Teaching Wh- Questions…Why you may be doing it wrong


Who? What? Where? When? Why? But…how?

In my experience, goals for answering wh- questions are some of the most common speech therapy goals. At any given time, I have several students I am teaching wh- questions to, and I imagine you do, too. Being able to answer wh- questions is a skill that is so necessary in both academic settings and for basic communication. Understanding how to actually teach wh- questions is where many SLPs struggle.

Understanding Wh- Questions

When beginning to teach this skill, we first need to understand common language development. Children typically develop the ability to respond to who, what, and where questions first, and then when and why questions.

If a student is struggling with all 5 questions types, it’s best to start from the beginning. Otherwise, begin with the type that is appropriate for their current needs. You can determine this by giving a good informal baseline. I recommend going through at least 10 of each question type (more if you are able) to determine a starting baseline. You can determine what goal accuracy is best for your student, but I typically aim for 70%-80%. While analyzing initial baseline data, be sure to look at how the student is responding. It is important to determine if they are struggling with the vocabulary required to answer, or if they are struggling with the question form.

For example: I might show a picture of a girl holding an umbrella in the rain. I can ask, “What is the girl holding?” If the student understands the question and knows the word umbrella, they should be able to answer correctly. If they understand the question, but do not know the word umbrella, they might respond with another noun or say they don’t know. This would indicate that vocabulary might the area of concern. If the student responds with a word that is not a noun (such as girl, holding, raining, etc.) this would indicate they did not understand how to respond to the question asking WHAT.


When I teach Wh- questions, I try to remove the element of vocabulary in order to ensure that I am correctly teaching and assessing the ability to understand and answer each question type correctly. To do this, I start with pictures paired with a spoken sentence. I might show a picture of a boy wearing a hat and say, “The boy is wearing a hat. What is the boy wearing?” If necessary, I will also provide 2 picture choices for the student to choose from. To ensure that the student is understanding the question type, I will provide one picture choice for the correct answer (hat) and one picture choice that would answer a different question type (girl). Once the student is able to correctly answer with the picture choices, I will then remove the answer choices and just present the main picture, the sentence, and the question.

Finding the Right Materials

One struggle with teaching wh- questions is finding materials that allow for teaching of the actual question types, rather than vocabulary. Many published resources rely heavily on the student having the vocabulary knowledge to correctly answer the question. This is why I created my leveled wh- questions resource.

This resource includes picture cards for each of the 5 types of wh- questions at varying levels of difficulty. There are visuals to help teach each type of question, cards with 2 picture choices, with no picture choices, wh- question scenes, and question lists with no pictures at all.

You can get this entire Leveled Wh- Questions resource for FREE by signing up HERE

If you want to read tips for teaching ‘why’ questions, click HERE.

If you’re looking for vocabulary intervention strategies, click HERE.