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5 Steps to Teaching “Who” Questions to AAC Users

Posted Sep 2, 2015 - 12:48pm

By Carrie Clark, CCC-SLP

When children are learning to speak, one of the things they learn is how to answer questions. Some children pick this up easily, and others need a speech therapist or parent to help them through and teach it to them directly.

Children who use Augmentative-Alternative Communication AAC are no different. Some of them will easily pick up on how to answer questions and others will not. If you are working with a child who hasn’t quite figured it out, I recommend teaching each type of question separately, such as “yes/no”, “who”, “what”, “where”, etc. This article will give you an idea of how to teach the child “who” questions.

Step One: Who’s This? (Self and Important Others)

First, we just want the child to answer “who’s this” when talking about the child or another familiar person who is important in the child’s life. To get set up, make sure there is a place on the child’s device with names of familiar people (including the child). This may be under another button like “people” or “categories”. I recommend having a photo of each person along with his/her name. Make sure the photo is just the face and on as simple of a background as possible. This will be easiest for the child to see.

Start with simply asking “who’s this” when pointing either at the child, yourself, or another familiar person. This is the easiest type of “who” question to answer, but be prepared that it might take the child a while to learn this if they have trouble with identifying people’s names. When you ask “who’s this” and point to your child, you want him to push the button with his picture on the device. If he doesn’t push it on his own, push the button for him and say his name out loud. Then, point to yourself and say “who’s this?”. If the child doesn’t respond, push the button with your picture and say your own name out loud. Keep doing this back and forth for a while to give a good model. Each time you ask, pause to see if he will push the button on his own.

If you’ve been modeling for a while and the child isn’t responding, try giving him cues, like saying “push Charlie” or nudging his arm/hand in the right direction. Fade back your prompting as possible when the child starts to respond on his own. Continue doing this with other familiar people who are immediately present (in the same room) until the child has mastered the important, familiar people in his life.

Step Two: Who’s This? (Pictures of Familiar People)

Now we want the child to answer “who’s this” with pictures of familiar people. Choose photos of people that the child comes into contact with frequently. Children that he sees on a regular basis would be good but not distant relatives that he sees once a year. However, if there is a distant relative that is highly offended that the child doesn’t know her name, you may want to throw her picture in to practice! 

Put a picture in front of your child and say “who’s this?” Start with pictures of you, the child, and other important people. For the first few trials, navigate to the correct location and answer the question for the child by pushing the correct button. Model this correctly many times.Once the child has seen the model, navigate back to the home page and ask the question again. This time, provide as much prompting or support as the child needs to answer the question. Back off your support as possible. When he can spontaneously name each of those pictures, start adding in other familiar people. Keep doing this until the child is able to spontaneously name all of the pictures you have.

Step Three: Who’s This? (Community Helpers)

Now that the child can name familiar people, try “who” questions about community helpers. These are people like firefighters, policemen, doctors, mailmen, etc. These may already be programmed into the child’s device, or you may need to add them yourself.

Print out pictures of these types of people from the internet (Google Image search for community helpers or community helpers coloring sheets). Put one in front of the child and say “who’s this?” Show him how to find the correct location and push the correct community helper. Keep doing this in the same way as the above steps until the child can name a wide range of community helpers using his device.

Step Four: Who does…? (With Picture Choices)

Now it’s time to move on to some more difficult who questions. Other types of “who” questions you could ask include questions like “who do you go see when you get sick?” or “who brings the mail?”. You could also ask “who” questions about recent events in your child’s life, like “who brought you to school today” or “who made your breakfast”. The idea is that you want to ask “who” questions that go beyond just “who’s this”.

For this step, do this with some choices in front of your child. To start, lay down two pictures of people in front of your child. Then, ask a question that would be answered with one of those people. For example, lay down a picture of you and a picture of a firefighter and say “who puts out fires?” Now, as long as you haven’t been lighting and putting out fires in the child’s presence, he should pick the firefighter.

If the child points to the correct picture, respond with “That’s right the firefighter puts out fires. Let’s see if we can find him on your talker” and then show him how to navigate to that response. If the child points to the wrong picture, correct him and then show him where to find the correct choice on the talker. If the child really has trouble with this concept, try just putting one picture choice in front of him until he gets the idea of the activity and then add the second back in. Once the child can answer these questions with two picture choices, increase it to three. More choices make it more difficult. Be prepared that this step may take a while for the child to learn. Keep increasing choices until you have 4-6 choices in front of your child and he is still able to answer them.

Step Five: “Who” Questions about Things Not Present (No Picture Choices)

Now that the child can answer a variety of “who” questions with picture choices, it’s time to take away the pictures. Just ask the child random “who” questions and see if he can answer them. The more questions you ask, the better he will get at this.

When you ask the question, pause for a moment to see if the child remembers how to answer. If he has trouble, give him cues that will help remind him of what to do. You can say something like “I asked a ‘who’ question so you need to find your where names are” (or however the child’s device is set up). Provide plenty of modeling and good examples of how to answer the questions when possible. You can even bring in a peer to use the device to answer the questions as well. Just make sure that you and the peer are repeating what the talker says out loud after you push the button so that speech is modeled for the child as well.

The great part about this step is that you don’t need any materials. However, if the child is really struggling with this, you can always bring the choices back out. You could also give verbal choices if he’s stuck on a particular question. For example, if you asked “who puts bad guys in jail” and he still can’t come up with anything, you could say “do you think it’s the police man, an astronaut, or Mommy?”


At this point, the child should be able to answer basic “who” questions using his AAC device. Beyond these five steps, you can also work with the child on responding to “who” questions throughout his day as they occur. Just point out when a “who” question is asked and remind the child of what to do when he hears “who”. Keep in mind that you may have to continue to add new people to the child’s device as new people enter the child’s life or as he learns about new roles and people in school. Make sure that the child has access to buttons to allow him to talk about the people who are being discussed in his education, like historical figures.

Use the Who Am I? lesson plan for more tips and materials to use in conjunction with this post.

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