Verbal reasoning involves listening and reading. Demonstrating verbal reasoning requires speaking and writing. Verbal reasoning -- one of four basic cognitive reasoning skills -- encompasses almost all learning tasks considered part of a formal education. Even mathematics, which is a nonverbal skill, requires some verbal reasoning because it's generally taught through oral or written instruction. When most people discuss learning, they're talking about the ability to use verbal reasoning skills.

Working to Define Verbal Reasoning

Education Testing Service researchers Nancy E. Burton, et al., say verbal reasoning cannot be defined by a single coherent cognitive theory; rather, it represents several distinct thought processes that defy a precise definition. Verbal reasoning involves making meaning based on the information given, going beyond that information to a better understanding and applying verbal skills to new learning. While speaking and listening are part of verbal reasoning, most formal verbal reasoning involves reading and writing. Also, while verbal reasoning sometimes refers to any task involving language, it most specifically refers to more complex thinking tasks, such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation of text. At its core, it's interactive reading that results in a change in background knowledge, attitudes and beliefs.

Verbal Reasoning Development

Learning to interact with text early leads to life-long learning.
Learning to interact with text early leads to life-long learning.

According to the Cambridgeshire Community Services, verbal reasoning skills develop between the ages of 4 and 6. During this time, children start to answer who-what-why questions, make predictions, classify things as belonging to specific categories, identify similarities and differences between objects and retell stories in sequence.

Verbal Reasoning as a Skill

Verbal reasoning, along with other cognitive abilities, was once considered a fixed, inherited trait. However, as Social Theory founder Albert Bandura points out, this isn't true. In fact, students who are told that ability manifests from hard work do considerably better on cognitive tasks than those who are told their abilities are fixed -- in short, that they're smart. Unfortunately, according to Stephen McConkey, author of "Learning Together," verbal reasoning is not a skill typically taught directly in most school curricula. Students who don't develop these skills on their own have a serious disadvantage and risk failure unless someone intervenes.

How to Help

The most important thing you can do is to encourage your child to read.
The most important thing you can do is to encourage your child to read.

To help improve verbal reasoning skills, McConkey says children must be encouraged to read a wide variety of books. Those who do so improve both their vocabularies and background knowledge. He also suggests playing word games such as Boggle, Scrabble and Hangman and doing crosswords, word searches and anagrams. He suggests making a game out of challenges such as finding antonyms and synonyms, spotting the odd word in a list of related words and in using spelling strategies, such as teaching homonyms. These activities can be fun, but at the same time children learn skills they need to reason.

Other Cognitive Reasoning Skills

While verbal reasoning is the most important skill in terms of academic learning, it isn't the only one. Numerical reasoning, which is the ability to work with numbers, is important in mathematics. Logic reasoning, using deductive and inductive reasoning to solve problems, is important in math and science. Spatial reasoning, the ability to visualize and manipulate objects, is less valued in academics but is extremely valuable in construction, manufacturing, engineering and architecture. Everyone can reason -- the key helping children appreciate their strengths and strengthen their weaknesses.