How to Stop Getting One Word Answers


“How was your day?”


“What did you learn today?”


“Are you finished with your science project?”


Answers like these from our tweens and teens are too familiar. And disappointing. Our curiosity remains unquenched because we want to know the details of their day.

A simple solution exists. We need to construct better prompts. Open ended questions and statements will invite sharing, encourage conversation, and foster understanding.

Narrow in on a single topic rather than the broad question of “How was your day?”

“We left the house in a rush this morning. I’d like to hear your suggestions about how we can make the morning better tomorrow.”

“What were the two best things in Yearbook today?”

“Your teacher emailed me about the History field trip. I wonder what you’re looking forward to most.”

Ask about specifics rather than the generalizing in “What did you learn today?”

“I love hearing about the time-travel trading discussions in Language Arts. What swaps were the funniest today?”

“How did you approach changing decimals to fractions on your math test? You were worried.”

“Hey, it’s Thursday. Tell me what words you had in the Spanish vocabulary bee.”

Notice effort, quality, and planning over the completion in “Did you and your partner finish the science project?”

“You’ve been working hard with your partners. What steps are next?

“You’ve taken on a complicated project. I’m curious about how it’s going.

“I admire your dedication. You’ve taken on a lot of responsibility.”

These prompts seek our kids’ opinions, feelings, and concerns. Not one can be answered with one word! They inquire about progress, measurement, and reason. They promote analysis, ideas, and expression. And, they give us the opportunity to nurture conversations and understand each another more.

Every time we use an open ended question or statement, we extend a generous invitation to our kids to connect and engage with us. We get to spend time together while learning about them from them. And we never get that dreaded one word answer!

Visit this link for a list of open ended questions and statements.

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