WH Questions

WH Questions! Speech therapists LOVE to worry about WH questions!

You might be thinking...

  • Why? 
  • What’s the big deal? 
  • How can I help?

Well, if I just read your mind, I will answer all three of these questions here. 

Now, this page is for Kindergarten and early elementary students. However, if you have an older child with a WH question goal, there is some good information for you too. 

First of all, why do SLPs care so much about WH questions? I actually had to stop and think about this for a second. I'm so used to assessing this ability, worrying about children's progress, planning goals and activities that I even had to stop and say….why in the world do I care so much? 

However, the answer is quite simple and quite complicated...answering WH questions is quite takes a lot of different language skills. A child has to be able to:

  • Understand the question word 
  • Understand the grammar of the question
  • Understand each vocabulary word (not just the question word)
  • Makes sense of the information and the social context
  • Formulate a response
  • Put the words together (syntax & semantics)
  • Give a response

This is A LOT of language skills!

Now...Why is it so important?

Being able to answer WH questions is crucial for: 

  • Participating in conversations with friends and family
  • Answering questions in class
  • Demonstrating knowledge on tests
  • Being able to follow directions & stay safe
  • Demonstrating understanding of school material
  • The list goes on...

First things first….What is the root of the problem?

Why can’t your child answer WH questions correctly? This can actually be difficult to tease out.

The main questions to consider are, does my child have trouble:

  • Understanding question words?
  • Comprehending the grammatical structures?
  • Understanding the vocabulary words?
  • Formulating a grammatically correct response (demonstrating knowledge)?
  • Formulating a semantically correct response (demonstrating knowledge)?
  • Attending long enough to hear and understand the question?

How you work on the ability to answer WH questions will depend on the reason a child is having difficulty.

To figure this out...a consultation or evaluation by a qualified SLP is the best starting point. 

Ready to help...Here we go!

Toddlers


Expectations

1 – 2 years 

  • Answers "where" questions by looking/pointing at the correct place and/or using words
  • Answers "what" questions by choosing an object or responding verbally 
  • Answers age appropriate yes/no questions with words or gestures
  • Asks "what's that" questions?

2 – 3 years

  • Answers "where,” “what,” “what-doing,” and "who" questions.
  • Answers age appropriate critical thinking questions (i.e., what do you wear when it is cold?)

Functional Game

Reading

Reading is one of THE best ways to develop language and even speech skills. You will see "reading" for the functional game on this page. Why mess with what works best, right?! The only difference will be HOW you read to your child. 

How: Sit down with your child and pick a favorite book (preferably one with pictures and of interest to your child). Starting reading the book with lots of animation and excitement. After reading for a bit...

  • Ask "what is this?" and point to an object. See if your child can answer. If he/she can't, say the answer and see if he/she can repeat. 
  • Ask "where is....?" about a pictured person/object/animal (the picture helps tremendously with the learning process). Wait to see if your child can answer. If not, answer your own question while pointing to the pictures.
  • Ask "who" and "what-doing" questions (for 2-3 years old) as well as the questions listed above. If your child can't answer a question, answer your own question by pointing to the picture and/or thinking OUT LOUD. By using these strategies, you teach your child HOW to answer a question and not just simply the answer. 

Why: At the age, children don't need to be directly taught how to answer WH questions. Instead, they learn through natural yet structured language situations. 

Preschool (ages 3-5)


Expectations

Age 3 

  • Answers “who,” “why,” “where,” and “how” questions
  • Answers “if-what” questions (i.e., "If you are hungry, what do you do?)

Age 4

  • Answers “when” and "how many" questions (new)
  • Answers “who,” “why,” “where,” “how,” and "if-what" questions
  • Asks "why," "what," "where," "when," and "how" questions

Functional Game

Reading

Now, learn how to best read with a preschool child here. 

How: Sit down with your child and pick a favorite book (preferably one with pictures and of interest to your child). Starting reading the book with lots of animation and excitement. After reading for a bit...

  • Ask "what" and "where" questions as naturally as possible. These type of questions are a bit easier so make sure to start here. If your child doesn't know the right answer, point to the correct response (if possible) and talk through your reasoning. This "talking through" is the most important part.
  • Ask "why," "how," and "when" questions while reading. These type of questions require higher level language reasoning skills. Therefore, there are a bit tougher. To make this easier...try to relate the story to a real-life experience. For example, if you ask "why is George feeling sad?" and your child doesn't know the answer. You might say..."George is feeling sad because he lost his toy. Look at the previous page, he lost his toy. Remember when you lost your toy and you cried? How did you feel? (child answers sad). That is how George feels." 

Key Strategies:

  • Point to pictures to help answer questions
  • Talk through your reasoning
  • Relate story to real life experiences

Why: At this age, children still don't need to be directly taught how to answer WH questions. Instead, they learn through natural yet structured language situations. 

Early Elementary


Expectations

In the early elementary years, students should be able to answer and ask "who," "where," "what," "what-doing," "why," “if-what” and "how" questions. 

Functional Game

Reading

Even at this age, reading continues to be one of the best ways to learn how to answer WH questions. 

How: Sit down with your child and pick a favorite book (preferably one with pictures and of interest to your child). Starting reading the book with lots of animation and excitement (you know the drill)

Ask your child questions, any of the questions listed above in the "expectations section" as naturally as possible. If your child can't answer one, try some of the strategies below:

Key Strategies:

  • Point to pictures to help answer questions: This is easy, point to pictures as you answer questions. Any visual is a great thing in the learning process!
  • Directly Teaching: If your child is having trouble with a question word such as "where," open a book and say "where means place. Let's find all the 'places' in this book..." Then, take turns pointing to different places such as a school, car, park, city, etc...
  • Relate Story To Real Life: To teach higher level reasoning skills such as "what-if" and "why" it can help to relate the story to a real life experience. Use it!
  • Talk Through Reasoning: For questions such as "what is going to happen next," talk through your response. For example, if you say "what do you think will happen next?" listen to your child's response and applaud ANY answer. If your child is way off, that is actually a good thing. You now have the opportunity to talk through how to answer prediction questions. You can say..."I think the paint is going to spill. See how the paint is on the edge of the table and the cat jumped on the table (while pointing). I think the cat will make the table shake and the paint will fall. Look it is already tipping! What do you think?"

Want more FUNCTIONAL ideas for your child?

We have step-by-step guides for both parents and professionals that provide FUNCTIONAL and NATURAL ways to learn language at home.

Check out the books below to see if one is the right fit for you.


› WH Questions

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Bridget is an ASHA certified, practicing speech language pathologist. She is passionate about providing parents with information on child speech and language development as well as provide functional, easy activities to do at home! Parents have the power to make a real difference. Follow Bridget at Facebook and Pinterest for more fun!

Author of  child language development eBook series