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How to promote Language development using Marion Blank's levels of questioning

Updated on June 17, 2017
Image by Charmaine725 from
Image by Charmaine725 from

Who is Marion Blank?

Marion Blank is a developmental psychologist who specializes in language development. She has several degrees from the City College of New York and a PHD from Columbia University. She has developed award winning educational for children with learning disabilities. These programs focus on literacy and speech. Some of her programs have been used to help children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder who experience difficulties with communication.

Blank's levels form a developmental progression

  1. Level one involves naming items

A child begins to name simple items of significance to them between the ages of one to two. When a child is 2-3 years old they should be able to identify a number of objects. The visual literacy required to identify representations of objects in picture books may take slightly longer to develop.

  1. Level two involves noticing details

By the age of three to four children can distinguish more details. They may be able to name the colour or shape. They may also identify items in the background of the main picture. They may notice some items “go together” or “do not fit” with the other items. (Matching, sorting or categorising)

  1. Level Three involves predictions and generalisations

By four to five years of age many children can speculate regarding what would happen next. They can also practice some imaginative empathy and pretend to be the person or animal in the picture. They may be able to create connections between pictures or pages of a book. They may also be able to make generalisations connecting the pictures to real life scenarios.

  1. Level 4 involves problem solving, identifying causes and making explanations

Sometime around or after five years of age children become confident generating their own ideas. They are able to speculate as to why things happen and apply experience gained from their daily activities and/or play to provide explanations. They can generate also different options and solutions to problems.

Simple questions stimulate language development

Blank developed four levels of questioning to help stimulate a child’s language development.

The first level asks the child to identify objects that are present in the room or represented in a picture. The focus may be mastery of nouns (naming words). For example:

  • What is that?
  • Who is that?
  • What is it called?
  • Show me a ____ (noun)?

More advanced questions lengthen children's answers

The second level also focuses on objects that are present, but asks for more details. This also stimulates longer answers and the use of adjectives (describing words), pronouns (gender specific or neutral substitutes for names) verbs (doing words) and adverbs.

Questions may include:

  • What is happening?
  • Where are they?
  • What colour is the car?
  • Show me something that is big. (Applied concept)
  • Find all the butterflies. (Matching)

Basic sentence formation is stimulated, for example: a short answer to the question, “What is he doing?” may be “He is jumping”. This answer is a simple sentence which connects a pronoun and a verb. A longer answer may be “He is jumping on the mini-tramp”. This answer is also a simple sentence, but involves a subject (noun 1), verb and object (noun 2).

Questions may inspire simple stories

The third level includes objects that may not be present and promotes speculation about the future. Questions become more subtle and complex. The child must notice minor details in the picture and use language to talk about language.

  • What could happen next?
  • Where do you think they are going?
  • What is wrong with the picture?
  • Point to the food that the monkey likes. (Making connections)

Questions can stimulate thinking

Level four questions involve objects that are not present and may stimulate verbal problem solving. The questions may ask the child to speculate about cause and effect.

  • Why do you think they are doing that?
  • How can we fix the broken wheel?
  • Where could we get more bananas?
  • How can you tell he is having fun?
  • What do you think Mum will say when she sees them?

Please note that these exercises are about creating an explanation. The child does not have to be “right”. For example, a young child may suggest we glue the broken wheel together. Do not tell them that they are wrong because glue is not strong enough. Suitable follow up questions may involve something like: “If the wheel breaks again, what else could we do?’

Free Questioning Aids

Words  by Cecelia, photos by Allan
Words by Cecelia, photos by Allan
Words by Cecelia, Photo by Allan
Words by Cecelia, Photo by Allan

How to use the questioning aids.

I tried to post these aids in PDF format but Hubpages doesn’t seem to allow me to link them.

  • Click on the aids and “Save Picture”.
  • Print out on a colour printer and laminate if desired.
  • Sit down with the child in a comfortable spot and ask them the questions about the pictures.
  • Note the child’s answers. What level question did they answer comfortably?
  • Was there anything interesting or unique about their answers?
  • At what point did they begin to stumble and appear unsure?

More Aids available in a book

These two aids were developed in the early stages of collecting photographs for the book "Special Pictures to Talk About" which is now available on Amazon and CreateSpace.

Language aid book published in 2007. ISBN: 978-0-646-97235-0, available on Amazon.
Language aid book published in 2007. ISBN: 978-0-646-97235-0, available on Amazon.

References & Acknowlegements

Pictures in "Questioning aids" are photographs taken by Allan for this project.


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