Question time with your children – developing language through questions

Children ask a lot of questions! Anyone with a toddler will have experienced the endless why questions and we know that keeping the dialogue going at these moments forms the platform for developing language.

Asking questions is one thing but what about answering them?

It is without a doubt easier to ask questions than answer them, for children and for adults! There are however great advantages to looking at what questions children can answer and using daily activities and experiences to nurture their abilities in thinking about the world.

Some Speech and Language therapists use The Blank Language Scheme to help support verbal reasoning skills. The levels of understanding questions provided by the scheme give an insight in to what level of questioning your child can process and answer and enriches the learning opportunities in activities like reading and talking about pictures.

What is the Blank Language Learning Model?

The Blank Language Learning Model by Blank, Rose and Berlin (1978) breaks down the development of abstract language and reasoning in to four steps.

Level 1 – Language used related to what the child can see and focuses on the concrete.

Level 2 – Language used still focuses on what is in front of the child but will ask the child to think about specific qualities of an object or person and describe it.

Level 3 – The language uses does not relate directly to what the child can see. At this level, the child is required to use their knowledge of the world to answer questions.

Level 4 – At this level the child is required to reason a problem solve.

The model is based on developmental norms in a child learning English. By the time a child is 5 years old, they would be expected to have skills at all the above levels.

Using the Blank Model to support my child’s language development.

The great thing about this model is that you don’t need extra materials or much planning. Simply being aware of the stages of the acquisition of understanding questions will help you to engage your child at the right level and support them to move on to the next. Below are some examples of questions you may ask your child in relation to a book or something you are both looking at or an activity you are doing together.

Level 1 – Think of this stage as the ‘Naming’ stage, a kind of ‘say what you see’ stage. Here you may ask your child to name an object e.g. ‘what is that?’ whilst sharing a book or an experience. You can also play matching games, where they must find another picture that is the same or something in the room that is the same.

Level 2 – So here the child still relies on what they can see but they must describe it more and pull on their ability to focus more on the object. For example, you may point to a few objects at bath time and ask, ‘what one do we wash our hair with?’ Or play games where they are asked to find two things that go together from an array of objects e.g. ‘pen and paper’. Other fun games may involve taking lots of pictures or objects that have different functions and putting them in to categories e.g. things we eat, things we wear, things we clean with. At this stage children will also be able to answer ‘who? What?, and where?, questions. So, after you have read a story together, going back over it and asking more specific questions will consolidate their skills at this level.

Level 3 – As a child will now be able to use their knowledge of the world to discuss events, you can ask them to retell stories or reorder them. Ask them how they made the painting that they brought home from school, focusing on the steps. Talk to your child about people’s feelings in real and pretend situations, share thoughts about what might happen next in a story.

Level 4 – The last level draws on your child’s ability to find solutions to problems and answer all the ‘Why?” questions that they have spent months asking you! For example, if you are cooking together, you can ask ‘why will the chocolate melt?’ (because we will heat it). Have fun together solving problems e.g. ‘what will we do if we run out of flour?’ or ‘what can we make with these ingredients?’

So, many of these questions are ones that we probably already ask our children. However, the model provides some background on the order in which you can expect your child to have success at answering them. So, if they are unsuccessful at one level, go back and try the level before. Once they have developed skills there, you can help them move forward!

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist