Asking questions is a child's inherent skill. Often, we tire of the question Why? (when asked for the 15th time). Questions, however, are a wonderful way to monitor your child’s understanding of their surrounding world. Once they start reading, this gives us further insight into their level of text comprehension. The question then becomes, “Which questions should I ask?”
Early Comprehension Practice
It is never too early to practice comprehension. Yes/No questions tend to be easier to answer and are appropriate for very young children. Some examples of these types of questions are as follows.
Are you pointing at that dog because you like him?
Do you like going to the park?
Is this the book you want me to read?
As your child gets older, encourage creative outlets like drawing, finger-painting, and coloring. Pictures are very powerful. A child’s drawing can easily be the springboard for a conversation about the meaning behind the illustration. Ask questions about their picture while constantly praising their abilities and commenting on your favorite parts and colors.
I really like what you did here, could you explain it to me?
I am wondering about this part, could you tell me more about it? If your child cannot think of anything to draw, encourage them with a prompt.
If you could mix any two animals together, what would it look like?
Think of the most beautiful place in the world, can you draw it?
What would you see if you had wings? Show me with a drawing.
Open-Ended Questions Foster Creativity
Research shows creative children socialize easily, are more confident, and learn better. Asking open-ended questions fosters this creativity and can be practiced even with very young children. The following are some open-ended questions you may want to try.
What might happen if cows started to bark? What might happen if you saw a rabbit in your garden sitting on your favorite chair, what would you do?
What if your car never wore out?
What would you do if you woke up in a cave?
What would you do if it snowed every day?
What is your superpower?
Tailor your questions to your child’s level of understanding and their experiences and get those creative juices flowing.
Understanding Meaning Behind the Text
Once your child enters school, reading will become a huge part of their day. Teachers work hard to build their students’ phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, and vocabulary skills to lay the groundwork for using reading to learn. However, reading comprehension can be elusive. Although your child may be able to read every word on the page fluently and effortlessly, are they understanding the meaning behind the text? Asking questions before, during and after reading is a wonderful way to check their comprehension. Model this thought process and think aloud to allow your child insight into becoming successful.
What's In the Bag?
Educators often use the 5 w’s and the h questions (who, what, when, where, why, and how) to help students understand the text. Questions that begin with why or how tend to dig even deeper into comprehending the text. Students need to be able to “read between the lines” to answer these types of questions. In order to create an answer, the child must use what they know about their world and add it to what the author is telling them. A fun activity to encourage these types of questions is called What's in the Bag? Place an everyday object in a brown paper bag and ask your child to guess what it is by asking questions. Encourage them to use the 5 w’s and the h to guess the object as this will be a much quicker way to succeed (where would I use this thing?) instead of asking for it by name (is it an apple?).
Before Reading Questions
What do you think this book will be about?
Why did you choose this book?
Who do you think this is (point to a book cover illustration) or where do you think this takes place?
What other books have you read by this author? Did you enjoy them? Which one was your favorite and why?
What do you think the title means?
Remember to add, “Why do you think so?” if you would like more information about their answer and never hesitate to praise your child for their efforts.
During Reading Questions
What do you think the main character will do next?
What has happened so far in the story?
Why do you think he is ________ (sad, excited)?
What do you think the (character, setting) looks like? Can you describe it for me?
What problem needs to be solved? How would you try to solve it?
Let’s look at this picture before we read this page, what do you think it shows?
How do you think the story will end?
Take many breaks to ask questions during reading to monitor their progress. Increase time between questions as your child gains independence.
After Reading Questions
Ask your child to summarize the main points (retell the story).
Do you remember anything like this happening to you?
What challenges did the characters have? How would you have handled the problem differently?
Why do you think the author chose to end the book this way? Can you think of a different ending?
What was your favorite part of the book?
What title would you have given the book?
If you could change any part of the story, what would you change and why?
Encourage your child to share the story with other, draw a picture about the book, or read other works by the same author.
The beauty of questions is they can lead to more questions and wonderful conversations with your child. Make your questions feel like you are truly interested in their answers and opinions. Ask questions which do require one right answer to put your child at ease and gain confidence. Questions which begin with “In your opinion…?” or “What do you think…?” will encourage your child to share their thoughts and explore their world.
Written by Ingrid Hartig.
Ingrid is a Master Instructor with Brainspring's Educator Academy.
Brainspring has proudly supported the educational community for more than 25 years.