Beginning questions

A previous post looked at different types of questions children learn to answer, moving from concrete to abstract. This post looks at the simplest level of questions which begin to develop in toddlers.  Most children are able to consistently respond to this level by the age of three years.

At this level children respond to their senses and talk about the things they see hear and touch immediately in front of them to answer these early questions.

Level one questions include:

  • Choosing objects “Show me the..”
  • Naming objects “What is this?”
  • Copying actions “Do this..”
  • Naming actions “What is he doing?”
  • Naming things seen or heard “What did you see/hear?”
  • Matching objects “Find one like this”
  • Repeating sentences “Say this”

To help a very young child learn to answer questions:

  • give lots of practice with one question type before moving on
  • keep your questions short, just three or four words to begin
  • give only a few choices, two or three pictures or objects to start with, and add more as your child learns
  • If your child does not know the answer you can:
  • give them a choice “Is is a duck or a bear?”
  • guide their hand “Let’s find the duck together”
  • model the answer “It’s a duck, you say it…What’s this?…It’s a duck”

Try these activities to practice level one questions:

Mystery box You can use plastic containers and recycled boxes from the kitchen or buy a few brightly coloured gift boxes to use in this activity. Have a number of small familiar items that will fit in the boxes. To begin with let your child see the items, touch them, talk about them and tell your child their names.  Ask your child to close their eyes and hide an object in each box. Help your child to open the box and ask “What’s this?” When your child can answer this question easily find some new items to hide without showing your child the items first.

Peekaboo Have some familiar dolls, animals and teddies and a cloth such as a tea towel or small blanket. Ask your child to close their eyes, hide one toy under the cloth and then ask them to open their eyes and say “Who is it?”. Take the cloth off and say “Boo….Who is it?’  Hide the toy again and ask “Who did you see?” Make a peekaboo game by taping some coloured paper flaps onto a piece of cardboard and sliding photos of family members under the flaps for your child to open and name.

Feely bag Use a cloth bag such as a library bag or pillow case and choose a number of familiar items to put inside it. Begin by showing your child the items. Talk about them and name them as you put them in the bag. Help your child to put their hand in and find an item. Let them pull it out and ask “What did you find?” When they can name the items easily put some new items in the bag without showing them first and see if your child can name them.

Books There are lots of ways to use books to practice these types of questions. Early board books with clear pictures of familiar objects can be used to practice “Show me a ..”. Use flap books to practice “Who’s/what’s this?”. Open and close the flap then ask “What did you see?”   Use animal and vehicle books and make noises for your child and ask them to “Point to what you can hear”. Use picture books of children playing or doing daily activities to practice “What is he/she doing?”

Card games Matching games such as lotto games and snap games with pictures of familiar items can be used to practice several different types of questions. If you don’t have these games they are cheap to buy or you can make your own from photos, clip art or junk mail (Remember you need two junk mail catalogues that are the same, so pick up two copies from your local shops.)

Place one lotto board or 4 or 5 cards on the table. Hold up a matching card and ask your child “Find one like this”.

Place three or four cards on the table, name and talk about them then turn them face down. Turn one over, count to five then turn it back down.  Ask your child “What did you see?” Once your child able to do this repeat it with new pictures without showing them first.

Use some pictures of things that make a noise, look at them and talk about their names and the sounds they make. Place them face down, pick up one card but don’t show your child the picture. Make the sound, ask “What did you hear?” and see if they can guess which card you have.

Sound makers Collect a number of things from around the house that make sounds such as squeaky toys, rattles, small bells, musical or noisy toys, crunchy paper or plastic, shakers made from plastic bottles with different things inside. Look at them, listen to them, talk about them and name them for your child. Ask your child to close their eyes, make a sound then hide the item as in the mystery box, peekaboo or feely bag games above. See if your child can tell “What did you hear?” and then find the item.

Animal noises Collect a number of toy animals and talk about them together, name them and talk about the sounds they make. Older children can use picture cards or small plastic zoo or farm animals. Ask your child to close their eyes, hide an animal as in the mystery box, peekaboo or feely bag games above. Make the animal’s noise and see if your child can tell “What did you hear?” then find the animal to see if they were right.

Photo albums Use photos of family, friends, familiar items and daily activities in photo albums or slide shows to help your child practice “Who is this? What is this? and What are they doing?”

Puppets Use puppets or large dolls or toy animals to practice “Do this..” and “Say this…”  Make the puppet clap hands, wave or blow a kiss and ask your child to copy.  Make the puppet say “hello” or simple sentences and ask your child to copy. Gradually make the actions or sentences more difficult.

Have fun practising questions together and watch out for the blog to help your child learn level two questions. Why not sign up so you don’t miss out. Also check the Talking Matters website for more about speech and language.

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