Use Questions to Stimulate Thinking and Writing

A few months ago, we began our Linguistic Series based on one of our Chinese blog posts. You can read the original here.

The article delved deep into our children’s natural ability to pick up new languages. As Chinese is a compact language, there were many ideas packed into very few words. In order to do justice to each point, we thought it best to split the piece into a series.


This week, we discuss how to use questions to stimulate thinking and writing in Chinese. We will be focusing on writing in terms of formulating thoughts and ideas in a coherent, logical argument. For more details on the different styles of writing in Chinese, please refer to our previous piece in the series.

 Writing Is Asking Yourself Questions and Answering Them 

Writing is one of those skills that many people falsely attribute to talent and inspiration. Like any art form, it’s nice to have innate ability and a muse, but ultimately, it comes down to a learned skill and practice. Lots of practice.

These techniques are not limited to Chinese writing and can be applied to any language - including your dominant one. However, here we are advocating writing in Chinese specifically as a tool to improve our children’s Chinese fluency in ways that are not normally considered.

One of the easiest techniques is to write as if you are talking to someone, and part of holding a conversation with someone else is the interplay between asking and answering questions. A good persuasive piece will bring up a subject and address most (if not all) the questions a given person may have on the topic.

 Teach Kids to Learn How to Ask and Answer Questions 

You would think that asking questions isn’t a skill that also needs to be taught, but it does. Mostly because philosophically, your questions reveal your focus, and if you ask the wrong question, you may not get the answers you want - both for the subject at hand and in life. Furthermore, whether your children are attempting a serious persuasive piece, a casual letter, or writing a novel, it all requires anticipating and then properly answering the questions their reader will ask.

Although this article seems to focus on general writing skills, if you can help your child develop these skills in Chinese, not only will their writing improve (in any language), but their speaking should also be elevated because their thinking in Chinese will become increasingly sophisticated and nuanced.

The first basic questions our children need to answer in their writing are: Who?  What? When? Where? Why? How?


Who is narrating? Who is their audience? Who would object to this piece? Who is this story about? Who affects the main characters? Who influenced them?

What is their thesis? What is the plot? What is happening? What is the point of this story? What do they want their audience to believe, agree or be outraged about after finishing the piece?

When did or will this happen? Will the time period affect what your child needs to provide as background information for their audience? Will there be other questions brought up due to the timing? If they change the time period, how will the tone of the piece change?

Where does this story take place? Where does the majority of your child’s audience reside? Where is the narrative arc heading? Where, emotionally, do they want their audience to end up?

Why is your child telling this story? Why are they choosing this argument and supporting evidence? Why is their point important? Why is it valid? Why do they think their readers should agree with them?

How should your child approach their story or essay? How can they head off potential objections or thorny situations? How can they set up their piece in a logical manner so that the resolution is appropriate? How should the story or article be resolved? How will they come to a satisfying conclusion?

Beyond these questions, you can stimulate your children’s curiosity by asking “what if” and comparative/differentiating questions.

For example, what if superheroes truly existed? Would the insurance premiums in their home cities be increasingly untenable due to the high probability of property destruction? Would the presence of a superhero attract instead of deter supervillains from flocking to the city? As a result, would it be safer or more dangerous for the average citizen to move to that city? What is the difference between a superhero and a supervillain? Why did your child choose to emphasize these differences? Is it fair to presume that people with superpowers are obligated to protect and serve the general public? (If your children can actually write these terms in Chinese, your work is done.)

Even something as simple as an office email can fail at adequately answering all these questions and cause major annoyance to the recipients. Teaching your child to effectively write and think will not only improve their Chinese abilities, but will also help their future academic and work prospects in their dominant language.

Posted in English, 教養心得, 語文發展 Language, 語文閒話.