Q:

In sixth grade, my daughter is now getting lower grades in social studies because she fails to participate in classroom discussions as much as she should. The teacher also says that the child's answers to questions aren't complete enough. She is not a particularly shy child, so I don't think this is the problem. Is there anything that we can do at home to help her? - Reluctant Speaker

A:

Children can be conversational whizzes at home and with their friends and not star in classroom discussions and other oral work as you would expect them to. Being an effective speaker in one situation does not necessarily mean that a child will speak as well in all situations. Classroom speech is more formal than conversations with friends and family.

If your child wants to improve her classroom speaking skills, you should be able to help her do this. Begin by working on question-answering skills, as they are so important. Read part of an assignment that your daughter has read in her social studies textbook. Then begin to ask her simple questions. Have her watch for question words like "who," "what," "when," "where," "why" and "how" that will give her clues to the answer. Before she answers, ask her to tell you exactly what information is being asked for. Next, go on to asking her questions that use words like "largest," "most populated" and "least industrialized," and follow the same procedure you used with the question words.

The next step is to work on end-of-chapter or study-sheet questions that will be similar to those the teacher will ask. Be sure to have your daughter tell you what information she will need to provide before she answers a question. If her answers are incomplete, reread the question and have her talk about what further information was needed. Do not expect instant improvement. Be willing to work with your child on answering questions for several weeks or even longer. Practice will eventually help her acquire this skill.

It would be wise to clue your child's teacher in to how the child is trying to become better at answering questions, and ask for additional suggestions. A conversation between your daughter and the teacher could help them devise ways to make it easier for your daughter to participate in class. Teachers like to help children who are working to improve their skills.