After I attended the London Childcare Expo in Olympia at the beginning of March, I have been following up some of the strategies I presented and the big one is always the one about reducing questions. It's good to reflect on your own practice and whether you create a communication-friendly environment. When you ask questions, you hold control over the conversation; when you comment, you become an equal conversational partner.

You can use this Communication Observation Checklist to check on your own interactions. It's a useful way to reflect on the environment that surrounds children, especially those who struggle with their language development.

How many questions did you ask?

I bet that one's a biggy!  It is for so many practitioners, but don't worry, here are some alternatives to questions, otherwise known as:

things to say instead of bombarding a child with testing type question

Instead of:  Use:
"What's your favourite fruit?"

 "ooh, you're eating banana. I love banana too." And wait.

"What are you doing?" Default response "nothing" in case they're not supposed to be doing it!)

"Wow that's a really tall tower you're building." And wait.

"What do you think will happen next?"

 "I wonder what will happen next." And wait.

"What colour is that?"

"I'm sitting on a blue chair." And wait!Guaranteed someone will offer "I'm on a red chair."

Or.... Try naming the colour wrong and waiting to see if they will correct you.

“What’s that you’re drawing?”

“You’ve drawn a circle.” And wait.

“How are you today?”

“Hi Jack, You’re wearing Spiderman today. Cool.”

Forced choice questions are also a good option. These can be adapted to the language level of the child. Simple: “water or milk?” More complex: “Will it roll to the bottom of the ramp or get stuck at the top?”

This type of question is great for more anxious children, children who stammer or children who struggle with language as it allows them to hear a good model first. And remember if you find yourself asking a question, that’s fine! Just make the next thing you say a comment. If you really ask a tonne of questions and don’t know what to say, answer the question you were going to ask as a comment.

You can also download this as a pdf handout

It's difficult to change the habit of a lifetime and I bet your manager has told you that you need to ask more questions so you know what the children know! And that's fine for some children, especially if they are sociable children with good communication skills.

But for some children, questions can be quite stressful especially these children here:

Children for whom English is not their first language.
Shy or passive children (hint: they look away and usually down when you ask a question)
Children with language difficulties - they need to hear the vocabulary, not the question "what's that?"
Children who stammer and who are aware of it.

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Good luck!

(Also known as the Wise Old Owl SLT)