The ability to answer questions is a very important skill to a developing child.  Children should be able to answer “what’s this” questions about familiar objects or pictures by 2 years of age. By 3 years, a child should be able to answer more complex “what” questions like “what do you wear on your head?”, “what do you eat?”, and “what is she doing?”. By 4 years of age, your child should be able to answer “what” questions about function, such as “what do you do with a fork?”.  If your child is struggling with answering these “what” questions, try using the guide below to teach your child how.

“What” Questions Step One:
What’s This?

The easiest “what” question for a child to answer is “what’s this?”. However, many children with language delays tend to repeat the question instead of answering. If your child seems to know what some things are called (she is able to label them or talks about them when not being asked a question), then you can teach her how to answer the question appropriately instead of repeating it.

Find some pictures of objects (or real objects instead of pictures) that your child is familiar with. These could be favorite toys, favorite foods, etc. Choose things that your child enjoys. Now, hold up one of the pictures and say “what’s this?” Immediately model the correct response for her by saying what that thing is called. For example, if you hold up a picture of a ball, say “what’s this? Ball.” Ideally, she will repeat the word “ball” instead of “what’s this” since that is what you said last. If not, encourage her to say “ball”. Do this a few more times with the same picture and then ask the question but don’t answer it for her. Pause for a moment and see if she says “ball”. If so, praise her and let her know exactly what you’re praising her for (tell her “ball, yes, it is a ball! You said ball”). If she doesn’t say ball, model it for her and have her repeat it. Go ahead and praise her as if she had said it herself, but act a little less excited than you would if she did it entirely by herself. Then, give her a short break by giving her something to play with or getting up to jump/run/spin around/etc. Sit back down and try it again. Model the question and the answer a few times and then give her another chance to answer. Keep doing this until she can answer “what’s this” about one picture. Once she can do that, introduce a new picture.

“What” Questions Step Two:
What Doing?

The next type of “what” question you can work on answering with your child is “what doing” questions. These are questions like “what is she doing?” or “what are you doing?”.

Find some pictures of people performing various familiar actions. You can use the pictures in the Speech and Language Therapy Guide, or the action cards available in the store, or make your own. Show your child one of the pictures and say “what is she doing?” If your child doesn’t answer correctly, model the correct verb and have him repeat it. Add the “-ing” on the end of the word to make it grammatically correct, but if your child just says the verb part (“jump” instead of “jumping”), that’s ok, too. At this point we just want to get the verb. We can work on the “-ing” later. Keep practicing this with one action card until he can do that one consistently. Then, add another card in and work on that one.

“What” Questions Step Three:
What Do You…?

Now that we’ve worked on actions through “what doing” questions, it’s time to work on questions like “what do you eat?” and “what do you wear?”  Find some pictures of people performing various actions that require other objects, such as a boy eating a cracker or a girl riding a bike. You can use the pictures in the Speech and Language Therapy Guide, or the action cards available in the store, or make your own.Show your child the picture and label what he is doing and what he is using to do that action.  For example say “He is eating a cracker” or “she is riding her bike”. Then, put the picture away and ask your child “what do you ___?” using the same verb that you just showed a picture of. For example, if you show a picture of a boy eating a cracker, you could say “He is eating a cracker (put pic away), what do you eat?”. Then, have your child provide an object that answers that question. After your child starts to get the hang of this, put the pictures away and just ask the questions “what do you ____?”.

“What” Questions Step Four:
Function Questions

Now comes the most difficult form of “what” questions that we will practice: function questions. These are questions like “what do you do with a fork” or “what do you use a brush for?”.  Show your child a picture of a common object. Ask your child “what do you do with a ____?”. You may have to tell your child the answer at first and have him repeat it back to you. He will probably be more likely to just tell you what it’s called at first. Have him repeat back to you the answer in a short phrase or sentence, such as “you brush your hair” or “you brush your hair with a brush”. Once your child gets the hang of it, stop telling him the answers and see if he can come up with them on his own.

If your child is struggling to figure out what you do with a certain object, try handing him the actual object and watch what he does. If he uses it appropriately, describe what he’s doing. You could say “oh, you’re brushing your hair. You brush your hair with a brush. What do you do with a brush? Brush your hair”. If your child doesn’t use the object the way it’s meant to be used, show him how to use it and talk about what you’re doing.

Where to Find More Information:

A more detailed version of this guide about teaching “what” questions, along with 38 other guides, is included in Ms. Carrie’s E-Book: Speech and Language Therapy Guide: Step-By-Step Speech Therapy Activities to Teach Speech and Language Skills At Home or In Therapy.  This guide includes detailed information on teaching various speech and language skills, including this one, along with worksheets, handouts, sample IEP goals, and data collection sheets.  For more information, click the button below:

Speech and Language Therapy Guide

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