Why Speech Pathologists Focus So Much on “WH” Questions With Kids
The ability to ask and answer “Wh” questions is an integral part of language development. Speech pathologists recognize that kids must first be able to understand questions before they can engage in an exchange of information. It’s the very foundation of conversation.
Most typically-developing kids will start to ask and answer “Wh” questions when they’re between 1- and 2-years-old. They’ll continue fine-tuning these receptive and expressive language skills into their school years. Children with delays, disabilities, injuries and other conditions may struggle with Wh questions. Our Fort Myers speech pathologists at FOCUS can help.
Speech Pathologists Explain: What are Wh- Questions?
Wh-questions are the kind of questions we ask when we want to glean information about aspects of everyday life.
- Who – asks about a person.
- What – asks about a thing.
- When – asks about a time or setting.
- Where – asks about a place.
- Why – asks the reason.
- How – asks the condition, quality or manner of something.
So why do we worry so much about ensuring kids can answer and ask Wh-questions? Simply put, they are the building blocks for engaging in a discussion, collecting information and understanding of the world around them, displaying their knowledge, and expressing themselves.
We typically start with questions that are going to have tangible, obvious answers. “What” is usually the first one we work on. “What is this shape?” “What color is it?” Then we’ll move to “Who” and then “Where.” Understanding of “When” and “Why” comes later, and “How” is usually last. “Why” and “How” questions are often the toughest to get down.
Working on Wh-Questions at Home
We recommend starting with the easiest questions first (“What are you holding?”) and then moving on to things that are more abstract (“When do we eat lunch?”).
Be sure to only focus on one question at a time. If you start piling on multiple questions in one inquiry, it’s going to get confusing.
If you know your child will have a tough time answering correctly, you can help them by modeling the right answer. For example, “What did you eat for lunch today? … You ate your PB&J and your chips?” Then repeat the question and see if your child answers the right way.
Anytime you can offer multiple repetitions and opportunities to ask the same or similar questions in different activities, the better. So you might try asking several “what” questions while you’re reading a book – and then asking those same “what” questions when you’re playing “I spy” together.
Visual tools can be a big help for kids who struggle to answer Wh-questions. You might have several pictures of places when you’re asking “where questions.” You might have several pictures of different times of day or seasons when you’re asking “when” questions. Pictures of various people or professionals can help when they’re trying to get a handle on the “who” questions.
Specific activities we might recommend for working on these skills at home:
- Reading storybooks with pictures/illustrations and pausing to ask your child Wh-questions. (“Who is this person? Where is she going? Why is she leaving?”)
- Make it a point to ask your child every day about their day. (What did you eat for lunch? Who did you play with on the playground? When is this assignment due? How are you going to handle that problem?) Obviously, it will be tailored for their age and ability.
- Cut out pictures or photos from magazines or print them from your computer and make a Wh-question chart – one row or column for each type of Wh-question. Then hand your child a picture you’ve cut out and have them put the picture in the correct column. (If you want to incorporate occupational therapy skills in with this, you could have the child cut out the pictures themselves and/or write which one it belongs to underneath.)
If you need more ideas for how to get your kids answering and asking Wh-questions, our FOCUS speech pathologists are happy to help!
FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy to children in Fort Myers, Cape Coral and throughout Southwest Florida. Virtual speech therapy is available to kids throughout Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
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Conversational Scripts and How Our Fort Myers Speech Therapists Use Them, Dec. 6, 2020, Fort Myers Speech Pathologists’ Blog