Is there a school-based SLP out there who hasn’t found themselves targeting WH questions? I would be shocked if there is! Eventually, the need for this skill will makes it way onto our caseloads and into our therapy rooms. And with good reason!
Although answering and asking WH questions is an early skill, typically mastered by the age of 4, it is a skill that is necessary across a variety of settings, from a very young age and through adulthood. It is necessary for meeting wants and needs, carrying on conversations, demonstrating comprehension of books, completing homework assignments, participating in classroom discussions, and more! The inability of a student to answer WH questions can truly have a significant impact on the functional, social, and academic performance as they age!
With that in mind, how should we go about addressing WH questions in therapy? I would imagine that many of us focus on an approach that is somewhat “drill” in nature. We ask a question, the student answers the question. When the student is wrong, we tell them the answer and, over time, we build up an arsenal of WH questions that the student can answer. More than likely, we begin with closed-ended questions – we ask a question and provide pictures or words for the student to choose from – and then move on to open-ended questions – asking the questions without answer choices. I know I often label my data this way! Did they need answer choices or not?
I recently read a Pearson EBP Brief on WH Question Intervention for Children with Language Disorders . I thought it was a helpful refresher on WH question knowledge that provided a few good tips for improving how I treat WH questions beyond just drill! You can follow the link above to read the article in its entirety. Below, I’ll list a few of the highlights I found and then look a bit at my own WH Question unit in my TpT store to look for areas of improvement.
6 Refreshers on WH Questions:
1. What and where questions precede why and when questions (answering)
2. What, where, and who questions precede why, when, and how questions (asking).
3. We should look at the content and syntax of student’s answers.
4. Implicit exposure to WH questions is not enough for students with LI.
5. Students with LI develop WH questions a the same, but slower, rate as typically developing peers.
6. Students will answer questions with fewer words better than questions with complex syntax.
6 Takeaways on Treating WH Questions:
1. Start with who, what, and where questions, then move on to when, why, and how questions.
2. Start with less complex syntax structures, then move on to more complex syntax.
3. Start with contextualized questions (answers are in the environment, manipulatives can be used, etc…).
4. Use peer modeling, especially for decontextualized questions.
5. Explicitly teach each WH question before drilling.
6. Use visuals, such as color coding or symbol coding, to teach the structure of questions and answers, especially in more complex questions.
Now, let’s take a look at my own unit on WH Questions. From the off, I have to mention that this unit is designed for older students who have likely already worked on WH questions to some degree. It is designed as a tool for expanding knowledge of WH questions to written work, as is necessary for moving through upper grades. However, I wanted to look back at it with fresh eyes after reading this research.
The first activity I provide is a sorting activity. Large cards listing each of the WH questions are provided, as well as 10 answer cards for each of the WH questions. Students sort the answers by the type of question they would best answer. This activity reinforces explicit knowledge of the content expected for each type of WH question.
The next sorting activity is a simple question to answer match. Two questions for each question type is provided along with its answer. This is a drill activity, for the most part. It assumes that some level of question knowledge has been obtained and wouldn’t be appropriate for students who are just beginning to learn WH questions.
Next is a set of worksheets in which the student provides the WH question word that would complete a question. These worksheets work on a level of context clues and reinforcing knowledge of WH questions and their content, similar to the first sorting activity. For an older student continuing to work on knowledge of the WH questions themselves and the content required, this provides another way of addressing that skill, as well as the skill of using context that is often required at older ages.
The next set of worksheets function much the same as the second sorting activity, providing a simple matching practice for question to answer.
The next set of worksheets leans, again, towards understanding the content of WH question words. These worksheets are a little unique in the sense that knowledge of content isn’t addressed only through actual questions; as you can see above, it also targets the content of WH question words as they are also used as relative pronouns/adverbs. This is an upper level skill that also looks at grammar, syntax, and sentence structure, alongside content knowledge.
This activity takes the content knowledge of each WH question and applies it to a text, rather than sentence. Again, we’re working on knowing what the question types are asking for, rather than just drilling answers.
These worksheets look at content knowledge is yet another way. Two words representing each of the question types are presented for comparing and contrasting. This reinforces content knowledge in an even more nuanced way, while also encouraging more complex language skills.
Writing prompts encourage expressive use of WH questions, while also encouraging students to think about the importance of understanding WH questions and using them correctly.
These group activities are a fun way for students to answer WH questions in an open-ended way. This is a simple practice of answering questions. Questions could be targeted to the individual level of each students to ensure that students aren’t moving ahead to questions that are too complex for them.
These task cards look again at content knowledge, approached 3 different ways: listing, determining true/false, and answering a question.
Looking back through my unit, I was surprised at how often I targeted content knowledge of the WH questions, rather than discrete trials for practicing answering the WH questions. Based on the research article, I feel rather confident that this unit could fulfill the needs of many older students, but would likely need to be supplemented with additional practice questions to answer. I also noticed that I didn’t divide activities based on which WH questions was being targeted – almost all of the activities target all of the WH questions at one time. Again, for older students who have already acquired basic knowledge of WH questions and can answer, in drill and functional formats, each WH question, that would not be a problem. For an older student who is still developing WH questions, in line with who, what, where -> when, why, how, this unit might be a little too much.
A few additional resources:
I really love the blog posts on The Speech Bubble. She discusses starting at the bottom and scaffolding up in a very clear and concise way.
I haven’t used it personally, but based on the posts, I would also recommend her WH Curriculum, especially for beginning with younger students.
These WH Question Flip Cards from Simply Special Ed have been useful or drill formatted lessons.
I regularly use these No Prep WH Question Worksheets from Cat Says Meow. I love the loads of practice provided each individual question time that then moves into combinations (contrasts) of questions, and then all questions at once.
Although this isn’t strictly WH question based, I like using these Comprehension of Complex Sentences Cards to work on, you guessed it, comprehending more complex sentence types. As we learned that questions get harder to answer as sentence complexity increases, having something in your arsenal for just that is important.