Asking The Right Question

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Andrea Cooper

Asking The Right Question

Questions are part of everyday life.  They are an important part of our conversations.  They help us learn more about the world, and about the other person we are talking to.  However, when talking to your child it is important to ask questions that are going to continue the conversation, not stop it!  What do I mean by questions that stop a conversation?  Think about a conversation you have had that didn’t go so well.  It may have been due to a lack of understanding about the topic of conversation, your communication partner may have been asking too many questions (a very one-sided discussion), or you were asked questions that were ‘not right’ for the topic and your level of knowledge.  You may have felt uncomfortable because you felt like you were being tested.   This can be the same for your child.  It is so important that when we are talking to children we are using questions to extend knowledge and conversations not stop it!

What To Avoid

When talking to your child try to avoid asking:

  • Too many questions (it is important that we do not bombard the conversation with questions, we also want to share ideas by using comments)
  • Questions that your child doesn’t have time to answer
  • Questions that test your child’s knowledge (the feeling of being ‘tested’ can deter your child from wanting to continue the conversation)
  • Questions that are too hard for your child to answer
  • Questions that don’t reflect what your child is interested in (your child needs to be actively listening to you, it is important that your questions match the activity that your child is engaged with)
  • Questions that answer themselves

What To Ask

It is important to ask questions that:

  • Your child can understand
  • Your child can answer
  • Match your child’s interest
  • …and then wait for a response.  Give your child time to formulate an answer.

It is important to ask the ‘right questions’.  In the speech pathology world we use a model called ‘Levels of Questioning’ developed by Marion Blank’s work in 1978 (Blank, Rose and Berlin 1978).  The model breaks questions into four separate categories, using a child’s development of understanding to classify which questions are appropriate for a child age.  As the child’s understanding of language and general language skills develop, they are able to understand and respond to more difficult questions.  It is important to keep in mind that all children develop at different rates and the age range for each level is a guide only.  There are some 3 year olds that can answer level 3 and 4 questions but some 5 year olds may also struggle with level 1 and 2 questions.  You can use the levels of questioning to enhance your child’s understanding and ensure that the conversation continues. When a question is to hard for a child they will often stop the conversation and move on to something else.

Son and Father in Garden

Blanks Levels Of Questioning

  • Level 1 – “Look at it” – questions related to what the child can see in front of them and hear at the time, or to objects or pictures that have just been removed. Understanding of level 1 questions usually develop about 3 years of age.

Level 1 questions include:

      • What do you see/hear/smell/feel?
      • What is this?
      • What did you see?
      • Find one like this
      • What colour is this?
      • What did the … say?
      • Is it X or Y?
      • Who is this?
      • Count the …?


  • Level 2 – “Talk about it” – questions are still related to what the student can see or hear, or objects/pictures just removed but more detail is expected in the answer. Understanding and the ability to answer level 2 questions usually develops around 4 years.

Level 2 questions include:

      • Find one that is… can…
      • What’s happening?
      • Who is…? When did…?
      • Where’s the …?
      • Finish this sentence…
      • What is this for?
      • Tell me about this thing?
      • What does it do?
      • Find one that is X and Y
      • What else is a X? (category)
      • What else could they…?
      • What colour/shape/size/etc is it?
      • What do you use to make/do that?
      • How are these different?
      • Which one is …….. (insert characteristic-e.g. big, hot, long , wet, floating etc)


  • Level 3 – “Think about it”  – more complex questions involving careful listening to the question and thinking about what information the question has asked them to provide. Understanding of level 3 questions develops around 4;6 years.

Level 3 questions include:

      • What will happen next?
      • What is … going to say?
      • How else could s/he do it?
      • What’s your favourite…?
      • Tell me one that’s not…?
      • What is a…?
      • Which one is…?
      • How did s/he feel?
      • How are these the same/different?
      • Which one is not the same?
      • What do you do? (following or formulating directions to complete a task)
      • What happened to all these? (making a generalisation)
      • How did you do this?


  • Level 4 – “Reasoning” – the child is expected to think about what may have happened, what could happen or what would happen in a given situation. Level 4 questions involve problem solving to come up with an answer. Understanding of level 4 questions usually develops around 5 years.

Level 4 questions include:

      • What will happen if ……?
      • Why did this happen?
      • How could we test/show/explain that?
      • Why didn’t it work?
      • What could we use/do to …….. (achieve a stated goal)?
      • Why did you pick that one?
      • What could s/he do?
      • What would you do if…?
      • How can we tell?
      • Why can’t s/he…?
      • Why do you like that one?
children sitting on school bench

What To Do If Your Child Does Not Understand The Question

If your child does not understand you, there are different ways you can help.

  • Give time – make sure you have given your child enough time to respond.
  • Delay their response if they try to answer quickly- make sure your child has waited until you have finished your request.
  • Focus attention – make sure your child is looking at you and listening to your question.
  • Repeat – repeat the question again, emphasising the key words.
  • Simplify the question– break your request down into parts or make it simpler.
  • Use questions to clarify – check your child understands by asking them questions at a lower level.
  • Focus on the feature – help your child focus on the feature they need to look at to be able to understand your question (e.g. If you’re asking how two items are alike, you can draw their attention to the relevant similarity like colour or size etc. by pointing or asking the question “What colour is this one?”).
  • Forced alternatives – give your child two alternatives (e.g. “What is he doing? Is he running or jumping?”).
  • Sound/syllable cues – give the first sound or syllable of the answer.
  • Gesture – use gesture or pointing to help your child understand or to cue them in to the correct answer.
  • Rephrase – repeat the request in a different way.
  • Sentence completion – give the answer sentence for your child to complete (e.g. What colour is it? It’s ………”).
  • Demonstration – show the answer without talking and then ask again (e.g. what would happen if we put water in this broken cup?” Demonstrate).
  • Experience the concept – help the child to experience the answer (e.g. “How does it feel? Touch it.”).
  • Relate known to unknown – help child to relate the request to previous experiences (e.g. “The spaghetti is hard. How will it feel after it is cooked? Remember when we cooked the potatoes? How did they feel?”).
mother and daughter hi-five while playing
So next time you are asking questions or targeting understanding, think about what questions you are asking and pick questions which target your child’s level whilst also creating a small challenge. It is important that children are asked questions that they can achieve or develop, rather than be put off by questions that are too difficult for them to answer. So next time you are reading a book or playing together make sure that you ask the ‘right question’. Happy Talking, Andrea


Manolson, H. A., & Hanen Centre. (1992). It takes two to talk. Toronto: Hanen Centre.

Rodney Dedman, M. J. (2004). What’s That? (Blanks Levels Of Questions). . Speech Language Pathologists – Education Queensland.

Therapy Focus. (2015). Ask a Speechie. Retrieved from Blank Level of Questions: