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Study: Preschool Story Time Should Involve Complex Questions

Research has shown that the questions preschool teachers ask during story time play a key role in how much children learn.

But a new study involving 96 teachers and their students suggests that preschool teachers may be asking too few questions, and the questions they do ask are often too simple.

For the study, the teachers were videotaped while reading to their class the 25-page book Kingdom of Friends, which is about two friends who argue at playtime but learn how to resolve their problems.

The researchers transcribed all talk during the reading session. They recorded 5,207 questions asked by teachers and 3,469 child responses.

The results show that only 24 percent of what teachers said outside of reading the text were questions. And the kids answered those questions correctly 85 percent of the time.

“When kids get 85 percent of the questions right, that means the questions the teacher is asking are too easy,” said Laura Justice, Ph.D., co-author of the study and professor of educational psychology at The Ohio State University.

“We don’t want to ask all difficult questions. But we should be coaxing children along cognitively and linguistically by occasionally offering challenging questions.”

In addition, around 52 percent of the questions asked by teachers were yes-no type questions, such as “Does he look happy?” As expected, most of them resulted in one-word answers from children.

The other 48 percent of questions included “what” and “why” questions like “What did he do?” and “Why do you say ‘friends’?” This also included what the researchers called “how-procedural” questions, like “How did they become friends again?”

“When the teachers asked these more sophisticated how-procedural questions, the children would give more elaborate and complex answers,” Justice said. “Those are the kind of questions we need more of.”

Asking these more sophisticated and difficult questions means that children are more likely to give wrong or inappropriate answers, she said. But that’s okay.

While this study was done with teachers, the same lessons apply for parents. Previous studies suggest that many parents don’t ask any questions at all when they’re reading with their children.

“There should be teachable moments where teachers can help their students learn something new. You have a conversation that is conceptually challenging for the child, because that is going to push their development forward,” Justice said.

Some experts recommend that 60 to 70 percent of shared reading conversations should be easy, but 30 to 40 percent should challenge children to learn new concepts.

Overall, story time should include lots of questions, including ones that allow children to stretch their language and thinking abilities, said Justice. For example, a parent or teacher could ask the child “How do you think this book will end?”

“You can see how a question like that is going to evoke a complex response,” Justice said. “With some practice and reflection, we can change how we talk with children during shared reading and help them develop stronger language and reading skills.”

The findings are published in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

Source: The Ohio State University



Study: Preschool Story Time Should Involve Complex Questions

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2019). Study: Preschool Story Time Should Involve Complex Questions. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Aug 2019 (Originally: 14 Aug 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Aug 2019
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