 years down the line?
  5. What do you think about the correlation between psychology and neurobiology?
  6. How can we improve the method we discussed today to detect earthquakes?
  7. Which types of rovers do you think are best for a planet like Venus?


  1. How can mathematical models be used to predict financial markets?
  2. How can differential equations be applied to model and solve real-world problems in engineering?
  3. What role does probability theory play in everyday decision-making and risk assessment?
  4. How does game theory apply to economics?
  5. What are the mathematical foundations of AI?

Social Studies

  1. How has social media influenced political discourse and public opinion?
  2. How do historical events shape current foreign policy decisions in [country]?
  3. What are the ethical considerations for governments using surveillance technology?
  4. How do migration patterns affect urban development and demographic shifts?
  5. How has the concept of work changed with technological advances and the global economy?

Tips to ask open-ended questions and analyze responses

Here are a few tips for integrating this format of questioning within the classroom:

1. Integrate open-ended questions into discussions and homework

Typically, open-ended questions are limited to post-lecture discussions. But it’s essential to include them wherever you can—especially for homework assignments.

It gives learners time to think and even further research the topic to build on their understanding. This lets them develop an argument for their viewpoint, explore different perspectives, and clarify the concept.

For instance, ask them to write a short essay of 250 words or more on the lecture’s topic. As it requires them to articulate their thoughts and identify gaps in their knowledge, it’ll force them to take on further reading.

In the classroom, ask them similar questions and keep following up with statements like “Why do you think that?” or “How would that work?” to help them develop their arguments.

2. Craft questions that encourage the development of critical-thinking skills

Design a questionnaire of open-ended questions for the end of each lecture to stimulate critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This will push students to go beyond mere facts and “islands of knowledge” to make connections between seemingly disconnected issues.

Here are a few templates that can help encourage elaboration:

  • “What is the impact of…”
  • “How would you solve…”
  • “Why do you think…”
  • “Which factors do you think influence…”
  • “What challenges do you foresee in…”
  • “What potential solutions would work for…”

Students learn to question the status quo and assess the credibility of sources. This format also helps them get a well-rounded perspective on complex issues.

3. Make sure the question design is simple and effective

A well-crafted question is clear and straightforward. Also, it avoids overly complex language or any form of ambiguity.

The goal is to avoid confusion and keep students on the same topic. One way to do that is to prevent the use of double-barreled or leading questions.


NOT: “What do you think about renewable energy, and how will it impact our environment?”

BUT: “What do you think about renewable energy?”

When you connect the question to real-world scenarios or dilemmas, it’ll make the discussion relatable and engaging. This gives students the much-needed context required to offer meaningful answers.

4. Use technology to create an interactive classroom environment

These days, there are many types of tools available for creating engaging discussions, such as:

  • Polling software
  • Presentation software
  • Digital whiteboards
  • Discussion boards

For instance, Poll Everywhere lets you create open-ended questions or surveys that you can use within a remote or in-person session. Students can add their responses anonymously or with their names, and you can discuss the answers in real time.

Alternatively, students can also send in their questions, and you can pick the most common or interesting ones for discussion.

5. Give students a time limit to respond thoughtfully

When you set a time limit, students are compelled to think on their feet. However, it also encourages focused reflection and prioritization of ideas. This prevents overthinking or drifting off-topic, resulting in better answers.

Time constraints also give a sense of what making decisions in the real world is like, especially under pressure. This will ultimately prepare students to handle situations confidently outside the classroom.

6. Create a safe and inclusive environment to encourage responses

When you ask open-ended questions, ensure the classroom environment is safe. You can do that by allowing the students to anonymize their answers, mainly when dealing with sensitive topics.

Tools such as Poll Everywhere let you anonymize responses and moderate live discussions to create a healthy learning environment. Poll Everywhere has a feature that can automatically filter any profanity and censor abusive words. Also, students who have difficulty speaking up in class and sharing their ideas might be more likely to participate now.

When you’re asking follow-up questions, don’t use a judgmental tone. For instance, instead of saying, “Why?” use “Why do you think so?” or something similar. This fosters trust and openness in the classroom.

7. Develop a criteria for assessment of student responses

Create a rubric for assessment to ensure consistency while grading. For example, assign a weighted grade to a student mentioning a specific keyword or concept.

This grading system needs to align with the learning objectives of the course. If students miss out on specific concepts, for example, it shows that they don’t thoroughly understand the topic.

Also, communicate the criteria for grading before or after the assessment so students know what was expected in the assignment.

8. Provide real-time feedback on student responses

When students offer their responses, give them feedback. This is particularly useful in a discussion setting as other students also get to form their opinions.

Feedback should be constructive, focusing on the strengths of the response and offering specific suggestions for enhancement. It builds confidence and motivates students to engage more deeply with the material.

Feedback also provides valuable information by highlighting areas for improvement for both the student and the lecturer. The students know what went wrong with their answers, and the lecturer knows what needs to be improved or focused on in the next lecture.


Engage in lively discussions using Poll Everywhere

Using open-ended questions results in a more interactive and reflective learning environment. But a key part of that is how you implement this learning method in the classroom.

This is where digital tools can play a massive role. For instance, instead of asking open-ended questions in class directly, use a tool such as Poll Everywhere to ask them. Students can all send in their responses without needing to raise their hands and speak to the entire class. Additionally, educators can also moderate responses and grade them in one space, making it an effective tool for learning.

Poll Everywhere allows students to get real-time feedback, participate anonymously, and participate in an inclusive learning environment. This teaches them to think critically while experiencing an interactive mode of learning.

If you’re an educator looking to deploy open-ended questions, schedule a demo with Poll Everywhere today.