Training children to ask questions is a powerful tool. It enables them to learn constantly, about everything, wherever they are
Teacher: This isn’t magic, but I’m definitely starting to understand the class and their needs better.
Principal: I came in to Sara’s classroom and was pleasantly surprised to find all the students on task.
Parent: I’m in over my head with regular homework! But I guess I’ll try to practice reading with the WH questions. I can’t rely on the teacher to do everything for my child.
At Sara’s next session she’s frustrated. “The new strategies are helping… sort of,” she reports. “They’re following along, but still breaking down when it comes to comprehension. How does it help if they have the finger on the place? They have no idea what’s going on.”
I ask Sara to demonstrate how she teaches a lesson. She chants a pasuk, translating it word by word [Although the students are translating and should technically understand what they’re saying, they’re losing the flow necessary for comprehension].
“Imagine if I was translating a Chinese sentence into English, word by word,” I say. “Piecemeal translation is meaningless for a child or student who struggles with language processing and comprehension.
“Translate a few pesukim at a time, so your students understand what’s going on. Teach your students to look out for certain key elements: Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why. I call them the WH elements.”
I show Sara some cards with icons I’ve developed for this kind of work [Visual aids are crucial for the acquisition of new skills. The visual makes it "real”]. “Who” is represented by a stick figure, “When” is represented by a clock. “These icons stick in their head,” I explain, “and remind them what to be on the lookout for. Each student should have a set of these cards and after every pasuk, go through the cards and identify each of the elements.
“Use these for parshah, too. Have the icons on large posters and as you tell the story, stop every so often and ask, ‘Who is talking to who now?’ while pointing to the Who icon. ‘Why is he going there?’ and so on. Use them for all subjects, and even when teaching them a new rule or the fire drill procedure. The idea is to accustom them to pay attention to these pieces of information.”
Just like Sara had to teach her students the vocabulary of Chumash (pasuk, perek, parshah), she also has to make sure they understand the vocabulary she’s using in other subjects.
“We tell kids about Rivkah Imeinu at the well, but they’ve never seen a well. You need to describe it, preferably with a visual. If you’re going to teach them about a fire drill, make sure they understand that in this case ‘drill’ is not a tool.”
Sara laughs. “I have a child like this,” she admits. “Some construction workers had dug a huge pit near my house. I kept telling my son off for going near the pit. It turned out that he thought ‘pit’ meant a ‘peach pit.’ He had no idea what I wanted from him” [I[If your child struggles with language comprehension, never assume they understand what you say. Check for understanding by asking them to identify the five WH elements]span>.
I recommend that Sara make a “word wall,” listing new or difficult words and concepts along with associations, like rhyming words, pictures, or a hint, that will help her students remember their meaning.
At our next session, Sara tells me she created a Hundred Question Contest to get them used to asking crucial questions. “When we reach 100 questions, they earn extra recess… and they know the material inside out,” she says.
Training children to ask questions is a powerful tool. It enables them to learn constantly, about everything, wherever they are.
D. Himy is a speech-language pathologist in private practice and creator of the Link-It and STARPower curriculums. The fictional characters in this column represent typical client profiles.(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 659)