Q: My sixth-grader is getting lower grades in social studies because she fails to participate in classroom discussions as much as she should. She’s 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 friends and not excel in classroom discussions and other oral work. 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 and intimidating 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. Read part of an assignment that your daughter has read in her social studies textbook. Then ask her simple questions for her to answer orally. Encourage her to listen for question words — 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, ask questions that use terms like “largest,” “most populated” and “least industrialized” and follow the same procedure you used with the question words.
Next, 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 more information was needed. Do not expect instant improvement. Be willing to work with your child on answering questions for several weeks or longer. Practice will eventually help her acquire this skill. It would be wise to clue your child’s teacher into how the child is trying to become better at answering questions and ask for additional suggestions.
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