Teaching Children to Ask “wh” Questions by Eliciting Curiosity

Speech Therapy
Teaching Children to Ask “wh” Questions by Eliciting Curiosity

Parents often share their concerns with me about their child who never asks “what” questions or report that they ask questions occasionally; although, they are able to talk in sentences. As a speech language pathologist, I work with children - with developmental delays and speech and language disorders. And, being able to ask “wh” questions is one among many other goals, I help children acquire.

This two-minute read is curated to help parents elicit “wh” questions by drawing out their child’s curiosity.

Typically, children ask “what” questions, when they are curious. “Curiosity has been defined as a need, thirst or desire for knowledge about something.” D. E. Berlyne (1960). Eliciting curiosity can help child ask “wh” questions, not just limited to “what”, but also - why, where, which, when, who and how.

Eliciting a child’s curiosity under different contexts can help them ask questions for clarification or to learn something new.

According to Tieben, curiosity can be elicited using five main principles. I am adapting THREE of these principles to help parents elicit curiosity in their children.

1) Novelty - Provide opportunities for your child to explore a new situation, object or a toy. Observing, inspecting and manipulating an object through customary actions such as playing with the object, trying to find out how it operates, and determining its structure by loosening or detaching parts can elicit curiosity in children.

2) Partial exposure - Expose only a part of an object or provide only a part of the information they may need to complete a task.

When information is incomplete, or when there is a gap between the knowledge of the child and what is being observed or experienced, children pay more attention to task at hand and may want to know more. This will elicit their curiosity to ask questions for information. For example: Hide an object or toy under a blanket with only a part of it visible for the child to guess. If they are unable to say it right and unsure, they may ask for more information or you can cue them ask and gradually fade away your prompts.

3) Vary the complexity of a situation/object - Create a situation that will provoke your child to ask for information, such as - going out in the car, and not telling your child where you are going. In an ambiguous situation such as this, your child may ask you for clarification. In case they are unable to ask you - you can model it to them or cue them to ask.

When children get curious about an object, situation, or topic, it usually leads them to think about it; especially if they are uncertain, surprised or have conflicting ideas. Consequently, children ask questions and make comments on the topic/ object or situation: the number of questions children ask or the comments they make correlates positively with curiosity (J. T. Piotrowski, 2014).

Traits of children such as openness, sensation-seeking, inhibitory control, hyperactivity-inattention, anxiety, anger, depression and shyness correlate with curiosity as well and can affect how a child experiences and shows curiosity. Therefore, ensure to provide your child with a safe and secure environment and positive attachment with you.

Not only does curiosity help children ask questions, but they also enhance learning and it is one of the fundamental factors in education. Scientists have identified that attentiveness, exploration and happiness are the top three co-occurring states with curiosity.

If you found this content useful, share it with someone who may benefit.


Chitra Thadathil., MSc (Sp & Hg)

Founder & Director, DCCD

Speech Language Pathologist






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