Developing Better Thinking Skills

Because early childcare educators and researchers have learned so much about the ways the brain functions in very young children, today many parents want to help their child develop better thinking skills.  One of the best ways to develop this skill is through the art of questioning.

Childhood development experts and well-trained childcare professionals understand there are different levels of questioning.  Likewise, there are different levels of responding by the child. It has been found, quite logically, that lower-level questions merely elicit lower-level responses.

Higher-level questioning, on the other hand, tends to elicit higher-level thinking responses. Let’s discuss some of the differences between lower-level and higher-level questions and responses.

Simple questions include locating specific objects or people.  For example, while reading a book aloud, a parent might ask, “Can you show me where the cow is on this page?” A child can respond to such a question merely by pointing.

The next level of questioning is remembering, according to child development and childcare experts.  This means that the child is asked to recall specific factual information.  For example, “What was the lady in the story wearing on her head?”

The next higher level is organizing.  This type of questioning requires the child not only to remember but also, in his own words, to organize events in sequence.  For example, “What was the first thing that happened in this story?  What happened next? What came after that?”

The next level is predicting.  This requires the child to consider the known elements of the story and predict some unknown element.  For example, “What do you think will happen next?”

The highest level of questioning is evaluating.  This requires the child to weigh alternatives.  For example, “Would you have acted in the same way as the boy in that story?  Why? Why not?”

Educators agree storybook time provides many opportunities to develop better thinking skills.  To stimulate a child’s thinking, it is important to ask open-ended questions as young as preschool age for further elaboration (such as the ones below), rather than mere factual questions to which a child can give a “yes” or “no” answer.  And remember that, generally speaking, the higher the level of questioning by the parent, the higher the level of thinking response by the child.

Here are some different types of open-ended questions, the kinds that teachers and trained childcare providers ask, that will elicit higher- level thinking responses:

  • Ask the child which character in the story she likes best.  What are some of the things she likes about that character?  Does the character remind her of someone she knows?  In what ways?
  • Ask the child to tell what happened in the story in her own words.
  • At some point(s) during the story, pause to ask her to predict what she thinks might happen next.  Ask for her reasons.
  • At the end of the story, ask her to suggest a different way (or ways) for the story to end.  Why might her ending be better?
  • Ask her to describe any experience(s) of her own that might relate to what happened in the story.

Actively involving the child in the reading of the story and personalizing the outcomes, will help to make storybook time more enjoyable.  Giving her an opportunity to react to the story as an active participant not only will add to her enjoyment but will also help her to develop higher level thinking skills.


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