Answering Questions

Why is my child having trouble with answering questions?

When looking at our child’s skills, we will commonly be puzzled to why they are having so much trouble completing a task that we take for granted. The role of a speech pathologist is to break down the smaller steps that are required for your child to be successful in completing a skill such as answering questions.

Answering questions can be a complicated task which requires a number of smaller skills to be developed first. These skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Understanding of vocabulary of what is being asked
  • Understanding of different types of questions
  • Ability in processing the question being asked
  • Understanding of how to put words together to form an answer
  • Ability in telling a narrative or story (e.g. “what happened at your birthday party?”)
  • Ability in making inferences and predictions
  • Understanding of social rules and expected behaviours

Is there anything I can do at home to support?

Language and Vocabulary – You can build answering language by practicing answering questions together with a variety of question words (who, what, where, when, why, how). You can play celebrity heads and have your child practice answering your questions (e.g. where do I live? How big am I?), or when reading a book at bedtime you can ask your child questions about the story and/or pictures and help them form answers.

Social Rules and Expected Behaviours – Model expected behaviours to your child during conversation by asking and answering questions, making comments, giving eye contact and taking turns. Remind them these things show people we are listening and make them enjoy talking to us.

We can help children to develop their ability to respond to these types of questions when reading books or in activities during the day. We need to remember however not to continuously ask children questions that are too difficult. When you ask a question that they don’t answer, it might be too hard, rather than the child being ‘naughty’ or ‘lazy’. Asking the same question again and again won’t help them to understand the question. If your child isn’t able to answer a question you can try these strategies:

  • Repeat the question or instruction emphasizing the important words or information
  • Rephrase the question using easier words or an easier sentence structure
  • Provide a model first of how to answer 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. “It’s 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.

How can a speech pathologist support these skills?

It is common that families and teachers will identify concerns with specific skills such as answering questions. Speech pathologists are trained to analyse your child’s current skills and difficulties to identify smaller goals your child will need to achieve as stepping stones towards achieving a larger goal, such as answering questions. As every child is different, the skills that one child needs support in, is likely to be different to another child. Hence a thorough assessment is always the place to start. Supports for working towards answering questions may include, but are not limited to:

  • Expanding your child’s use and understanding of questioning language
  • Building their ability to form grammatically correct and meaningful answers
  • Building their ability to retell events in correct sequence with appropriate detail
  • Increasing their awareness of social rules and expected behaviours in conversation, such as the importance of answering questions
  • Building their ability to make inferences and predictions

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