Wednesday, November 04, 2020

How to Teach WH Questions to Hyperlexic Kids

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Is your hyperlexic child struggling with WH questions? Here are some strategies for teaching WH questions that incorporate their strengths in reading and decoding the written word.

Most hyperlexic kids "have difficulty understanding and/or answering questions with: who? why? when? where? and how?" (source: What is Hyperlexia? pamphlet). 

But you probably already know that if you're a parent of a hyperlexic kid. I mean there is a reason you are here reading this right now...right? 

WH questions are really hard - bordering on impossible some days - for hyperlexic kids. You've seen the blank look on their faces when you ask them one of these dreaded WH questions. It's almost as if you were speaking gibberish to them. 

So how do you go about teaching WH questions to these hyperlexic kids? 

Below you will find four simple ways to teach WH questions, but also lots of specific strategies and tips within these four categories. And, of course, some free printables along the way because that's how I roll around here.

Tips & strategies for teaching WH- questions to hyperlexic kids

4 Simple Ways to Confidently Teach WH Questions to Hyperlexic Kids (By Playing to Their Strengths)

Hyperlexic kids learn differently. That's why they need strategies that are tailored to them and their unique learning style. Using their ability to decode and to read is super important. Same goes for writing things down. 

Remember, with hyperlexia, if it isn't written down, it might not exist. 

The strategies and suggestions that you find below play to these strengths. 

1. Teach the Rules of WH Questions Through Direct Instruction

One of the best ways to teach hyperlexic kids about WH questions is through direct instruction. That includes teaching what information each question is asking for, what types of answers they require, and how questions are structured. This includes reading about WH questions and how they work, writing down lists of rules, using written supports, or similar.

Here are some specific strategies and suggestions you could try:

  • Be sure to provide lots of specific and concrete examples for answering the different types of questions (free cheat sheet here) because there are so many different ways to answer a question (e.g., a "who" question usually means we have to answer with a person or living thing, but that might mean saying a person's name such as Steve, a profession such as the math teacher, a type of person or relationship such as my friend or my neighbor, a pronoun such as him or her, or even something that isn't a person like my dog Frank)
  • Look for a video on YouTube or read a book that explains the rules of WH questions and/or provides examples of how to answer them

2. Use Scripts to Teach WH Questions

Take advantage of your hyperlexic child's ability to read/decode and provide them with functional ways to answer WH questions by using scripts and written patterns. Seriously, written scripts are an incredibly powerful tool for hyperlexic kids!

Try these ideas:

  • Use a fill-in-the-blank format to show possible answers (e.g., "Why...?" could be answered with "Because..." or "To..." or "So that..." )
  • Practice with frequently asked questions like "What is your name?" or "Where do you live?" as these questions follow a standard format for replies (that is, most people answer them in the same way), are common questions your child might get asked, and, since they are so common, can help build your child's confidence in answering WH questions (free printable here to help)
  • Start off by writing out questions and answers in full for them to read, then gradually fade to fill-in-the-blank answers and, eventually, move to using just verbal prompts
  • Teach them scripted answers that will help them ask for clarification (and also show them that it is okay not to know the answer to every question) such as: I don't know, I'm not sure, What does that mean?, Can you explain that again?, Give me a clue, I don't understand the question, Can you repeat the question?, etc.

3. Work On Developing Other Tricky Language Concepts

WH questions can be quite abstract and the possible ways to answer them are wide and varied. Sometimes other language concepts such as prepositions, pronouns, cause and effect, sequencing, attributes, inferencing, and vocabulary might be impacting the comprehension and understanding of WH questions. And, if you have a hyperlexic kid, you know that your child might also be struggling with some - or all - of these types of language concepts.

Here's a bit more insight on how these concepts might be impacting your child's ability to answer WH questions and how you can use the hyperlexic child's strengths to build these skills:

  • Pronoun reversals are common in hyperlexic kids, which means "who" questions can be difficult if your child is still struggling to understand which pronouns refer to which people. It's important to make sure your child is learning about and practicing pronouns. So write down pronoun rules for them.
  • Teaching about prepositions (in, on, behind, under, before, after, etc.) can help with "where" questions and even some "when" questions. Find some visual cards that show what these different prepositions mean or try a simple activity like this using a favorite toy.
  • Developing sequencing skills and helping your child better understand how things work (think, cause and effect here) can also help improve your child's WH question skills. If they have a better understanding of sequences, then answers to "when" questions might make more sense to them. Same goes for "why" questions if they have a better grasp on cause and effect relationships. Using a cause and effect graphic organizer or first, then, next charts can be helpful for building these skills. Visual schedules also help build these sequencing skills.
  • Working on vocabulary, attributes, features, and descriptors can all make a huge impact on your child's ability to answer WH questions too so be sure that you are also developing these skills. It's a lot easier to answer a WH question like "What animal has a long neck?" if you have a better understanding of the attributes and features of a giraffe. Write out lists of attributes and features of different words and practice pointing out different features of things you see around you. Do sensory bins together and narrate the play, highlighting different sensory features, textures, colors, shapes, etc. (e.g., "Oh this water is so cold and wet!").

4. Practice, Model, & Repeat!

Lots and lots of repetition and practice will lead to mastery, just like with any skill you want to work on. Thankfully, there are lots of opportunities to practice WH questions while reading, through play, by modeling everyday activities, using visual supports, and with printable WH question cards.

Here are some ideas to try:

  • While reading books, point to different images in the book and ask questions like "What is this?" or "Where is...?", etc. Wait for them to answer or answer your own question if they can't answer it, making sure to point to the answer. You can do the same with books without pictures by pointing directly to the answers in the text. To make this strategy even more effective, write down the questions on a sticky note or whiteboard.
  • After reading a book, encourage your child to go through the book and find all of the people in the book (the "whos") or all the places in the book (the "wheres"). Work together to write down a list of all the "whos" and "wheres" on a piece of paper or on a whiteboard.
  • Dictate your day by posing WH questions, giving your child a chance to respond, and modeling how to answer the questions if they find it difficult to answer (e.g., while fixing a bowl of cereal for breakfast, ask "What do I need to eat my cereal?" -> "I need a spoon!" or while playing a game, ask "Who's turn is it next?" -> "It's my turn!")
  • Take a recent event (vacation, birthday party, or similar) and make a small book about it with your child, targeting each WH question. Make a page dedicated to all the people who attended (the "who"), a page dedicated to the location of the event (the "where"), etc. Write down the names, places, objects, time, etc. and include any photos, if possible.
  • Download an app that targets WH questions, such as the WH Question Cards app from Super Duper Publications
Finally, remember to be patient. These skills take time to develop and master.

Other Comprehension Related Resources You'll Love

Picture Walk Reading Strategy

Resources to Teach Reading Comprehension, WH Questions, & Making Inferences

Free WH Questions Social Story

Simple strategies and tips on how to teach WH questions to hyperlexic kids

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