“Why” Questions for Speech Therapy - Achieve Beyond

“Why” Questions for Speech Therapy

Written By: Michelle E. Sisto, MS CCC-SLP TSSLD CAS

“Wh” questions are the basis of many reciprocal and social interactions.  They are an integral part of children’s receptive, expressive, and pragmatic language skills. Children need to understand questions to engage in and support their participation in daily conversations. 

The concept of questions can be broken down into five types: who, what, when, where, and why.  Each different question type is acquired and learned at a different developmental stage and build on top of one another to support developing language and social skills.

Understanding the “Why” Question

Arguably, the “why” questions are the more complex and latest developing question type, in terms of child development.  There are many different reasons why the “why” questions challenge so many kiddos.  Many children have difficulty understanding what is being asked of them and the type of response that is being expected. 

Oftentimes, we use drill work to drill in rote responses, which do not teach children what “why” questions are asking, but rather memorized responses.  This may help the child answer the question, in the moment, but does not support the child’s understanding the concept of the type of question as a whole.

Appropriate Response to “Why” Questions

When discussing “why” questions, it is important to highlight that “why” questions are asking for a reason to something.  Where “who” questions are looking for a person response and “where” questions are looking for a location response, “why” questions are looking for a reason behind what is being asked. 

Due to the nature of “why” questions, they tend to be more abstract and complex than other types of questions.  “What” questions required concrete answers, whereas “why” questions, oftentimes require problem solving and reasoning skills. 

“Why” Question Exercises

As with all speech and language skills, we look for naturally occurring events and activities to facilitate learning.  This leads to increased generalization and quicker acquisition of the skills being targeted.  Below are a list of activities and strategies that can be utilized to teach these more complex concepts:

  1. Sabotaging activities: Purposely mess up an activity that the child is engaging in so that they can not finish the task without help. An example would be hiding the cup when the child takes out juice.  The child will need to ask for the cup to complete their objective.  Parents should first ask “why do you need a cup”, before giving it to them.  The child can then be prompted to give the reason, such as “so that I can drink my juice”.  This provides introducing or strengthening concepts to understand the question instead of just answering it rotely.

  2. Self-care activities: While completing self-care activities, discuss the “why” behind each activity.  Explain why we brush our teeth, comb our hair, and wash our face.  Model the appropriate reasons behind each action and slowly incorporate asking the “why” questions during these activities, prompting the child with “because…” and “so…” to facilitate the responses.

  3. Driving in the Car: If driving to the grocery store, questions may include “Why do we need to buy bread?” and “Why are we going to the grocery store”.  These questions can be more concrete and can be made easier by prompting the child by saying “because…” or “so…” to lead them to the appropriate response.  Model the appropriate response, such as “because you need to bring lunch to school tomorrow” or “so Mommy can make dinner tonight” in order to make the trip a learning and engagement opportunity.

  4. Reading a book: While reading an engaging story, point to corresponding pictures as the story progresses.  “Why” questions that can be brought up are “why is the boy going to the store” or “why is the girl sad”.  Ask these questions immediately after the corresponding part of the story is read.  This allows comprehension of the heard material to be used to respond to the question.  If the child is at a higher level, before reading the story, the child can utilize pictures to infer the reason to the “why” questions being asked before the story is read. 

  5. Pretend play: During pretend play, such as playing in a pretend kitchen, asking questions, such as “why do you cut the carrots” or “why do you use a spoon”.  Actions can be used to support the responses.  Models of target responses, such as “cut the carrots to eat small pieces” and “eat with a spoon to not spill soup” can also be used to support understanding the underlying reasons and responding to “why” questions.

Conclusion to “Why” Questions for Speech Therapy

Above all else, it is imperative to teach and explain the concept of “why” instead of memorizing responses to “why” questions.  This is to support children to learn how to answer all “why” questions instead of just specific ones.  This strategy enables children to consider a variety of contexts, settings, and interactions to successfully answer these questions to help them be successful in all interactions they encounter. 

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