This month, we are looking at the subject of questions- why are some questions trickier for our children to answer than others? The answer to this particular question is a subject studied in detail by Dr Marion Blank, a leading educator and researcher.
Marion Blank determined that there were four basic levels of questions typically used by teachers in the classroom, ranging from the simpler levels one and two, to the more abstract levels three and four.
Level one questions are the most basic, and usually ask your child to name a thing or an action that they can see or hear.
e.g. ‘What is that?’ or ‘What is he doing?
Level two questions still refer to subject matter that can be seen or heard by your child, but ask them to look a little more closely, e.g. ‘Who is that?’ ‘How many legs does it have?’ or ‘What shape is it?’
Level three questions now move away from what your child can see, and require the use of their thinking skills. The child can no longer rely on a picture for the answer, but instead needs to link the subject to what they know about the world, e.g. ‘What does ‘share’ mean? ‘What might the boy be saying to his friend?’ ‘What could be in the girl’s bag?’
Level four questions are the most abstract, and require your child to think carefully. They cannot see the answer in front of them, and must use reasoning, inference, prediction and problem-solving skills. ‘Why do people wear hats on sunny days?’ ‘How do you think Joe felt when the teacher asked him that question?’ ‘What will Sam do now instead?’
What you may notice is that level four questions sound like the kind of questions children are asked when they have misbehaved in some way. ‘Why did you do that?’ ‘How do you think Ravi feels?’ ‘What should you do next?’ If your child is not yet able to understand questions at this level, then they may not be able to provide with you with the answers you are expecting.
Children’s understanding of different question types develops over time along with their general language and learning. Children usually begin to answer Level four questions from the age of five to six years old- of course some children will develop this skill a little earlier or later than others.
What can we do to help our children develop this skill? The first thing we can do is give them some time to think! Children need a little bit more time than we do to think about what they’ve heard and plan their answer. Secondly, let’s link the answer to something they already know or something they have experienced. This will build their confidence and provide the scaffolding to learn new information.
One of the most useful tools to help your child understand questions is to ‘think aloud’. Let them hear how you worked out the answer! This way you are modeling the thinking process needed to reach the answer, and showing them how to link the information. For example, you ask a question such as ‘Why did Tom ride his bike to the shop?’ Now, talk through your thought process- ‘The shop is quite far from Tom’s house. It’s too far to walk. Riding a bike will be much quicker. Maybe that’s why Tom rode his bike’.
So, what’s in a question? Possibly more than we first thought!
Speech and Language Therapist