Wh-Questions: What, Where, and Who

wh questions who what where

Today we are continuing our discussion on wh-questions, and moving into activities to teach children how to answer them.

The focus of this post is the easier question types on the hierarchy (see THIS post for more information on this)- the what, where, and who questions.

As I mentioned on Monday, these questions typically deal with something tangible and present. You can use that to your advantage in teaching them!

The first step is to teach your child the meaning of “who” and “where.” Depending on your child’s abilities, you may be able to phrase it as ” a who question is a what-person question” and “a where question is a what-place question.” You can also teach that a “who question is a person/animal question” and “a where question is a place question.” Either way works, it’s just a matter of which one your child responds to.

To do this, try having several pictures of different places and people/animals. Basic flashcards would work for this, as well as just a quick google search. Just go through them with your child and have them identify “who” or “where.” This step may seem silly, but it will save you a whole lot of repetition of “who/where is a person/place question.”

Once your child knows what each question word is asking, you can start asking questions. Once again, stick to the here and now. Books with great pictures like the No David! series, and basic look-and-find books are a great place to start. I would stay away from I-Spy books and Where’s Waldo? books at this point because they are visually very overwhelming.

I had some great resources as a speech therapist with a few products from Super Duper. The first was silly scenes with accompanying questions. I don’t know if my brain is foggy because I’m battling a cold, but I couldn’t find this particular product on their website. But it is easily reproducible with a scene in a book or a picture. Or you could even draw one if you like. To make it even more relevant to your child, a picture of a family reunion or something like that would be awesome! Also, if your child is able to play a board game like Guess Who? you can modify it so that you are practicing wh-questions.

If your child responds well to flashcards or technology, Super Duper also sells wh-question cards. Here’s the deal though- apparently it is about $70 for the five question sets! Yikes!! Buuuuuuut… they sell the app with all the flashcards for just $11.99! HERE is the link.

Finally, there are play-based games you can do to sneak wh-questions into your child’s day. You could play I-Spy in your house- just be sure to use the question words! I also want to share a game I play with Chicka Chicka that has a 100% engagement rate. Take 3-6 stuffed animals and hide them around your house. Turn off all the lights, and give your child a flashlight to find the stuffed animals. When your child finds one, ask them, “Where was that animal?” and then they have to answer before you retrieve the stuffed animal. This typically works better if you hide them in places your child can’t reach- like up on top of a curtain rod or in a cupboard (with a leg or arm sticking out, of course). Chicka Chicka has never not wanted to play this game.

I also have lots of fun ideas on my Pinterest boards, as well as lists of wh-questions. Go HERE to check them out!

I hope this has inspired you to find fun ways to work on simple wh-questions! Stay tuned as I move into why and how questions, and then, finally, the toughie- having your child ASK questions!

How to Ask Questions to Get Answers

wh question series final

When I worked in the special needs preschool, I would say about 60-75% of my caseload had an answering wh-questions goal. I also added a wh-questions goal to lower-functioning students as soon as I thought it fell into their zone of proximal development (re: the fancy term for what they can do with assistance).

So why is answering wh-questions so important? I could rant about how the school system is flawed and only wants kids to able to answer standardized questions, but that’s simply not true. Everyone needs to be able to ask AND answer wh-questions in order to gain and process information in both academic and social settings.

So now to the inspiration for the above image. Have you ever felt like you go around and around with your child trying to get answers to basic questions? You ask “What did you do today at school?” and you get the dreaded “Uuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhh……,” or even better, you get one-word answers like “fine” or “okay” or “I don’t know” to any inquiry about their day.

It’s enough to drive any parent crazy!

Well today I want to explain the question hierarchy and ways to phrase your questions to get real answers and spark conversation with a child of any age or ability.

The question hierarchy has to do with the level of processing required for different types of questions. Trust me, it’s not as daunting as it sounds.

  • “What” questions are typically the easiest to process. They usually deal with the here and now, like “What are you doing?” (note: exasperated mom voice optional).
  • “Who” and ” Where” questions come next, only because they require the knowledge of what “who” and “where” means. Since they don’t have any tangible meaning, this has to be taught.
  • “When” questions are the next level up, since time is an abstract concept to many children. (If you’ve ever tried to get a child to school or church on time, you know what I mean!)
  • “Why” and “How” questions are the most difficult to process. “Why” questions usually require more of a thought process, and probably empathy or theory of mind to some degree. “How” questions typically require sequencing of steps.

Consider this hierarchy when asking your child questions. It may be that asking them “Why did you do that?” is too difficult, but they could answer “What were you trying to do?”

Next, two rules for getting answers!

One: Make your questions tangible.

Children do much better answering questions about the here and now. They also do better with visual cues. This makes reading a great opportunity for getting great answers. One of my personal favorites is the “No David!” series by David Shannon. Each page only has a few scolding words, but the pictures are vivid and obvious. It’s so easy to read the actual words and then follow-up with a question like, “What did David do?” Your child can look at the pictures for clues, rather than trying to solely rely on auditory recall.

Two: Make your questions specific.

Questions like, “What did you do today?” are just too broad. Most kids know you expect an answer, but they don’t know what answer you are looking for. Does Mom want to hear about lunch? or that new kid? or my art project? or the homework that was due today?

So take the guesswork out of the question. Rephrase it so they know exactly what you want to hear. ” Who did you play with today?” is much more specific and triggers better recall. It also creates a metaphorical springboard for a conversation. “Oh you played with Kate? She sits next to you for reading time, doesn’t she? What story did you guys read today?”

I also have a few side notes for conversations. First off, once you ask a question, wait¬†for the answer! Go HERE to read a whole post on this. Second, sometimes not asking a question gets you a better response than asking incessant questions. In the above example, you could also say, “Oh you played with Kate? She seems like a good friend.” Then, pause and let your child tell you why Kate is so great (or not). I plan to have a post about this, but I think it’s worth mentioning here as well.

So there you go! Remember the question hierarchy, as well as making your questions tangible and specific! All my posts this week will have insight and activities for teaching your child to answer various wh-questions, so stay tuned!