Monday, December 2, 2013

Open Questions

The ultimate goal of differentiation is to meet the needs of the varied students in a classroom during instruction, but this can seem overwhelming.  One way it can become manageable is if the teacher can create a single question or task that allows students at different stages of mathematical development to benefit and grow. 

This single question is called an Open Question. A question is open when it is framed in such a way that a variety of responses and approaches are possible. 

For example, look that the picture below. Describe what you see by using a mathematical equation and justify your answer.

What equation did you come up with? 
How many equations could you come up with? 
Can you justify all your equations?

Marion Small in her book called, Good Questions, Great Ways to differentiate Mathematics Instruction suggests 5 ways to change a closed question to an open question.

1. Turning the question around
2. Replacing the question with a blank

3. Asking for similarities and differences

4. Asking for a number sentence

5. Changing the question

Open questions can lead to great classroom discussion that can engage all students. So give them a try and share with us your results!

You may enjoy this book by Marion Small. Inside are many examples of open question for grades Pre K through 8.


  1. 75 Minutes of PURE student led math from this question today! My 4th grade PACE had so much fun with this. They came up with their own equations and justified them. I taught about 10 mini lessons from one question in one day :) Time ran out and they wanted to keep working, I had to literally make them STOP DOING THE MATH! They are now making a podcast for this question! Can't wait to share them! Thank you for sharing this.

    Ms. Wood
    4th Grade
    Steiner Ranch Elementary

  2. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing. Can't wait to see their podcasts. :)
    Open questions are great!