“Hi, how are you doing?”
“I’m doing well, just got back from vacation”
“Where did you go?”
“Nice. Who did you go with?”
“How did you get there”
The above dialogue is an example of a typical conversation between two people discussing a recent vacation. The person asking the questions is showing interest and gaining more information by asking informative questions. The person answering questions is providing additional information about their trip by adequately answering the questions. Asking and answering questions appropriately is an important skill in order to participate in social conversation with others and build relationships. It also aids in comprehension of spoken and/or written language by learning information through the form of questions and demonstrating understanding by answering comprehension questions.
What is Involved in Asking and Answering Questions?
Steps to adequately answer questions include:
Hearing the question correctly
Thinking about the meaning by deciphering the difference between who, what, where, when, why, and how
Understanding the meaning or context
Forming a suitable answer
Articulate the answer in a grammatically correct sentence
Steps to adequately asking questions include:
Determining the information you would like to receive
Formulating a cohesive, grammatically correct question in your head
Articulating the question to another person using adequate social skills
There is a hierarchy for answering and asking questions during development. “What” questions are the easiest to learn, use, and answer in language development. “Where” questions are next, followed by “who” questions. Lastly, the hardest questions to answer are “when” and “why”. When teaching children how to answer questions, start with “What” and “where” questions until fully mastered.
Milestones for Asking and Answering Questions
1-2 years old:
Answers simple “what” questions like “what’s that?” while pointing at common objects
Answers simple “where” questions by pointing to objects or pictures in a book, such as “where are your shoes?”
Responds to yes/no questions with a nod or word
Starts to add rising intonation to the end of phrases to indicate questions. For instance, “cookie?” may stand for, “Can I have a cookie?”
May start to ask “what’s that?” to unknown objects
2-3 years old:
Point to objects when described in questions such as “where do you sleep?” or “What do you wear on your feet?”
Answers simple wh-questions (what, where, who) logically
Follows directions when asked “Can you..” such as, “Can you give me the brush?”
Asks basic “where”, “what”, and “what are you doing”.. questions independently, “Where daddy?”
3-4 years old:
Appropriately answers more complex /wh/ questions such as “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, and “how”
Answers questions about objects function such as “what do we do with a towel?”
Answers hypothetical questions. For instance, “If your sick, where do you go?”
Uses correct syntax while phrasing questions such as “where is sister going?” instead of “sister going where?”
Starts to ask “why” questions about everyday life
Asks the following types of questions using correct grammar:
Early infinitive “Do you want to go to the zoo?”
Future “Are we going to school?”
Modal can/may “Can I use the bathroom?”
4 years old:
At this age, children should appropriately answer all wh-questions including “when” questions. For instance, “when do you brush your teeth?”
Asks questions using age-appropriate structure including “ Can I…”, “Do you want to…”, and “Are we going…”
Activities to Try at Home:
For 1-2 year olds, asking questions should remain at the basic level. Line up favorite toys or household items and ask the child to name each by asking “What’s that?” Play with animal figurines and ask your children, “What sound does a pig make?” and so on. Books are great to use so that children can point to the answers for “What’s that” questions. First 100 Words by Roger Priddy is a favorite book of speech therapists.
In order to work on yes/no questions, ask preferential questions in that format. For instance, “Do you want yogurt? Yes or no?”. Nod your head accordingly while saying yes versus no so that your child fully understands.
Picture books provide visual cues to help your child find the answer to questions. Looking at a picture scene in a book provides an opportunity to discuss what is happening in the picture through what, where, who, and why questions. Relate the story to their lives by asking questions such as, “The girl is walking to school. Where do you go to school? How do you get to school? Who is your teacher”. Books with minimum to no words provide an opportunity for children to inference about the story. Below are some great books to encourage language development of questions.
Car rides provide ample time to address “wh” questions revolving daily activities. If headed to the grocery store, questions may include “Where do we go to buy food?”, “What should we buy for breakfast”, or “Where do they keep the milk?”. After school, ask more specific questions about the day, “What did you eat for lunch?”, “Who did you sit next to in class?”, or “Where did you play during recess?”.
Make a wh- poster board. Split the poster into thirds (what, where, who) or fourths (what, where, who, when) depending on your child’s age. Look through old magazines and cut out pictures to glue into the corresponding spots. “What” pictures may include clothing, food, or toys. “Where” pictures would include indoor or outdoor places. “Who” pictures would be people. “When” pictures can feature seasons, holidays, or time of day.
Create your own story books. First, decide what the story is going to be about (vacation, dance class, school, shopping, getting a pet, etc). Next, ask your child questions about the story in order to write a plot, such as “Who is the story about”, “Where are they going?”, “What are they doing there?”, “When does it take place?”, and “How does it end”. Have your child draw a picture on each page to go along with the text.
For older children, games can be used to encourage asking questions. The following games encourage the development of asking and answering questions.
Reading Comprehension Milestones
As children enter school-age, asking and answering question skills are applied to reading comprehension. Children begin to understand what they are reading through determining the elements of a story (character, setting, plot, main idea, rising action, and resolution). Below outlines a typical development of reading comprehension skills, and strategies to aid in development to try at home.
Kindergarten (5 years old)
Kindergarteners can start to retell details of a story read out loud by stating the who, what, when, where, and why of the plot
Children can retell the main idea of simple stories
Children can arrange story events in sequential order
They are able to answer simple “what” questions about the story read to them
First and Second Grade (6-7 years old)
Children are able to read simple, familiar stories themselves
Answer questions about a story that requires them to think about what they have read
Demonstrate understanding of a story through drawings
Children can create their own stories by organizing thoughts in a logical sequence of beginning, middle, and end
Second and Third Grade (7-8 year old)
Children are able to read longer books independently
Able to identify unfamiliar words through context and pictures
Apply reading skills to writing skills by forming complete paragraphs
Fourth through Eighth Grade (9-13)
Able to read and explore variety of texts including narratives, poetry, fiction, and biographies
Identify the elements of the story such as time, setting, characters, plot, problem and resolution
Analyze texts for meanings, use inferencing skills, and make predictions.
Strategy for Home
Make reading a part of your daily routine, whether it is a book in the morning, after school, or before bed. Stop periodically throughout the book to check for comprehension by asking “What is happening?”, “Who is this about?”, and “What do you think will happen next?”. For younger children, fold paper into three creases and have the child draw three pictures to represent the story.
If your child demonstrates difficulty answering or asking questions or seems behind on the language development milestones, Lumiere Children’s Therapy can provide the appropriate intervention to improve language skills.
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Morin, Amanda. “Reading Skills: What to Expect at Different Ages.” Understood.org, \www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/signs-symptoms/age-by-age-learning-skills/reading-skills-what-to-expect-at-different-ages.
“Reading Milestones (for Parents).” Edited by Cynthia M. Zettler-Greeley, KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, June 2018, kidshealth.org/en/parents/milestones.html.
Spivey, Becky L. “How to Help Your Child Understand and Produce ‘WH’ Questions.” Super Duper Handy Handouts, 2006 Super Duper Publications, 2006, www.superduperinc.com/handouts/pdf/110_wh_questions.pdf.
“Teaching Your Toddler to Answer Questions - Receptive and Expressive Language Delay Issues.” Teachmetotalk.com, 13 Sept. 2017, teachmetotalk.com/2008/02/26/techniques-to-work-on-answering-questions-with-language-delayed-toddlers/.
“Why Is Asking and Answering Questions Important?” ABC Pediatric Therapy, 11 Mar. 2018, www.abcpediatrictherapy.com/why-is-asking-and-answering-questions-important/.