How was your day? Good. Good. What did you do? I don’t know.

Pulling up an event from the past, even the near past, without any other prompts, or visual stimuli and then coming up with a system to organize the information and present it to someone who wasn’t there, (even though you may still be operating in ego-centric thought, and just assume that others know what you know) is a huge task for a preschooler. So let’s break this question down and scaffold it for your student to get a response that matches the best of their language and memory abilities, and the fullness of their day.

Start broad, narrow in, use visually charged language.

We want our students to be able to answer open-ended questions and be able to organize their thoughts so it is still appropriate to ask a young child a broad question. When you get a non-response, then you can start to narrow in your questioning. A lot of memory is visual so use visual language as you question. “What did you see when you were outside? If “outside” is too broad, try a specific place. Children call the area where we play in the afternoon “the grassy area” or “grandma’s garden.” Use specific verbs. Replace do with play, sing, read, etc. “What did you play with at the table during centers?” This question activates a specific place and a specific action for the child to recall. More specific questions provide a framework for students to organize their responses. Another way you can scaffold your questioning is to pull up the child’s “schema” of the day for them. Activate the images and memories of the day by giving a summary using keywords from the theme of the week. You can find the theme at the top of the lesson plan. “Wow, you talked a lot about dinosaurs today! What did you play with at the table during centers?” By pulling up a keyword or image first, you can clue them in to your question before you ask it.

Wait for a good time to talk.

It is important to respect young children’s attention abilities, if a child is mid block tower, that’s a good time to talk about or narrate the block tower, not ask them about their school day. Catch them during a calm time, maybe after reading a story that has the same theme as their classroom. You can also build talking about the day into your dinner-time or bedtime routine. At those times you can model first by talking about your day. As you talk you can model how you pull up a memory. “What did I do today? Hmmm. . I sat in my office, oh and I got to add more details to my project, and I talked to my friend on the phone.”

Use art and creations from the day to prompt a memory.

Use artifacts from the day. Take a picture of their work on the wall and always take contents of the cubby home even if you just use it for your conversation. You could also take a picture walk on Google Photos together to spark a memory. When asking students about their art keep in mind, their work may not be representational or static yet. Representational drawing can begin late in the second year through the third year when students set out to draw something specific. They have understood that they can use a symbol or drawing to represent the real thing. Even when representational drawing begins, the image may not be static, and hold its meaning to the artist. What was a strawberry in the morning may be a sheep in the afternoon. Keeping these developmental milestones in mind can guide your questioning. Instead of asking a pre-representational artist “What is it?” try questioning to the materials. “What did you use to make this?” “What colors did you use?”

Repeat and Extend.

This is a responding strategy you probably use instinctively that is essential to language development. Repeat back your child’s response and then add a little more to it each time.“Ball!” “Wow! Look at the red ball!” This offers affirmation and extends their vocabulary.

Putting It All Together.

Prepping your student by activating images from the day

“I heard you talked a lot about dinosaurs today!”

Start broad, narrow in.

“What did you do today? What did you play with at the table?”

Using artifacts from the day

“Look what I found in your cubby! Tell me about your picture, how did you make it? What did you use?”

Repeat and Extend

“You used red, you used a lot of red, you must really like that color!”


Written by Rachel Heincman

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