Boosting Early Language Skills

Updated: February 29, 2024 | Published:

As adults, one of the most important ways we use language is by answering questions. By teaching children how to answer different types of questions while they are still young, we can set them up for communication success.

Not to mention teaching these skills also assists children in developing their comprehension, reasoning, inferencing, predicting, and problem-solving skills.

At Care Speech Pathology, we often teach children how to answer different question types as a part of early language therapy. But the good news is that you can do the same at home.

Before getting started, it is important to know that some types of questions are harder than others and that children develop the ability to answer questions at different ‘levels.’

There are four levels of questioning, starting with simple and concrete questions and moving to more difficult and abstract questions.

Typically, children should have developed the ability to answer all four question levels by age 5.

Which questions are easy for children to answer, and which questions are hard?

Who, What, and Where questions rely on concrete thinking, and children usually develop the skills to answer these questions while they are still quite young.

In contrast, Why and How questions often rely on abstract or higher-order thinking and tend to develop later in childhood.

So which questions should I start with?

Which Questions should I ask?

The best way to get started is to start with Level 1 questions and slowly progress through the levels. Here are the levels and examples of questions you can ask for each level:

Level 1:

These questions are usually understood by 3 years of age. Questions focus on concrete thinking and objects in the immediate environment. Responses can be short and based on fact. Ask things like… What can you hear? What did you touch? What is it? What are you doing? What did you see?

Level 2:

These questions are usually understood by 4 years of age. Questions related to what is directly presented and known objects. Responses involve some level of analysis (e.g., describing, understanding what objects do, etc.). Ask things like… What’s happened? Who/what/where is __? Show me the one we use for __. What size/shape/color is it? How are these different?

Level 3:

These questions are usually understood by 4.5 years of age. Questions rely on clues and may not be about concrete objects. Responses require general knowledge and higher-order thinking skills (such as making generalizations or assuming another role). Ask things like… What will happen next? What is a ___? Which things here are not __? What could he say? How are these the same?

Level 4:

These questions are usually understood by 5 years of age. Questions are abstract or hypothetical. Responses require predicting, problem-solving, reasoning, justifying, and using past experiences and knowledge. Ask things like… What will happen if __? What could you do? Why did __? Why can’t we __? How can we __?

How should I practice at home?

Practice at Home

You can help your child develop comprehension and reasoning skills by practicing these question levels at home. While you’re doing it, make sure to try the following strategies:

  • Provide a model or example of the answer to higher-level questions. Do this by verbalizing your thoughts and reasoning out loud when answering a question.
  • Use visual supports to encourage understanding of the question (such as pictures, diagrams, objects, etc.).
  • Start with easier questions first to get a better feel for what your child can answer. When they are doing well at one level, move to harder questions and see where it gets difficult. Remember, don’t start too hard – your child should be experiencing success most of the time.
  • Repeat the question if you need to, and emphasize the key words.
  • Simplify the question and lead them to the correct answer with easier, probing questions.
  • Pause and wait. Give your child sufficient time to think about their answer (wait up to 10 seconds!).
  • Focus on the important parts of the question, providing further explanation if needed or asking the same question differently.
  • Give your child a clue to lead them to the answer – show them, point, give them the start sound, or start the sentence for them and let them finish it.
  • Make it relevant. Relate the question to your child’s own experiences. E.g., Remember when this happened? That was the same as now. So what do you think…?
  • Help out. Remind your child that questions can have many answers. Give them a choice of possible responses.
  • Make it familiar. Use story books your child knows well, so they have less to think about when comprehending the questions.
  • Talk through the answers with your child to help them develop their reasoning skills and understanding.
  • Make it fun! Turn games and free play into learning opportunities to practice answering questions.

About Amy T. Smith

Amy is a mother, writer, and your go-to expert for real-life insights into parenting, health, and lifestyle. Amy holds a Master's degree in Journalism from Columbia University and prides herself on finding actionable tips and relatable tales.

Through her blog, AmyandRose, she supports you from pregnancy to the teenage years, offering assurance that your experiences are shared.

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