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Dialogical moment Creating an overall view

Method 3: The art of inquiry – the power of questions (Forming unbiased open questions to open another person's thinking)

(Forming unbiased open questions to open another person's thinking, Creating a dialogical moment III, dialogue scene 26, in English 16.)

The goal of this method is to learn how questions can be used to open another person's thinking and to help them develop their thinking further or to stimulate collaborative knowledge creation. The objective is, therefore, to learn to form unbiased open questions. Questions are unbiased and open when the personal opinion or view of the person asking the question is not expressed in that question; thus the question contains no material that might lead the person answering that question to respond in a certain way. The objective is to learn to start a question with an interrogative pronoun and to ask short questions. This makes it possible to open another person's thinking exactly as it is, without having one's own thoughts influence that thinking. A skill in itself is realising to ask the other person about their thinking in the first place!

Remember to consciously observe whether your actions and behaviour follow the principles of philanthropy and reciprocity!


  • the teacher introduces the participants to the method and gives a demonstration of how open questions are formulated
  • participants work in pairs
  • together with their partner, the participants practise asking open questions
  • choose the focus of the theme of the dialogue so that it is important from the perspective of the learning goals or knowledge creation (in this context, for example, “the power of questions in learning”)
  • first one person speaks and the other asks an open question about what he/she said
  • the speaker speaks about two sentences; these form a whole about which the listener asks an open question
  • the speaker answers the question and the listener asks another question concerning the answer
  • the speaker relates altogether five wholes and the person asking the questions inquires more about these points, which means that five open, unbiased questions will be asked
  • the roles are reversed
  • during the first phase of the method, the participants use open questions that pertain to thinking and activities (See Question group 1 below these instructions)
  • during the second phase of the method, participants ask questions that could guide their partner's thinking into a new direction (See Question group 2 below these instructions); the theme of the dialogue remains the same
  • note that starting a question with an interrogative pronoun, not with a verb, makes it possible to form an unbiased, open question
  • the participants write down thinking or insights that they got as a result of the questions

1. 1 Open questions that open thinking, actions and feelings and advance the processing of the topic:

Examples of questions that facilitate understanding and processing the topic:

  • What do you think about…?
  • How do you think this will/would/might…?
  • How do you explain…?
  • How are you going to do…?
  • Why do you think…?
  • In what situations does that work…?
  • What does that mean…?
  • Where does this or that result in…?
  • Where does that lead to…?
  • What is that based on?
  • What kind of actions could…?
  • What reasons can you give for this…?
  • What kind of thinking does/will this...?
  • What is the reason that makes you think...?
  • What makes it…?
  • What would be a useful approach...?
  • When is this…?
  • Where does this go…?

2. 2 Open questions that guide thinking to new directions

The path of the dialogue can be changed by asking an open question that pertains to the future or future actions. This helps the participant(s) consider new alternatives and solutions.

Examples of questions that help thinking and understanding turn to new directions:

  • What would be the first step…?
  • What would make this…?
  • What would bring into this matter…?
  • How did you come to this…?
  • What could be the next…?
  • How could this be changed…?
  • Which of these matters would you bring up…?
  • When does that work…?
  • What if…?
  • What would take this (to)…?
  • How do you get from this (to)…?
  • What should be done next?
  • What could give us a solution?
  • If you thought of this in a different way, where would you start?
  • What could you change…?
  • What would be a solution to this?
  • What should be done now?
  • How can we proceed from here?
  • What conclusions do you make now?
  • How can we make this work?
  • What do you think is important here?
  • What was the result of this dialogue?
  • What do we not yet have here?
  • What would give us the best results?
  • What would take this matter significantly forwards?

Reflection in the learning community: The whole group jointly reflects upon their experiences of the method and thinking that it caused. One useful question for this reflection is ”What did you become aware of during this task?” Another, more demanding question, is ”What did you learn from this task?” A third useful question could be “What surprised you about this task?” or “What are the results of this task?” or “What does this task mean to you?” The purpose of the reflection is that several participants, not only some, share their thinking and experiences. You can engage more participants in the reflection by asking questions such as, ”What else can you tell us about your thinking?”,”Even thinking that at first seems insignificant can be useful”, ”What else should be mentioned at this point?” etc. In other words, the common reflection should not be limited to hearing the experiences of a few active participants. The participants become accustomed to quieter moments that give them time to think. When the reflection part is completed, every participant has gained an understanding of the art of inquiry, about the power of questions in dialogue and knowledge creation, which enables them to continue practising in real life situations.

If and when we gain an insight into the importance of asking questions, we usually only inquire about the other person's thinking once. This is because we think that it is enough to ask one question. In addition, inquiring typically leads to a dead end because we ask a random question from the person we are talking to or ask questions only about a previous key utterance. This can easily make the dialogue run in a circle. When this happens, the dialogue, problem solving or knowledge creation process does not truly proceed. When we are more skilled in the art of inquiry, we know how to ask open questions that make the participants reflect on the matter and open their thinking. A skilful inquiry also helps the participants find solutions to problematic matters and guides learning and knowledge creation into new directions. In addition, inquiring can be connected to recognising and opening key utterances (See Methods “Catching hot words” and “Delve deeper”).