“Judge a man by his questions, not by his answers”- Voltaire.
My curiosity led me to Google this morning. I typed into the search box:
“How many questions does the average adult ask per day?”
Unfortunately, my Google search really left me with more questions than answers (which often seems to be the case when I find myself thirty minutes later, trawling through Google Scholar/The Guardian/You Tube, with questions only slightly related to the original…!)
Anyway, I did find out a few interesting pieces of information:
1. A study commissioned by Littlewoods in 2013 found that the average British mother is asked almost 300 questions a day,
2. The amount of questions we ask per day decreases with age and varies depending on gender- 4 year old girls ask approximately 390 questions per day while 9 year old boys ask around 144.
So, let’s say that the average child asks a question every 5 minutes…What about children with speech, language or communication needs (SLCN)? Do they ask more/less than their peers? Do they ask a variety of questions? Do they ask the questions that they NEED to ask? I’m sure there is a research study in these questions alone!
But more importantly- do we make asking questions an important part of language learning?
We often prioritise requesting, commenting, answering questions…But as it turns out, asking questions is a massive part of a ‘typically’ developing child’s everyday language!
And questions have so many functions… we ask questions to start conversations, to gain information, to connect with people, to discover new things, to reduce anxiety/increase clarity…
It’s recently come to my attention that the children who I work with who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) such as communication books and voice output devices, ask fewer questions than their verbal peers.
I think one of the reasons for this might be that we target so many other functions of language that we deem to be motivational; questions seem to be more difficult to approach.
But actually, isn’t there something quite motivational about being nosey/inquisitive…?!
For example, if I put a massive box in the middle of the table, with ribbons and bows around it and didn’t mention it; what child wouldn’t want to ask, “What’s in the box?!” or “Can I see?!”
Here are a few ‘thinking points’ to develop inquisitive minds within our AAC users:
1. Think about question structures
Speech and Language Therapists often talk about ‘Wh questions’- These refer to question starters such as who, what, where, when, why and how (‘How’ breaks the ‘Wh’ rule…!). It’s important to have these words as part of a core vocabulary- to introduce the symbols and model how to use them and combine them with other symbols to form questions.
I like to do this during turn-taking games. In fact, I’ve made a massive A2 sized ‘Question board’ for both myself and my children using AAC to use for asking questions during games e.g
“Where’s the dice?”
“Can you help?”
And depending on the game, you can build in lots more questions- ‘Guess Who?’ is the ultimate question asking game!!
2. Think about the questions that kids ask kids!
Listening to children’s conversations I’ve noticed that these simple question structures crop up again and again:
1. Do you have….? (a dog/an x-box/ a barbie/ a football, etc, etc…!)
2. Do you like….? (Paw Patrol/ Taylor Swift/ Swimming/ Man United, etc, etc…!)
So bearing this in mind, it’s nice to practice these questions in social situations or as part of a group activity.
I’ve made some page sets related to social questions for a child who uses the Grid 3 software- A cell for “Do you like…?” jumps to some of the child’s favourite activities/music/TV…That way, the child can find out what they have in common with others.
Isn’t this how friendships form?!
3. Think about what intrigues the child!
It goes without saying, but if you are asking a question it’s because you want to know the answer! So we may need to motivate our children to want to find out some information.
The big, surprise box that I mentioned earlier is a starting point…But what else might intrigue the child?
Perhaps writing a letter to their favourite celebrity- you could spend some time discussing together which questions they could ask. Or similarly, maybe a group interview session with the Head Teacher?!
Maybe a Hide and Seek type game or a scavenger hunt- hiding a motivational object somewhere in the room.
Or perhaps, we withhold information and then pause…The power of the pause cannot be underestimated!
For example, if the class teacher was to say, “We’re going on a trip next week” and then paused, not providing further detail; that’s surely going to incite some curiosity! Everybody will want to know where they are going to….and to find out, they are going to have to ask!
The statistics I found on Google would suggest that children’s curiosity eventually peaks…It seems that teenagers and adults don’t feel the need to enquire so much, to ask those interesting ‘why’ questions that a 4 year old would (The Telegraph suggests one of the most common, interesting questions asked by children is: “Why is water wet?!”).
So let’s harness that period of curiosity and make it a language learning opportunity for children who use AAC! You might be asked some bizarre questions along the way, but isn’t that part of the fun?!