For the teacher wishing to develop pupils’ thinking skills, there are many books, models and approaches to choose from, each with its own philosophies and strengths, writes Andy Bowman

Often though, if you are looking to stimulate creative thinking, you need do nothing more than to ask the right question. It might be shared at the start of a lesson, displayed on ‘Thinking Spots’ around the school, or shown on the board as pupils enter the room.Traditionally, questioning has maintained a significant place in the teaching tool-box. Closed questions are a quick and tidy way of taking individuals in a class to a specific point, as they lead towards an answer that we as the teacher is hoping the learner will remember or work out. Too often the desire to maintain pace and to reach our desired destination (i.e. the learning outcome or objective) means we neglect the importance of the journey learners take to get there.

Open questions can lead to exciting, truly creative thinking taking place, and perhaps most significantly, to individual thinking styles and philosophies emerging and growing. Here are some useful open questions to have up your sleeve…

  • What if squirrels ruled the world?
  • What if buildings were made from chocolate?
  • What if we were only allowed to whisper?
  • What if we didn’t have any emotions?
  • What if our hands and ears were in opposite places?
  • What do babies dream about?
  • What do dogs dream about?
  • Do stairs go up or down?
  • Will time travel ever be possible?
  • Does the universe ever end? What is at the end of it?
  • What might an animal called a ‘Telsnorphus’ look like?
  • Where did the first apple come from?
  • If we could only see in black and white, would the world still be coloured?
  • Do we see colours the same? (Is one person’s ‘blue’ the same as another person’s ‘blue’?)

Open questions can also be a great way to explore famous personalities or characters from stories…

  • If Florence Nightingale was a musician, what instrument would she play? What sort of music would she play?
  • If Hamlet was going to a desert island, what three things would he take with him?
  • If Henry VIII was a television presenter, what sort of show would he have? What might it be called? If it was a chat show, who would he have on as a guest? How might the interview go?

And finally, a question that has troubled leading historians for years: If Queen Victoria was a pizza, what sort would she be? TEX

This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise magazine, December 2005.