Strategies for understanding and asking WH questions for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

by Jennifer Manley, MS, CED

Understanding and answering questions are essential skills many children with hearing loss find challenging.  When teaching these skills, you’ll likely begin with basic WH questions, “Who,” “What,” and “Where” before you tackle the higher-level questions, “When,” “Why,” and “How.”  These simple questions are the easiest to understand and master because you can use visual cues, such as a picture or an object, to prompt an answer.

Using visual and other cues, you can support the development of understanding and asking questions with several strategies.

  • Work on one question type at a time. Make sure the child understands and masters answering one question type before moving on to a second type.  This will reduce confusion.
  • Make a poster for each wh-question to use as a visual cue. Explicitly teach that “Who” questions are answered with a person, “What” questions are answered with a thing or animal, and “Where” questions require a response that indicates a place.  Cut pictures from magazines to add to each poster.
  • Color-code the question type on posters to help with carryover of skills into written language. When making a class book or writing sentences on the whiteboard, be consistent with the colors for each wh-question. Share this system with parents, too.
  • Make sure to teach the language needed to respond to each question type. For example, when teaching how to respond to “Where” questions, you can also teach prepositions behind, in, under, and next to.
  • In the beginning, ask questions requiring responses that use concrete objects and familiar people. Objects to show the child as well as pictures of family and friends will help ensure understanding and can help prompt language if needed.
  • If prompting is needed, repeat the question and have the child answer it again. The repetition will help solidify learning.
  • Acoustically highlight the WH question word. The questions sound similar, so calling attention to the question type may be all that is needed.

Being consistent and using repetition are key for these strategies.  With time, your student with hearing loss will be able to move on to the next question: when will we learn more questions?!

Jennifer Manley served as a classroom teacher for students ages 3 to 12 at CID – Central Institute for the Deaf. She currently works in professional development giving presentations on auditory development and is co-author of CID SPICE for Life, an auditory learning curriculum and author of the 2nd edition of CID SPICE.

3 replies
  1. Sarah S.
    Sarah S. says:

    Thank you for the strategies and information you provided in this post! I am currently a graduate student studying multiple and severe disabilities, and am taking a course that focuses on teaching language and literacy to the deaf and hard of hearing. Before this course I never realized the literacy issues that often come hand-in-hand with growing up with a hearing impairment or deafness, since so many of my past courses have focused on disabilities other than these. This list is compact and to the point, and also contains concrete strategies (such as creating a poster or color-coding the question types) that I will easily be able to apply across content areas in my classroom. I think students with disabilities other than hearing impairments and deafness will also benefit from these strategies, because many students with processing and decoding issues learn more easily after being taught a subject matter more explicitly.

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  2. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Thank you for sharing these strategies! I think explicitly teaching the language needed to respond to each type of question would be so valuable. I am currently student teaching in a bilingual setting, and recently, when I was working with a student on a short creative writing prompt, I asked him a “how” question and he responded with an answer that really fit a “where” question. I was ready to switch gears, as his answer provided a different kind of elaboration but was still elaboration, but the teaching assistant intervened, explaining that I asked HOW and reinforcing the prompt. It hadn’t occurred to me that the student might not immediately or explicitly know what kind of language is required to respond to a “how” question. One additional challenge that this strategy brings up is how to teach or re-teach that specific language skill in a way that fits the interests and maturity levels of older students (regardless of language/modality preferences); perhaps it could be reinforced through intentionally selecting or modifying/writing texts that emphasize these question words and embedding close reading of the language into a larger close reading activity with multiple goals.

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  3. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    I liked the strategy of explicitly providing students with HOW to answer each question. For instance, if a who question is asked, the answer needs to be a person. I also liked the suggestion of adding prepositions to where questions. I think color coding a chart with the question words is another great suggestion as it provides a visual distinction between each word. This chart could be hung in a classroom next to a word wall for when students are working on literacy. Thanks for the posting these strategies!

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