Asking questions and thinking about the questions you ask children is a fantastic skill for educators and parents.
The questioning framework developed by Marion Blank in 1978 is one of my go to resources for thinking more deeply about this topic. This framework includes four levels of questioning which move from simple, concrete questions to more difficult, abstract questions. Blank’s questions encourage development of general language and vocabulary as well as skills in comprehension, reasoning, inferencing, predicting and problem solving. It is no surprise when looking at this framework that it has been based on research looking at the language used by teachers in the classroom.
What can the Blank Levels of Questioning help us do?
- Assess the types of questions and directions a child understands. It will help an adult understand whether a question is at an appropriate level.
- If a child is not understanding an adult, then they can think about moving down a level on the questioning framework.
- Manage issues of discipline more effectively.
- Ensure an adult has realistic expectations of a child’s understanding.
- Help adults support the learning of a child. An adult can start working on the next level up from where the child is at the moment.
Let us have a look at examples of the questions, starting at the most concrete level.
As you can see from these types of questions, the answer is right there in front of the child. The child is focusing on the whole object.
Let us move onto the next level in this questioning framework.
As you can see with these questions, they are slightly more complex. The answer is still in front of the child, but they need to look for it. The type of language developed at this level of questioning helps children to understand simple stories and describe simple pictures.
Moving up the levels to number three, we can see that the answer is not in front of the child. They have to use clues from the stimulus, which might be something like a book, and then form their own answer. You can see how we are moving from more concrete questions to more and more abstract.
Finally we arrive at the most complex and abstract level, which is level four. The answers to these types of questions are best described as ‘in your head.’ The answer is not in front of you. It is often the child’s own opinion.
The rule of thumb is four comments to every question. It is easy to get carried away (when you are thinking a lot about questions), to bombard the children with a bunch of questions with no time for the child to learn from comments from the other children and/or from the Educator.
Don’t forget in addition to moving down a level on the framework, if questions are too tricky for a child, you can also:
- Give them processing time
- Make sure you have the child’s full attention
- Repeat the question
- Simplify – break the direction into smaller parts
- Binary Choice – give the child a choice – is it an apple or a car?
- Stress the main content word they are getting wrong – give me the BIG Ted. You could even use your hands to show ‘big’ as well.
- Rephrase- repeat the question in a different way
- Experience the concept – help the child to experience the answer eg. How does it feel? Touch it.
Applying this in your centre
You can probably already see how you can adapt activities that you already do in your centre to include questions at each level of Blank’s Framework.
Level 1 – Naming
- I spy with my little eye – have objects around the room or in the outdoor play area and get the child to find the one you are naming. You can also swap roles where the children name the object and you have to find it.
- Simon says – Simon says go to the………
- Naming objects in a book you are reading.
Level 2 – Describing
- Who? questions with relation to a book. I often cut out pictures of the characters in the book I am reading to help the children to remember the characters.
When you have these characters from the book, you can get the child to name them from a description – it barks, it has four legs, it is black and white.
You can get the child to sort the characters into categories eg. transport/animal/person
- What are they doing? (in relation to the book). To give them some of the vocabulary, you can play ‘If you’re happy and you know it (insert verb)’ – walking, sleeping, hopping, skipping, eating, clapping.
- Where? You can practice this outside in the playground using lots of location words. Everyone shuts their eyes and one child finds a spot to go to in the playground. The group says “Where are you?” and they open their eyes and the child has to say
“At the top of the slide.”
“In the sandpit.”
“On the bike.”
“Under the table.”
The Educator may need to do it first to help them know the types of words they can use.
- Photos. Ask the children to bring in photos from home and you can ask ‘Who? What? Where?’ questions.
- Categories: Get the children to sort toys into groups. Eg. animals, food, transport.
- Things that go together – you can use everyday objects on a table and get each child to work out two that go together eg. spoon/fork, toothbrush/toothpaste, drink bottle/water, lunchbox/food
- Preschool concepts – work on preschool concepts to help with describing eg. colours, numbers, adjectives (hard, soft, big, little)
Level 3 – Retelling
- Sequenced pictures – start with sequences that are only 2-3 pictures. Get them to put them in the right order and talk about them. Taking pictures while cooking something like popcorn in the centre and then making it into a sequence makes it relevant and memorable for the child.
- Understanding negatives- “Find me something that is not a…….”
A good time to do this is at fruit time. Line up all the apples and put in one banana.
“Find me the one which is not an apple.”
Initially when you say ‘not’, you can shake your head to add a visual cue and then gradually fade that out.
- Predicting – you can ask the question “What do you think will happen next?”, initially just using your sequenced pictures and leaving out the last picture. You can use it in relation to books you are reading or in relation to something you are building that looks like it is going to fall!!!
Level 4 – Justifying
- Problem solving – the sandpit is a great place to identify problems and think of solutions
“How will the truck get over the hole?”
“How do we know when we have enough sand in the truck?”
“What will happen if we pour water in the sifter?”
“How do we know the mud pie is cooked?”
“What can we use to build a bridge?”
“What happens if the truck is too full?”
“What happens if Jack takes all our spades?”
Anna Haire, Speech Pathologist