Language and Literacy:
Asking and Answering “Wh” Questions

MariBeth Plankers, MS CCC‑SLP, ATP

Director of the Regional Assistive Technology Center

Minnesota State University Moorhead

Asking or answering “Wh” questions (who, what, where, when, and why?) is the basis for the exchange of interactive communication. But these questions also serve to engage greater learning and facilitate the exchange of information among communication partners. It is evident that “Wh” questions and their answers are reflective of each student’s expressive and receptive language skills. In turn, they are supportive of the language gains one can make when targeting “Wh” questions.

I have learned over the years that asking and answering questions is not always students’ most preferred activity, especially for those at upper elementary to high school levels. But when they are able to apply higher-order thinking to the questions they ask or answer, their engagement increases, and it becomes a rewarding experience.

So, what might those teaching experiences look like?

I find that when students are challenged by making predictions, inferring, and determining what else might be added to a theme, story, or experience, their engagement is much greater. As I begin my planning for having students ask and answer “Wh” questions, I use the following resources: narrative language, games, and interactive websites.

Narrative Language

Narrative language activities can involve the use of picture or chapter books, comics, movies and movie trailers, personal stories or events, or routine activities. I have listed some options that I have found to be very successful for asking and answering “Wh” questions. When asking and answering questions, I make sure that I break the tasks down so that the student knows the expectations. This may include the five “Wh” words (who, what, where, when, why) and how. It may also involve pre‑written “Wh” questions that are drawn out of a cup.

Asking and answering “Wh” questions may be made into a game using a six-sided die. Here, the brief element of surprise may be a motivator for some students. I have observed that when they have the choice of asking or answering a question, students participate more. For the game, each number on the die represents a “Wh” question or answer, depending on their choice. For example, 1 is a “what question,” 2 is a “where question,” 3 is a “who question,” etc., for those who choose to ask a question.

Picture and chapter books allow the student to develop numerous questions as they look at the various pictures within or read the book. I routinely make sure that I set the expectation prior to starting, determining the “Wh” questions we might want to ask throughout the story. I set a minimum of three “Wh” questions that they will need to think about, ask someone else, or answer themselves.

Let’s take the story Good Night, Gorilla. When students review the cover of the book, we would be able to ask and answer the following “Wh” questions:

  • Who is the main character in the story?
  • Where does the story take place?
  • What time of day is it?

Comics fit under narrative language. Students may take existing comics from the newspaper or create their own comics through blank comic pages or electronic comic access. When we are designing a comic, I give my students a template before they begin illustrating it. The template is a simplified form that addresses who is in the story, where the story takes place, what event will occur, and when the story takes place. I have students complete this first so that they are prepared and organized when developing their own comics.

I must confess I am a movie buff! I often watch movie trailers before I view or rent a movie. There are always questions that need to be asked: Who are the actors or the protagonist and antagonist? Where does the movie take place? When is the time of day or year? And most importantly, what is the movie about? There are wealth of movie themes and genres to access via KidTube and TeacherTube that we can use to reach different interests in the classroom.

Personal stories and events are always a must for my students. I tell students that no matter what happens in their lives, whether it’s a small or large event, every story is worth telling. This is a great opportunity for teachers to build rapport with our students, finding out the good and maybe the not-always-positive experiences that they have been through. I do make a point to tell them that their stories and their lives mean so much to me! The sequencing of events may be difficult for some students because they may not have the language skills needed to put the story in order. Again, breaking down into “Wh” questions helps students share their story, their personal events, and the lives that they are leading.

Routine activities are a critical component in everyone’s life. I sometimes need to ask myself where had I put something, how did I use it last time, when should I be using it, and who did I loan it to? When I create visual schedules for students, I think this is an opportunity to capitalize on the work of “Wh” questions. Some of my students think I am the stereotypical “absent-minded professor,” but again, I am giving them the opportunity to practice asking and answering valuable “Wh” questions related to routines and predictability.


One of my favorite games is Clue. A Clue game about “Who stole the missing cake?” is a motivating event and problem-solving experience! Other “Wh” question games may be created by the students. This in turn increases higher-order thinking and greater buy‑in for participation.

Interactive Websites

For distance learning I routinely rely upon interactive websites for the continuation of my “Wh” question work with my students. News‑2‑You is a great source of real‑world content that helps develop their critical thinking through interactive activities and features, and every issue includes cross-curricular “Wh” questions focused on the topic of the newspaper. In addition, you can find online interactive tasks and more in Unique Learning System, a complete reading program that offers monthly ELA instruction with specific approaches and methods for unique learners.

In closing, one of my most preferred questions that I ask my students (from preschool to high school) is, “Where do you think the best?” Below is the setting where I think the best and put the most creativity into my work.

About the Author

MariBeth Plankers is a Speech-Language Pathologist, Assistive Technology Professional. She is the Director of the Regional Assistive Technology Center at Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM), a lending library for Assistive Technology. At MSUM Speech Language and Hearing Clinic MariBeth is also a Clinical Supervisor of graduate student clinicians in the areas of augmentative alternative communication, autism spectrum disorder, reading and written language needs and assistive technology.