All about questions

Sometimes parents are concerned that their child has difficulty answering questions. One moment they seem to answer a question well, the next moment they give an incorrect answer or do not answer at all.

This is because not all questions are the same. Blank, Rose and Berlin are researchers who studied the questions asked of children in preschool and junior primary school and found that the questions ranged from concrete to abstract. They divided questions into four levels with level one being the most concrete and level four the most abstract.

Children learn to answer the most concrete questions first and gradually develop their ability to answer more abstract questions. By the first year of school children are expected to understand and answer at the most abstract level, but this can be difficult for children with language difficulties. Over the next few weeks we will look at the different levels and give some ideas on how you can help your child learn to answer questions at the level expected for their age.

The four levels are:

Level 1- Matching Perception:

At this level the answer to the question is right in front of the child. It includes things like matching things, finding items or pictures and naming things that are seen or heard. It includes questions like “what’s this?” and “what did you see?” and instructions like “find one like this”.

Level 2- Selective Analysis of perception

At this level the answer is still in front of the child but they need to focus on some details and ignore others. It involves functions, descriptions, categories and characteristics of objects such as “which one is a fruit?”, “find one that is round and red”, “what do we do with this?” and “how are these different?”

Level 3- Reordering of perception

At this level the child needs to take the information in front of them and modify or restructure it. They are beginning to draw on their own knowledge and experience to get the information they need to respond. It includes questions such as “how are all these things the same?” ”what will happen next?” ”how do you make a sandwich” “tell me something that is not a fruit”.

Level 4- Reasoning about perception

At this level children need to be able to generate their own ideas and talk about them. It includes solving problems, predicting, explaining and justifying opinions. It includes questions such as “what could we do?” “why do you think…?” “why shouldn’t we do that?” “how can you tell it is…?”.

To help your child learn to answer questions practice with questions at a level where your child can answer most, but not all correctly and gradually introduce questions at the next level. Don’t ask too many questions that are too hard. If your child does not know the answer don’t just repeat the question, try one of these strategies instead:

  • Repeat the question or instruction emphasizing the important words
  • Rephrase the question using easier words or an easier sentence structure
  • Tell them the answer then try again with a similar question
  • Provide information about the type of response you are looking for e.g. “tell me about the body parts of a spider” rather than “tell me about a spider”
  • Provide visual information to support the question (pictures, diagrams etc.)
  • Ask questions related to experiences the child has had (they may not be able to answer a question about what snow looks like if they’ve never seen it).
  • Offer a choice of answers e.g. “does a spider have 6 legs or 8?”
  • Start the sentence for your child to finish e.g. “Its raining so you need to put on your….”
  • If your child is still unable to respond, model the ‘correct’ response so your child can learn.

Watch over the next few weeks for ideas on helping children learn each of the levels. For more information on children’s language check the downloads section of Our website. If you are concerned about your child’s ability to understand and answer questions look at our website to see what help we can offer you.

Talking Matter Team

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