Open and Closed

Open questions have more than one acceptable answer. Most open questions permit you to compare two different answers and decide which one is “better”. Open questions usually require thought, reflection, and creativity. These questions may call for opinions and feelings.

Closed questions have a single correct answer. Yes/no, true/false, and multiple-choice questions belong to this category. Other closed questions start with a question word (or phrase) such as where, who, when, why, how many, or how much. 

Both types of questions are necessary for trainers, consultants, coaches, and managers. You can introduce the concept of open and closed questions through this activity with photo cards. The activity also provides practice creating and classifying these two types of questions.


The participants take turns to ask questions about a photograph. The questioner secretly classifies the question as open or closed. The other players participate in a classification poll. The questioner’s score depends on how many people agree with his or her classification.


To write open and closed questions. To classify questions into these two categories.


Minimum: 2

Maximum: Any number, divided into groups of 5 to 10

Best: Groups of 5 to 7


  • One photo card for each group
  • Classification cards, one for each participant to indicate whether a question is open or closed.
  • A book for hiding the classification card


5 to 20 minutes, depending on the number of participants in the playgroup


Prepare an outline for briefing the participants. Come up with key points about open and closed questions. Use the explanation in the first few paragraphs of this article for useful content.

Prepare suitable examples. Select a photograph. Come up with a list of closed and open questions about this photograph.

Here’s an example:


Closed Questions

  1. How many people are jumping off the cliff?
  2. How many people are standing on top of the rock?
  3. How many men are in the photograph?
  4. What color is the water?
  5. What gender is the person who is jumping?

Open Questions

  1. How do you feel about the behavior of the jumper?
  2. What would be a suitable caption for this photograph?
  3. Why is the woman jumping into the water?
  4. What proverb does this photograph remind you of?
  5. If you were a diving coach, what feedback would you give to the woman about her form?

Prepare classification cards. On one side of a small blank card, draw a closed circle. On the other side draw an incomplete (open) circle. Prepare one card for each participant.


Brief the participants. Explain the concept of open and closed questions. Display a photograph and ask some open and closed questions about it.

Form playgroups. Divide the participants into groups of 4 to 7 players.

Distribute the classification cards. Give each participant a classification card and explain how this card can be turned to the appropriate side to indicate an open or a closed question. Place a book in the middle of the table and explain that the questioner will hide the classification card under this book.

Display a photograph. Place a photograph at the middle of the table. Ask the participants to silently study it.

Identify the first questioner. Choose a participant to act as the first questioner. Reassure the other participants that they would get a chance to play this role later.

Ask a question. Invite the questioner to ask a question related to the photograph.

Classify the question. While the other participants are reflecting on the question and studying the photograph, ask the questioner to secretly turn the classification card to the open or closed side and place it under the book.

Conduct a classification poll. Ask the other participants to raise their hands with closed fists if they think the question is a closed one or with open palms if they think the question is an open one.

Score the question. Ask the questioner to reveal his or her classification by showing the symbol on the classification card. Count the number of participants who agreed with the classification. This number is the score for the questioner.

Discuss the classification. Conduct a mini-debrief by identifying any differences in the classification among the participants. Talk about features that make a question a closed one or an open one.

Continue the game. Repeat the same procedure with each participant playing the role of the questioner.

Conclude the game. The game comes to an end when all participants have had a turn to play the role of the questioner. The participant with the highest number of points is declared the champion.

Conduct the final debrief. Ask the following types of questions about open and closed questions. Facilitate a discussion among the participants:

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of open questions?
  2. What are the advantages and discussions of closed questions?
  3. What types of questions are particularly useful in training?
  4. What types of closed and open questions can be used while conducting an interview of a candidate for a job?
  5. Can you ask a closed question about the photograph—and convert it into an open question?
  6. Can you ask an open question about the photograph—and convert it into a closed question?
  7. Can you ask a question about the photograph that cannot be easily classified as open or closed?
  8. Can you come up with an open question that can be answered quickly and briefly?
  9. Can you come up with a closed question that will require time to think through and a lengthy answer?


Want greater variety? Give a different photo card to each participant. Tell them to use this photograph during their turn to be the questioner.