Heretolisten.org is a resource for caring adults—the front-line staff in schools and community based programs—to help teens who are struggling with difficult emotions.
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Open-Ended Questions: Get Teens Talking
Read and Talk About It
Elizabeth Johnson, Education Director, Youth Communication

Open-ended questions encourage teens to think more deeply about what the writer was feeling, the choices they faced, and the actions they took. There are no right or wrong answers and there is no judgment.

Open-ended questions guide teens to think about how the themes, emotions, and choices in the stories relate to their own lives. They allow you to practice active listening skills through your non-verbal attending skills and by verbal responses such as paraphrasing and reflecting feelings. (Check out 6 Ways to Be a Better Listener for tips on active listening.) Our questions help teens to externalize by focusing on the writer, which can be easier than starting with “I”.

Gently bridging to personal connections and sharing from their own lives is an important transition in the discussion. Here are some examples of open-ended questions we have found to be effective. You can ask them after finishing the story or, if you want to ask them during the story, pause and phrase them in the present tense about the passage you just read.


  1. What stood out to you in this story?

  2. What main problem or challenge did the teen writer face?

  3. What choices did the writer have in trying to deal with the problem?

  4. Which way of dealing with the problem was the most effective for the writer? Why?

  5. What strengths, skills, or resources did the writer use to address the challenge?

  6. If you were in the writer’s shoes, what would you have done?

  7. What could adults have done better to help this young person?

  8. What questions does this story bring up for you?

  9. What have you learned by reading this story that you didn’t know before?

  10. What connections can you make to this story? Does it remind you of anything in your own life?

  11. Do you have a different view of this issue, or see a different way of dealing with it, after reading the story? Why or why not?

Elizabeth Johnson
All Activites for Youth are created by Elizabeth Johnson, Youth Communication's Education Director. She specializes in social and emotional learning and literacy development and offers story-based professional services for educators. For more information, contact Elizabeth at ejohnson@youthcomm.org or 212-279-0708 ext. 103.
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(AFY-10-08-2014)

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