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Help! I’m dried up!


I am doing a bit on open/closed questions in a training session and I'm looking for a fun exercise to get the group to understand the difference between the two.
I've already used the 'one person at the front of the room with a card with an item written on it - group have 20 closed questions to find out the answer, then do it again but group have 20 open questions to find out the answer' This shows that using open questions is more effective to gain information.
I'm looking for a similar exercise or even something completely different as long as I can show the difference between open/closed. The maximum amount of people in the group will be 10.
Can you help?
Lisa Birch

12 Responses

  1. Try these
    1.Send person out of room. Establish from group left behind two things they want to know,eg favourite food ,etc.When person returns they make a statement, eg I saw a squirrel on way to work.Person then looks at delegate one who has to ask one open question based on this sentence,and so it goes round the room.Key learning point building questions on a word or facts within last statement

    2.Closed – Make a statement..a man entered a field carrying a large,heavy package.Within minutes he was found dead .What killed him?

    Only CLOSED questions to you..round and round it will go
    Answer -parachute did not open

    LEARNING POINT -Assumptions made about words,i.e. ENTERED

    Listenking skills/lateral thing etc

    Good luck


  2. this one is fun…
    Hi Lisa,

    We’ve had great fun with this one:

    Give everyone a small ‘post it’ note and then tell them to write on it the name of someone alive or dead, real or fictional, etc.

    They then place it on the forehead of the person to their left (without them seeing it).

    Everyone then has to walk around, asking different people a series of closed questions to establish who they are.

    We usually run the exercise more than once, allowing people to ask open questions second time around, to allow them to understand the differences and benefits of both.

    If you’re interested, drop me an email and I’ll send you details of some others we’ve used.

    Kind regards,

    Colin Hamilton

  3. This might help
    Have you tried the old party game. Each person has a post it note on their head with the name of a celebrity on it. They don’t know who it is, but the rest of the group do. They can ask a set number questions, but the others can only answer YES or NO. It demonstrates how difficult it is to get information through closed questions is fun too. Let me know what you think.


  4. This one might be useful
    I have used “Draw my house”. It involves getting the participants into pairs. Their task is to spend 5 minutes asking their partner questions about the exterior of their house. They can only ask open questions and can make notes on the answers. Then swap and repeat the process.
    After 5 minutes, ask the participants to draw their partner’s house (only revealing the picture after they have finished it)
    In reviewing the exercise, I cover how they chose their questions, did they ask any irrelevant questions, how much useful information did they get etc etc.
    Hope this helps and good luck!

  5. Go on a holiday.. !
    One I used to use (which is a variation on a theme other colleagues have suggested). Was where I gave everyone a sheet of papaper with 20 different holiday destinations on it (also some are the same kind of holiday, but in different hemospheres) e.g. Skiing in Aspen (US), Skiing in St Anton (Europe) etc.

    Split group into pairs, get them to decide who is A and B.

    A’s start, they look at the sheet and decide where tehy would like to go for a holiday.

    B can then ask 10 questions (which A counts), and after the 10th question B has to guess which holiday A wanted to go on !

    Swap roles, do the same again.

    This is great fun, and the debrief is quite easy, ask which questions got their partner talking and were the most useful, and which were not particularly useful.

    Flip the kind of questions they asked and summarise by stating (what will become obvious to them), that open questions are good to get people talking, and closed are good as ‘checking’ or confirmatory questions.

    Keep it fun, quick and light hearted before moving on…

    I would suggest you do the exercise before any input on open or closed questions so that people ‘experience’ the answer, then let their logic kick in !

    If you want more ideas please feel free to email or phone 07702 433284.

    Kind regards

  6. Additional Examples
    Similar to William’s response, the short sentence technique can be quite useful. A couple more examples are:

    * George woke up one morning to the sound of his radio alarm clock. He switched on the light and went into the next room and shot himself. Why? (George is a lighthouse keeper and forgot to switch the light on before he went to sleep the night before. On the news, on his radio, he heard there had been a ship wreck and as he had been responsible he shot himself.)

    * Romeo and Juliet were found dead on the floor with smashed glass and water around them and a cat walking around – how did they die? (Romeo and Juliet are goldfish and the cat knocked their bowl on the floor.)

    Hope these are useful!


  7. The rizla game
    To reinforce the learning about the 20 q’s exercise, write the names of famous people on a postit or cigarette paper and stick them to the forehead of each delegate. In turn, each delegate tries to work out who they are, either by just closed q’s, just open, or a mix of both. Remember, q’s like “who am I?” are a bit of a cheat. Works very well and quite a lot of fun. Allow 20mins for 10 people.

    Hope this helps

  8. Not just open & closed
    There are some other types of questioning you can use, and although this isn’t specifically what you asked for its useful to be aware of this.

    Reflective – Mirror what the person just said, to help your understanding
    Hypothetical – Check if the person understands procedures
    Comparison – Limit the persons choices, to maintain consistency

  9. questioning
    split the group into is A,the other is B.A has to ask B questions about him/herself.A has two minutes to get as much information as possible.A has to consentrate on asking open questions,doing little talking,and encouraging B to talk as much as possible.

    after the two minutes swap the roles.again the questioner has to consentrate on open questions and encouraging talk.

    then the pairs tell the whole group about each other this also helps with listening and discussion skills.
    hope this is of help to you


  10. Questioning Skills Exercise
    This one covers listening skills as well.
    You sit at the front of the room and announce that the group’s task is to find out as much as they can about your work history. The only rules are that each individual can only ask 1 question at a time ( no follow-on questions allowed), and everyone asks a question in turn around the room.
    What typically happens is that everyone has their own agenda and some serious topic hopping occurs.
    Take a time-out occasionally and get someone to summarise what the group has found out so far. Eventually they will realise that asking open quesitons and listening to the previous answer to phrase a suitable follow-on question is the most effective method.
    It’s up to you how honest you are in your answers!
    You can make this last anyhting from 10 minutes to an hour depending on how seriously they need to develop questioning and listening skills.

    Hope this helps


  11. Using open and closed questions

    One that I’ve used a few times involves getting the delegates into pairs, sitting back to back. Person A has a simple drawing made up of standard shapes, squares, circles etc., some of them interlinked. In the first part of the exercise, Person B uses closed questions to attempt to draw the picture (I would suggest you put a time limit on this as it could go on for a while orherwise). In part 2, they swap roles. Using a different picture, Person A then uses open questions to attempt to draw the same picture. In part 3, again using a different picture, Person A or B draws and the other questions using a mixture of open and close questions, but instead of back to back, they sit face to face. You can of course open up a discussion after each part, focusing on the results and how it felt using the different types of questioning techniques.

    Good luck with whatever you choose to use!

    Sarah Colins

  12. Closed Questions – Grrrrr!
    Why do we perpetuate in creating exercises based on closed questions? I acknowledge we need to define the differences between open and closed, but why are most of the replies above about using closed questions? The danger in the closed question exercise is that a perticipant ‘lucks out’ and gets the answer exactly correct. They (and the group) identify that it worked and the power of open questions is diminished.

    Personally, I only tend to create questioning activities around the job area I am training in. If it’s sales interviewing – sales interview techniques. If it’s management coaching – management coaching questionning activities.

    I understand the need to bring an element of fun into activities…not at the cost of the training though.


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