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This section contains our advice and resources specific to practitioners working in schools. Please see the other sections in the Toolkit alongside your area of interest for more information.

Our screening assessment tool uses pictures and tasks to help identify children who may have speech, language or communication difficulties. By completing the screen, you will know if the child would benefit from some extra support or whether they would meet the criteria for a referral to the Children's Speech and Language Therapy Service (CSLT).

To ensure you get the most out of our screening tool, we have developed a video which talks you through completing the screen and provides you with some useful tips.

You can watch the video here.

To access a copy of the screen, please fill in the request form below and email it to 

Screening tool request form

If you have any questions please contact our team on 01138433600

Reduce background noise

  • Reduce background noise during direct teaching by shutting doors and windows.

  • Reduce background noise by turning off computers, projectors, music etc.

  • Move working groups as far as reasonably possible from the main teaching area.

Use visuals

  • Ensure all resources within classrooms are labelled clearly with a picture and text.

  • Label key learning areas in class and ensure these relate to any learning areas identified on the visual timetable.

  • Keep class rules short and supported with visuals; ensure they are referred to in class when needed.

Visual timetables

  • Visual timetables should be the same across the setting in orientation and presentation i.e. top/down, colours used.

  • Visual timetables should be easily visible to all pupils in class e.g. next to the white board.

  • Refer to the visual timetable throughout the day and use a consistent system across the setting e.g. remove symbols when the activity is complete, or move the arrow marker to the next activity.

Consider transitions

  • Use children’s names to warn them when a change is coming.

  • Repeat and chunk instructions with pauses to support pupils understanding.

  • Use timers, a visual countdown or warning to mark that the end of an activity is coming up.

Using display boards

  • Have clear displays using pictures, objects and written words to reinforce curriculum topics – highlight the key vocabulary.

  • Have a working wall where children can add words that they learn and use this to talk about the words added.

  • Model to children how to use the display boards when doing independent work.


  • Start/finish boxes can be used to extend the amount of time the child can sit and attend to an adult led task. The use of boxes / baskets helps the child visually see what they are expected to do before a reward e.g. a sticker / free play.
  • Sand timers can be useful to visually show the child how long you want them to listen or join in for.

Activity ideas

  • READY STEADY GO GAMES - Encourage the child to sit and wait for ‘go’ before they do an activity e.g. building / knocking down towers, passing a ball, rolling a car, the child pinching the end of an inflated balloon and waiting for ‘go’ before letting go.
  • TURN TAKING - Sit in a circle and take turns to play motivational games such as posting, fishing, lotto, feely bag, passing a clap or hand squeeze around a circle. Older children could say their name or favourite food when a ball or beanbag is thrown to them.
  • ANIMAL ANTICS - Put a selection of familiar animals in front of the child. Make the sound of one of the animals and let the children take turns to find it.
  • USING SONGS AND STORIES - Encourage the child to sit in a group and join in with songs or stories. Pause before the ends       of sentences and wait for the child to fill in the gaps “the wheels on the ….(bus)” or “we’re going on a ……(bear hunt)”.
    • Silly Stories - Read a familiar story and see if the child can spot any mistakes e.g. using the wrong character name or wrong action to the picture.
    • Story games - Read a short story to a small group. Change characters names to the children’s names in the group – let the children stand up if they hear their name.
    • Look at books, pictures or photos - Encourage the child to talk about them, describe what is happening and find objects in the pictures.
    • Hear the beat - Use shakers, drums etc to make two or three sounds in a sequence to be copied by the child.
    • Listening walks - (DfES Letters and Sounds) – listen to the sounds around the nursery / school. Talk about the different sounds that you can hear. Make a list or a drawing of all the sounds the child can remember e.g. children talking, water splashing, door shutting, aeroplane, birds etc.
    • Music games - Play musical statues or musical bumps and when the music stops the child has to do an action e.g. clap hands, stamp feet etc.
    • Sound lotto - Make your own or use a commercial package. The child listens to the sounds and puts a counter on the matching picture.
  • RED, AMBER, GREEN – This game is fun to play outside! Let the child run around and listen for the colours. When you say green the child can run. Red means stop and amber means sit down or clap hands.
  • FOLLOW THE LEADER - Sit in a circle. The leader asks the group to carry out simple actions. The child must wait until they hear “go”, e.g. “touch your toes…go” “jump up and down…..go”. Leave a pause between the instructions and “go” and gradually increase this time. Once the child is confident, make the instructions harder e.g. “stamp your feet and then shout your name…go”.

The ideal setting for circle games is preferably in a quiet environment, free from distractions such as background noise.

Group “rules” should be established – use visuals to reinforce “good listening”, “good looking” and “good sitting”. Make sure to show these when you are seeing GOOD examples, in order to teach what they mean.

Group activity ideas

  • The teacher counts to ten and then the children listen in silence for any sounds they hear e.g. a door shutting, a plane, children playing outside etc. Afterwards the children put their hands up to say something that they heard.
  • Pass a tambourine around the group in total silence. The aim is for no sound to be made, including the instrument.
  • Pass-a-sound / mime / squeeze. For example:
    • Squeeze: Holding hands, a squeeze is passed from person to person. This is done silently and can be done ‘invisibly’ without looking at each other as the ‘squeeze’ occurs.
    • Zoom-beep: The word ‘zoom’ is passed around the circle with good eye contact from child to child. A child can choose to say ‘beep’ instead, which means the ‘zoom’ goes in the opposite direction.
    • Faces: A selected person thinks of a facial expression, gesture or a mime to pass round the group.
  • Who is the Leader? A child exits the room while a leader is chosen to make actions for the group to copy. On return the child has to guess who is starting the actions.
  • Find-the-Lighthouse - The child who is the lighthouse stands in a chosen spot with a tambourine. The children who are the rocks spread around sitting down. The child who is the ship is led in blindfolded and has to get to the lighthouse by following the sound of the tambourine. The rocks are obstacles to work his/her way around.
  • Pirates - A child is blindfolded and seated on a chair in the centre with the ‘treasure’ in front of the chair (e.g. a bunch of keys). Children and props form various obstacles; the thief needs to tiptoe through and get the keys. If the pirate points to the thief when a noise occurs, he/she is out!
  • Fruit Basket - The children are divided into groups and called a fruit name. The child in the centre calls a fruit name e.g. ‘lemons!’ All the lemons get up and change places while the centre child tries to take a place. The child left standing at the end becomes the one in the centre. If ‘fruit basket’ is called, everybody has to change places. Variation: group names are not given but the child calls out an attribute e.g. ‘black hair’ ‘green socks’.
  • Who Has Gone? One child is blindfolded or has their eyes closed (make sure they cannot see!). Another is selected to leave the room. The first child can open their eyes and ask questions to find out who left. (Suggestion: Yes/ No questions only e.g. ‘Is it a boy?’, ‘do they wear glasses?’ etc).
  • Feet Numbers - The children are divided into small groups. The teacher calls out a number and the children must have that number of feet on the ground as a group. Variation: still standing but number equals number of hands on the ground.
  • Simon Says - The children must carry out commands but only respond when the leader starts the command with ‘Simon says…..touch your toes, stamp your feet, clap your hands etc’
  • Kim’s Game - The children look at a set of objects, then one item is removed and they must guess which item is missing.
  • Shopping List - each child recites the shopping list and adds another item e.g. ‘I went to the shops and bought a pineapple, a jigsaw and…..a ruler’. Variation: list activities e.g. ‘On holiday I….. saw a fish, ate ice-cream, swam in the sea’ etc.
  • Run to your Corner - The children are given a name from 4 groups. They walk around the room until the teacher allocates corners e.g. ‘All the birds there!’ ‘All the clothes over here!’ etc. Children must stay in their corner until their next turn. Children are out if they go to the wrong corner or are the last one there.
  • Sharing Feelings/ Ideas - select a feeling for each round. Each child has a go e.g. ‘I feel cross when…..’ Select an experience e.g. ‘Yesterday I enjoyed…..’ ‘If I were a…… (e.g. animal, fruit, vehicle/ story character, etc) I would be….’
  • Story- Maker - The children make a story by adding one word or phrase at a time.
  • Present your Partner - The group agrees useful things to find out about a person. Pairs of children interview each other simultaneously and then take turns to present each other to the whole group.
  • What Would You Do? A situation or problem is presented for the child to discuss or solve. They could be written on cards and placed in a box in the centre. The children can also be split into discussion groups to later share their ideas with the whole group.
  • Make a Happy Day - The teacher describes a child’s day containing various difficult events. The story is revised with the children’s discussing and suggesting ways of preventing/ turning the difficulties around.
  • Lotto Games - lotto games can make listening to speech more more fun. Make lotto boards using the target vocabulary as follows: Make up boards containing 4 or 6 pictures of everyday objects. You need to play with at least 2 people and need one board for each person playing. When you have made the boards copy them. Keep one board whole and cut the other up so that you have little pictures of the target vocabulary. It is a good idea to laminate the pictures. To play the game give a board to each player and put the little pictures face down in the middle of the table. Either the adult picks up the picture and names it (without the child seeing it) and the child says where it goes (comprehension activity) or the child names the picture and the other players say where it goes (expression).

Ending a session, and generalising

Refer back to the listening rules and see who has been a good listener. The children may be able to say who has been a good listener. Remember that some children find it harder to listen than others – one child may have done well just to sit on their chair for the entire session. Try to find something good about each child’s performance.

It is important that the listening rules are reinforced by others outside of the group session time. Ensure that other staff know what the rules are, and encourage the rules to be reinforced within different activities throughout the day.

  • LOTTO, SNAP & MEMORY PAIR GAMES - or any other motivational type games. Gradually increase the amount of time spent on each game.
  • GUESSING GAMES - play games such as “20 questions”, “guess who” type games. Put objects or pictures in a bag, take turns to choose one and then the other children ask questions to guess what the object is i.e. is it an animal? does it live on a farm? You could also play “I spy” games.
  • DRAWING GAMES - The child has to listen to instructions about what to draw i.e. draw a red circle or draw a house with a green door. Make the instructions harder and longer as the child’s skills develop.
  • NAME GAMES - e.g. who stole the cookie from the cookie jar…. “Jack stole …..” Any other story or song which involves names or listening for actions or buzz words.
  • STORY BOOKS - Listen to a short story and see if the child can respond to simple questions about what happened. Can they predict what will happen or how the story will end? Can they retell the story in their own words?
    • KIM’S GAME - Place four or more items on the floor. The child closes their eyes then once they open them they have to try to guess which items you have removed.
    • I WENT SHOPPING AND I BOUGHT……… - Play this in a small group or with individual children and increase the number of items the child has to remember.
    • SHOPPING LIST GAME - Make a list of items that you want the child to find, from the classroom. Gradually increase the amount of items that the child has to remember.

The term ‘auditory processing’ refers to how the brain recognises and interprets sound information. Children who have difficulties with their auditory processing skills may benefit from the following strategies:

Modifications to the Environment

A student with auditory processing difficulties would benefit from the following modifications in the classroom:

A classroom setting with as low level of background noise as possible:

  • Reduce background noise within the classroom as much as possible.
  • Keep classroom doors closed when possible to reduce noise from busy corridors.

Preferential seating:

  • Close to the teacher so the student can hear the teacher's voice clearly and see their face - looking and listening is much more effective than listening alone
  • If possible, seat the student between two quiet children who are on task
  • Away from sources of noise such as fans, vents, windows, pencil sharpeners
  • Away from sources of visual distraction - if a child is visually distracted, less attention will be given to auditory information
  • If the audiologist has identified a 'weaker' ear on assessment, seat so that the better ear is favoured

Helpful Teaching Techniques:

Ensure that the student is attending before giving oral directions/ explanations:

Call the student's name and get them to look at you before you give the instruction.

When speaking:

  • Speak in a clear animated voice
  • Slow down the rate of speech
  • Speak using an appropriate volume
  • Speak in short simple sentences with plenty of pauses and repetitions

When giving instructions/directions:

  • Provide a purpose for the activity to prepare the student.
  • Limit the amount of verbal information given at one time, present in simple steps or chunks e.g. sit down – get your book out.
  • Stress the relevant parts of the instruction/explanation by altering your pitch, inflection, rate or volume of your voice.
  • Avoid giving instructions when there is a high level of background noise

While you explain what is being taught, use visual aids to help the student understand.

  • Written instructions on the board
  • Write key words on the board
  • Write examples on the board
  • Provide written frameworks for note-taking
  • Display models, diagrams, overheads, charts, pictures or real objects
  • Provide written notes/instructions beforehand to the student
  • Nominate another student to act as note-taker (i.e. Avoid asking the child to listen and write at the same time)
  • Use facial expressions and gestures to convey meaning unless they become distracting

The child should be encouraged to use both visual and auditory input to maximise comprehension.       

Monitor the message:

  • Recognise 'blank' or 'puzzled' looks
  • Watch for signs of lack of concentration, understanding or attention
  • Watch for signs of fatigue as students with auditory processing difficulties tend to tire more quickly if the activity is language or listening based. Short intensive periods of instruction with regular breaks tend to be much more effective.
  • When repetition doesn't work, rephrasing the material often helps
  • Ask the student questions or to repeat or paraphrase what has been said
  • Encourage the student to ask questions if something is not understood

Let the student know you understand their struggles and are willing to listen and brainstorm about strategies that will help the student manage in the classroom.

Encourage the student to:

  • Use gestures, meaning and intelligent guessing to fill in any gaps
  • Become an active listener i.e. monitoring and checking their own listening comprehension
  • Ask relevant questions to obtain the extra information that they may need e.g. present part of a story with a question. The child is then helped to paraphrase what he has read and identify what extra information he needs to answer the question. The child can then be shown how to use this skill to improve his understanding of what he hears
  • Use visual imagery e.g. visualise themselves doing a task as an aid to memory
  • Rehearse facts and complex information. Auditory memory is aided by association with rhythm, so facts can be put to simple rhythms and tunes.
  • Repeat instructions to themselves.

Auditory memory is the ability to “take in”, process and retain what is said and then recall it. It is how we remember and process information that we hear. Auditory memory involves the skills of attending, listening, processing, storing, and recalling and difficulties with auditory memory can have an impact on both short term and working memory.

Auditory memory is crucial for language development. Like many language skills, memory skills develop as a child gets older, however some children may find it more difficult than others and need some extra help.

Auditory memory relies on collaboration with other areas of memory including short term and working memory. It is closely linked with attention and listening. A child needs to be able to attend to spoken information in order to be able to understand and remember it. 

Identifying children who have difficulties with auditory memory

Children who have difficulties with their auditory memory may have difficulties with:

  • Attention and listening – they may be easily distracted and struggle to stay on task. This is often more apparent than the memory difficulties themselves.
  • Switching their focus or attention e.g. from listening to the teacher, to what is on the board, to their written task
  • Completing tasks – they may lose their place and struggle to get back on track with what they were asked to do or they may give up easily on tasks
  • Following long or complex instructions
  • Linking and relating new information to prior knowledge
  • Telling stories or telling you what happened in school

How you can help in the classroom environment:

Be aware of the environment e.g. sitting next to a humming computer or a window which could be distracting? Distractions, both auditory and visual, can lead to information being lost.

Avoid overloading

  • ‘Chunk’ information and instructions into shorter, more manageable amounts. Too much information can lead to overload, and then information will be lost.
  • Get attention first.
  • Try to avoid giving new information while a child is still processing.
  • Repeat whole-class instructions individually.
  • Pre-teach vocabulary before topic-specific lessons to reduce processing demands.
  • Highlight key vocabulary at the start of each lesson for the child to ‘look out’ for to keep them on task
  • Summarise the key points at the end of the lesson. Knowing this will happen can be reassuring, and reduce distraction through anxiety.

Use visual supports

  • Use visual images to support verbal information. This is not just pictures – think about colours for example, or the pattern of how things are laid out.
  • Write down information / task instructions for the child to refer back to.
  • Provide handouts to reduce the amount of information that they need to recall.

Organisational strategies

  • Use task-planners to help the child concentrate on new information.
  • Try to keep parts of activities to a structured routine to reduce processing demand.

Specific strategies for the child to use:

Remember that a strategy that helps you may not be the one that works best for a child with specific auditory memory difficulties. Try different strategies and see what works best for them. Encourage them to practice and offer reminders to use the best strategies in different situations.

  • Visualising – encourage the child to visualise an image to go with specific vocabulary in their head to help them remember lists of items. Close your eyes, can you still see it?
  • Repetition – ask the child to repeat and rehearse information or instructions themselves. Start by encouraging the child to repeat aloud and when they have had practice with this, encourage them to start repeating in their head.
  • Note-taking – encourage the child to draw (for younger children) or write (for older children) some key points, information or vocabulary to help them with processing.
  • Support the child to recognise when they haven’t retained the information, and support ways of asking for help.

Games and activities to help build auditory memory skills

Barrier games

  • Put a barrier between you and the child and ask them to follow instructions e.g. ‘draw a red circle and then a green square’ or using Lego, ‘put the long red brick on top of the green and blue bricks.’
  • Gradually increase the length of the instructions

Treasure hunt

  • The child can collect prizes / tokens, giving clues such as ‘check behind the sofa and then under the table’

Simon Says

  • Make it more difficult by giving more than one instruction at a time e.g. ‘Simon says touch your head and then jump up and down’.

Expanding Sentences

  • One person starts with a short part of a sentence and then each person takes it in turns to add on an extra part e.g.
    • I went to the park
    • I went to the park on Sunday
    • I went to the park on Sunday and played football
    • I went to the park on Sunday and played football with my friend

Phone messages

  • Taking it in turns to ‘answer the phone’, listen to the message and tell it to another person in the group.

Memory games

  • e.g. ‘I went shopping and I bought…’, asking them to remember each item that is added on.


Elks, L. & McLachlan, H. (2015) Secondary Language Builders, Elkan

Loraine, S. S. Johnson, C. M. (2011) Helpful Strategies for Auditory Memory, Handy Handouts, Number 133

Understanding of language may also be referred to as receptive language or comprehension. This is the ability to make sense of spoken information.

Children with difficulties understanding language may:

  • Not follow instructions correctly
  • Appear to ignore you
  • Repeat all / parts of questions and instructions rather than responding to them
  • Repeat words or phrases rather than generating their own
  • Follow the classroom routine by watching what other children are doing
  • Find activities which rely on listening to language difficult to cope with
  • Have good mechanical reading but lack true understanding e.g. can read a book by rote but cannot answer questions about what they have read
  • Have difficulty remembering information
  • Use strategies to cover up difficulties understanding e.g. changing the subject or watching the speaker’s face to guess the answer

Strategies to support understanding of language in school

  • Gain the child’s attention before speaking by physical prompts such as touching their arm or saying their name
  • Try to minimise distractions
  • Be aware of the child’s level of understanding
  • Simplify your vocabulary and sentence structure
  • Reduce your sentence length, breaking into manageable chunks
  • Repeat key words and rephrase instructions as necessary
  • Speak slowly – use pause and emphasis to highlight the key information
  • Use visual prompts to support your language e.g. gesture, pictures, objects, mind mapping
  • Give the child plenty of time to listen and respond
  • Check the child understands the task (e.g. ask them to repeat or paraphrase the instruction)
  • Encourage the child to ask for help if something’s not understood
  • Give extra time for teaching new concepts and vocabulary
  • Try to avoid using abstract concepts such as “before” or “after” when giving instructions
  • Encourage the child to use strategies in processing information, such as silent rehearsal of the instruction, or identifying important words in the instruction

If the child does not respond in the way you expected, try to work out where the breakdown in communication occurred. You could consider:

  • Were they listening?
  • Did they just copy the person sitting next to them?
  • Was the instruction too long?
  • Did they understand the vocabulary/concepts that you used?

Over time you will learn which specific strategies are most effective for each individual child.

Children with expressive language difficulties may:

  • Not talk at all or only in limited situations
  • Not be able to string many words together
  • Only use key words and miss out grammatical  words such as ‘he, it, a,
  • Miss out or make errors with word endings such as –ing, plural ‘s’, -ed      
  • Use incorrect vocabulary
  • Have difficulty retrieving words from their memory resulting in frequent pauses or fillers such as ‘erm’, ‘you know’ and ‘thingy’
  • Have difficulties with word order                                                            
  • Use lots of gestures to convey needs and information
  • Physically take you to what they need or to show the problem
  • Use another child to talk for them

Strategies for encouraging children to use more language

  • Choices: give the child two choices of what they would like to eat, play with etc. For example “do you want to play in the sand or with bricks?”. This gives the child the vocabulary they need to respond and is easier than using an open ended question
  • Role reversal: give the child instructions such as “colour the hat blue” or “where’s the cat’s tail?” then swap over and let the child be the “teacher”
  • Sabotage technique: set up a situation which encourages the child to make some form of comment or request e.g. the adult keeps some of the pieces of a puzzle back or only gives the child a small amount of juice so that they will want more
  • Modeling: model language appropriate to the child’s ability e.g. with a younger child name objects and actions during everyday situations, for an older child model the use of connectives i.e. “and” “so” “because”
  • Adding language: add words to the child’s sentences to help develop their spoken language e.g. child says “kick ball”, adult replies ”the boy is kicking the ball”. As the child’s skills develop, start to model describing words and connectives.
  • Give the child extra time to express themselves and try not to interrupt
  • Create opportunities for the child to talk and try not to anticipate their needs before they have had chance to ask
  • Prompt them with sequencing words such as and……… because…………
  • Use visual aids to help conversation with the child e.g. photos, picture books, objects
  • A home-school diary will enable parents and school staff to record information that the child is likely to talk about, for example weekend activities
  • Repeat the child’s sentence back to them using the correct structure e.g. “him falled down them”, “yes he’s fallen down the steps”
  • With older children, explain word/word endings and why they are importante. “when there is more than one object you add an 's' to the end”
  • Occasionally make deliberate mistakes and obvious grammatical errors and encourage the child to correct them
  • Ensure that the child's assessment results are not being impacted upon by their language difficulties. Where possible, plan to reduce language demands in assessments e.g. by using multiple choice questions, drawing, construction and practical demonstration
  • Sentence closure may be used to elicit specific word/word endings e.g. “there is one pencil and here are 2 ……(pencils)”


Vocabulary is the collection of words we understand and use correctly.

Word finding difficulties (WFD)

In our memories, words are stored in a ‘memory bank’. Children with WFD know what items are called, but cannot retrieve the correct word easily from the ‘memory bank’ when they want it. This results in the ‘tip of the tongue’ feeling that we all get from time to time.

Children with reduced vocabulary or WFD may:

  • Use non-specific terms e.g. ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘thing’ etc
  • Disrupted flow of speech due to hesitations, backtracking, repetitions and circumlocutions (where the child talks all the way round a target word because they can’t remember it)
  • Inaccurate productions of the target word i.e. giving a word related in sound e.g. ‘cloud’ for ‘clown’ or giving the name of a related item e.g. ‘knife for ‘scissors’
  • Use a description instead of the target word e.g. ‘temperature thing’ for thermometer
  • A child with WFD may say they can’t remember a word, this is often accompanied by signs of frustration

Strategies to Support with Vocabulary

  • Let the child hear new words many times in different ways / situations
  • Avoid presenting word definitions immediately yourself – this places the child in a passive role and means lasting learning is less likely to occur. Encourage the child to predict or guess what a word might mean on the basis of its use in context
  • Relate new words to things the child already knows to encourage connections between new and previous knowledge g. “you’re right it is an instrument that looks a bit like a guitar, it’s called a violin”
  • Help the child incorporate new words into their expressive vocabulary by setting up tasks where they use the words in a meaningful way. E.g. If teaching the target words sink/float the child could be asked to describe what is happening during an appropriate experiment– “the brick is sinking”.
  • Words are often stored in categories so teaching vocabulary in this way helps children to make sense of new vocabulary and understand it more easily.
  • It may help to start a vocabulary wordbook divided into topics and write down new words that are taught in each lesson. The words can then be reinforced at home and the book can be a good revision aid.

Strategies to Support with Word Finding Difficulties

Reduce demands

  • Avoid asking questions that require a one word answer especially if the word might be difficult for the child to remember
  • Asks questions that just need a yes/no answer e.g. “is Paris the capital of France?”
  • Give choices e.g. “is a table made from wood or plastic?”
  • Encourage the child to describe the object/talk around the subject

Talk around the word

Encourage the child to think of association links to the word

  • What category does it belong to?
  • What does it do?
  • Where would you find it?
  • When would you use it?
  • What does it look like? – size, shape ,colour, texture
  • What sound does it begin with?
  • How any syllables does the word have?

Offer cues

Children who have WFD may need support accessing and retrieving words.  It is important for children to retrieve the word independently rather than an adult naming it and then they can form their own retrieval pathway for accessing the word. Cues are simply giving someone a hint or clue as to what the missing word might be. Cues can only be used if you know the word the child is trying to retrieve.

  • Phonemic Cues: These cues use sounds. For example, if the missing word is soup you could cue that word by making an extended "S" sound, “It starts with Sssssss”.
  • Semantic Cues: Try using category For example, if the missing word is horse, you could cue that word by saying, "It's a farm animal." “It says neigh”. Give examples of what the object is used for e.g. if the missing word is hammer, you could say, "It is used to hit nails."
  • Ask the child to tell you another way or show you
  • Ask questions around what the child is trying to say to gain more information e.g. did this happen at home or at school?
  • Try to avoid asking questions which are open-ended and have no context such as “what did you do over the weekend?”
  • Build up effective home/school liaison which may take the form of a diary. This will enable both parties to jot down any information of note which the child is likely to discuss, for example, weekend activities.
  • Build up a list of names of key family members, pets and friends. Names are often the hardest words to decipher.
  • If you do not understand all that a child has said, repeat back the sentence to the point where you got lost; it is less laborious for the child to repeat back a small chunk rather than the whole sentence
  • Try to avoid making non-committal noises if you cannot understand a child; they are likely to guess that you have not understood
  • Communicate with a child face-to-face; children with speech difficulties sometimes compensate by using more facial expression or gesture

As children learn language they begin to become more aware of the components of sentences and consequent story telling or narrative. 

We use story telling skills in lots of different ways:

  • We use stories when reading a story from a story book
  • When retelling stories
  • When giving information about what you’ve been doing or reporting back on something you’ve seen or heard
  • When explaining something and in general conversation

What is a story made up of?

  • Characters/people (who)
  • Place (where)
  • Time (when)
  • Occurrence (what happened?).

Why do we work on narrative skills?

  • It is important for the development of social skills
  • It is important for pre-literacy development
  • Helps to develop attention and listening
  • Supports in retaining information when being given instructions and explanations
  • Enables telling of their own stories
  • Helps with extending vocabulary and descriptive language learning.
  • Develops imagination and creative thinking
  • Helps with questioning skills.

Strategies to help

  • Read stories regularly to provide exposure to stories and formal language
  • Teach the student 'beginning, middle and end' concepts i.e. discuss and demonstrate these in functional daily activities
  • Provide a story plan and use story maps to chart and explain stories:
    • Beginning: who, what, where, when
    • Middle: sequence of ideas in a flowing manner
    • End: how story end
  • Use ‘scaffolding’ questions to help plan narratives:
    • Setting: who, what, when
    • Initiating event: what happened
    • Reaction: how did she/he feel
    • Goal: what did she/he plan to do
    • Attempt: what did she/he do
    • Outcome/Consequence: what happened
    • Ending: how did it end
  • Ask questions for more specific information and encourage further development of ideas. Incorporate critical thinking strategies by asking
  • 'Who, What, When, Where & Why" questions
  • Encourage the use of prediction and inference skills. Ask questions to help students organise and to comprehend information in stories:
    • Explaining inferences i.e. what do you think they mean by that?
    • Determining the cause i.e. why do you think that happened?
    • Negative-why questions i.e. why didn't ... ...
    • Determining solutions i.e. how could they solve that problem?
    • Avoiding problems i.e. what could they have done instead?
  • Practise retelling of events and life experiences
  • After a TV show/movie, talk about the story using narrative structure
  • Use computer software that encourages story writing and building
  • Use choose your own adventure story books, story tapes and story picture books
  • Keep a diary, draw a picture or write about family/school outings
  • Encourage role play, charades, puppet shows
  • Tell simple nursery rhymes and role play them afterwards
  • Make your own story books

Children or young people with pragmatic difficulties can find social interaction difficult and may interact differently to peers. Due to these differences, they sometimes can be perceived as cheeky, rude or naughty. Spend time with the child or young person to get to know them and their way of communicating.

Children or young people with pragmatic difficulties may make some non-speech vocalisations or may have some repetitive movements or hand mannerisms. These are often responses to certain situations or coping mechanisms. To ask a child or young person to stop these responses will add more stress to the situation for them. The student may have some insight and be able to tell you what situations they find difficult and what helps and what does not help. Help peers to understand these communicative differences.

General advice for successful communication:

  • Gain the child or young person’s attention before speaking
  • Encourage them to look at you or give some eye contact, but if they find this hard then do not persist, it’s not essential
  • Keep language simple – break into manageable chunks, be precise and specific
  • The order of the language you use should reflect the order that tasks should be carried out in e.g. ‘first run around the pitch one time and then pick up a tennis ball’  not  ‘before you pick up a tennis ball run around the pitch one time’
  • Avoid use of polite questions e.g. ‘Would you like to..?’ Tell the child or young person what to do e.g. ‘I want you to….’.
  • Use direct language, avoiding idioms and sarcasm
  • Use the child or young person’s interests and experiences to help them understand. Relate the curriculum to real life situations
  • Model appropriate conversational rules and responses. For example, asking for help, starting and ending a conversation appropriately, greeting others etc.
  • Encourage and facilitate interaction with peers
  • Adapt the environment, keeping it calm, predictable and safe. Offer extra support when needed e.g. lesson changing time, lunchtime, when there are lots of people. Ensure there is somewhere the child or young person can go to if they need some ‘down time’ 
  • Give clear structure and set routines and provide prior warning if there is a change to the normal routine
  • Use visuals to support verbal language e.g. visual timetable / now and next board for transitions
  • Give breaks in lessons where necessary
  • Some children and young people respond well to a rewards / motivator system. If this is implemented, be consistent with it 
  • Develop good links between school and home to help to provide consistency for strategies and approaches across both settings

Social StoriesTM were originally created by Carol Gray in 1991 and are widely used to support social understanding in many different contexts. They are about specific events or situations, with information about what to expect and what to do. Stories should be tailored to the individual, taking into account their own needs, and their own interests.

Social stories can help in situations that are difficult because they are concrete, they increase structure and predictability and can reduce anxiety.

It should be noted that there are specific criteria for what is a Social StoryTM and the trademarks are owned by Carol Gray. Information can be found at 

Social stories could be used in all sorts of different situations, for example, bedtime or school time, social interactions, or before a significant change to a routine.  Specific examples of social stories and support on how to use them can be found widely on the internet, or by asking your Speech and Language Therapist.

Writing a social story:


A helpful story has a clear specific goal – identify the situation that is difficult, and the key features of the situation – where does it happen, when does it happen, who is involved, what happens?

It should be written from the child’s perspective, using positive language in the first person (i.e. “I”) and in the present tense.

There are several different types of sentences that can be used:

  • descriptive sentences: these describe the situation, e.g. “I love to play with the fire engine”.
  • directive sentences: these tell the child what they should do in this situation, e.g. “When someone is playing with the fire engine, I can say, ‘Can I have the fire engine please?’”.
  • perspective sentences: these describe how other people will feel e.g. “Other people want to play with the fire engine too”.
  • affirmative sentences: these express a shared social value or opinion, e.g. “It is okay to wait”.
  • control sentences: these identify strategies that the child can use to remind himself how to behave, e.g. “I can play with the fire engine when someone else puts it back in the box”.
  • cooperative sentences: these can explain who will provide help and how, e.g. “My teacher will help me stay calm while I wait for my turn”.

Social stories should be encouraging - there should be at least double the amount of describing sentences (descriptive, perspective, affirmative or cooperative) than there are coaching sentences (directive and control).

You can use words like “sometimes” or “usually” when outcomes are not always the same.

A story should be at the right level for the child to understand, and include pictures and visual support to help understanding.

It should take into account why the child might have difficulty in the specific situation.

Social stories don’t need to be professionally produced – they can be written at home, with your own drawings.

Recommendations for success when using social stories

Try a simple story about a non-challenging issue to begin with, rather than tackling a big battle.  This helps the idea of a social story to become reassuring and comforting.

Social stories should never be used as a punishment for misbehaviour, as this associates the stories with negative feelings.

Present the story to the individual at a time when everyone is feeling calm and relaxed. This will maximise the individuals learning and help the person to develop positive associations with the story.

Introduce the story using simple, clear language e.g. I have written this story for you. It is about thunderstorms. Let’s read it together now. Soon we will review it.

Review (read) the story as often as required - some social stories can be reviewed initially once a day, and others immediately before the situation for which they were written.

Be positive, reassuring and patient when reviewing the story and ensure the environment is quiet, comfortable and free of distractions.

Involve others in the story where appropriate. For example, a story that is focussed on a situation or activity at home might also be reviewed with the child’s teacher or learning support assistant.  You might use the same stories, or different stories in different settings, but it may help to keep the structure and presentation similar to maintain familiarity.

Introduce one story at a time to make sure the child does not become overwhelmed with information.

Fade out the story by either reading less often, or re-writing parts of it to include new skills (or leave gaps for the child to complete themselves). Remember that change can sometimes be distressing - some people keep a folder of stories to add to and keep the previous ones available.

Comic strip conversations were developed by Carol Gray (1994) (who also developed Social Stories). Comic strip conversations use simple drawings to visually illustrate conversations. They clearly and visually show different peoples’ speech, thoughts and feelings.

Comic strip conversations support children and young people who find it hard to interpret social interaction, conversations and how others may feel.

Why use Comic Strip Conversations?

  • To visually work through social situations that the child may find hard to understand.
  • To help diffuse and understand social conflict and confusion.
  • To build the child’s understanding of social conversation and of others’ thoughts and feelings in different situations.

How to use Comic Strip Conversations

  • Support the child/ young person to lead the conversation.
  • Ask them what they find hard or discuss a situation that has already happened.
  • Encourage the child to draw the situation out as they talk and go through the situation. The child/young person may want to take control of the drawing, while you facilitate, or they may prefer you to draw or write if they’re not confident with that.
  • Use symbols to write/draw what people said, what they felt and what they thought.
  • If drawing a situation/conversation which has already happened and had a negative outcome, discuss what went wrong and what could be done differently to change the outcome. Then re-draw the scenario with these changes to show the positive outcome.

Key strategies

  • Practice using these with small talk or easy conversations e.g. talking about the weather to get used to using the symbols and drawing conversations, then move on to difficult situations/conversations when they are ready.
  • You can also practise with example scenarios that are relevant to the child (e.g. social situations that they’ve found difficult in the past, or that they’re likely to come across in the future).
  • Stick to the same symbols and be consistent (e.g. a speech bubble for speech, a cloud for thoughts, heart for emotions).
  • Support the child/young person to add in the speech, thoughts and feelings as you go.
  • Discuss what’s happening as they/you draw e.g. how the people involved may react/feel in that situation and what they are saying.

There are lots of different skills involved in making conversation.


  • Discuss how you greet people and give examples. Show pictures of different people e.g. policeman, interviewer, teacher, mum, baby, doctor, animals etc. Group members take it in turns to demonstrate to the group how you would greet that person.
  • Let me introduce you. The group divides into pairs. Each member should introduce themselves by name and make one positive self-statement, e.g. “I am Ethan and I like playing the guitar”. Each pair should seek out another couple and introduce their partner saying their name plus the statement.
  • I am…. The group is seated in a circle and is instructed that each member should introduce themselves by stating their name and a fact about themselves which could be either a physical or emotional description, e.g. ‘I am Chloe: I have brown eyes’ or ‘I am Jessica and I feel very nervous’.
  • Draw a house. The group is divided into pairs and one member is to instruct his partner on how to draw a house. The person who is drawing should only carry out instructions given by their partner. When the task is completed roles should be reversed. To simplify instruct to draw a shape.
  • Desert Island. The group is instructed that each member is allowed one minute to think of three individual items that they would wish to have if they were stranded on a desert island. This should not include people or animals. The group is divided into pairs and each pair is to negotiate three items from the six they will have decided upon during the first part of the exercise. The group reforms to discuss how decisions were made and whether the members felt they had been able to express their views satisfactorily.
  • Famous names. Labels are prepared. The name of a famous person is written on each label e.g. pop star, sportsperson. The labels are attached to each group member’s back without them seeing what is written on it. The members of the group are then instructed to move around and ask each other questions to find out who they are meant to be. The questions should be closed and only require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, e.g. ‘Am I a man?’, ‘Do I play a sport?’ When everyone has discovered who they are, the group reassembles to discuss any difficulties that they encountered.
  • The praise game. The group is divided into pairs and the members are instructed that they are to converse with their partner for five minutes. During the conversation they should praise or make a positive statement to each other. The group then reforms and each person is asked what praise they received and their partner is asked how they reacted.
  • Questions and answers. The group is seated in a circle and members are instructed that the leader will ask the person seated on their right a question, e.g. ‘What did you have for lunch?’ The question should be answered appropriately and that person then asks their neighbour the same question. The exercise continues until all group members have asked and responded to the same question.
  • What is my job? The group is seated in a circle and one member leaves the room. The remaining participants choose a job for that person and then invite them back. Each member of the group then asks the person a question as if they were interviewing them for the agreed job, without telling them what the job is, e.g., if the job chosen is fireman, the questions could be:
  • Do you enjoy climbing?
  • Do you like wearing a uniform?
  • Do you enjoy driving fast?

The interviewee is to guess what the job is.

Topic management

  • Buzz it. Make some topic cue cards (e.g. school, holiday, favourite animal, TV etc…) and place them in a bag. Take it in turns to pull out a cue card from the bag. Each person then has to talk for 60 seconds about the topic they have selected (time can be reduced to thirty seconds initially). The aim is for the person to talk only about that topic. If they begin to talk about something else other members of the group have to ‘buzz’ in. The topic cue cards can be shown to help keep the group focussed.
  • Comments and Question Time. One person in the group is required to make a comment, such as ‘I like going shopping’. The rest of the group then take it in turns to make a related comment e.g.: “I hate shopping”,  “My favourite shop is Topshop”, “I like going shopping with my friend”. Then the group think about questions that they would like to ask others relating to the comments e.g. “what is your favourite shop”, ‘where do you like to go shopping”, “who do you go shopping with”.  
  • Guess what! Cards are prepared with written statements. The statements should be varied with both good and bad incidents, e.g.:

‘I have won a hundred pounds’

‘I am going on a world cruise’

‘My cat is ill’

‘My car has broken down’

Each group member is given a card and one person is selected to read out the statement on their card. Each remaining group member is asked to make an appropriate response to the statement e.g., ‘How awful!’, ‘You must be worried’, ‘You lucky thing!’ When all members have read their statement and the group has responded, a full discussion should take place on how to respond appropriately to others’ good or bad news.

  • 30 Seconds. Group members sit in a semi-circle in front of you. They take turns to select an object from a bag containing familiar objects and have to talk about it for 30 seconds. Adult leader to time and say stop.


  • Where do we stand? A selection of large pictures should be prepared, e.g. pictures of famous people, different types of food, places to visit, types of transport, etc. One picture is places in the centre of the room. A member of the group is asked to position themselves in the room and adopt a posture and facial expression that demonstrates how they feel about that picture, i.e. stand far away from a picture of jelly with a look of disgust (indicating this person dislikes jelly). The remaining group members should then describe what the position, body language and facial expression discloses about that person’s feelings.
  • How close should we get? Cards are prepared describing scenarios relating to proximity in communication, e.g. comforting someone who is upset, how we talk to a stranger in a shop, talking to a close friend, speaking to someone in authority. The group are to guess what is happening. A discussion should take place after each presentation regarding proximity and factors which affect it. The group is seated in a circle and two members are given a card and instructed to position themselves in the appropriate way.
  • How do we look? The group is seated in a circle. The leader describes a situation, e.g., listening to music; cheering a football team on television; waiting to be interviewed. Members are instructed to adopt a position appropriate to each situation.
  • The group stands in two lines on either side of the room facing one another. They are then instructed to advance towards one another and stop when they feel they are at a comfortable distance from their partner. Variations in distance between the pairs then observed and the group discussed appropriate proximity.


  • Who am I?: Each student picks a famous person/character. The rest of the group then ask questions to try and find out who the famous person/character is. Encourage good looking, listening, staying in topic, turn taking etc.
  • The group is divided into sub-groups of three. The first member of the triad is instructed to engage in monologue for 30 seconds whilst the second member constantly interrupts. The third member is to observe how the first member reacts. All members take a turn in each role. The group then reforms to discuss turn-taking and repair of conversations. *To simplify the speaker is instructed to say only one sentence which the second member interrupts once.

Intonation / stress

  • Likes and dislikes. The group is seated in a circle and each member is instructed to take in saying one positive thing and one negative thing about food, e.g., ‘I love peanuts but I have olives’. Each person exaggerates the word ‘love’ and ‘hate’ using appropriate facial expression and tone of voice. The group then discusses how feelings are expressed both verbally and non-verbally.
  • Speak up. The group is divided into pairs. One partner is required to say, ‘Hello, my name is…..what is yours?’ several times, varying their volume. The first time they should say it quietly, then repeat it, increasing the volume each time until they are shouting. The other person is required to listen and respond non-verbally according to whether it is too quiet, appropriate or too loud. Partners then change roles. The group then reforms and discusses appropriate volume and cues from listeners which are helpful in modifying volume.
  • How do I sound? Sentences are written on cards which will be used to demonstrate appropriate changes in volume of speech, e.g.:
  1. Could everybody please stop talking and listen for a moment
  2. Don’t wake the baby
  3. Could you turn the music down please
  4. I think it has been a nice day
  5. Isn’t this lecture boring
  6. Referee, that was not off side

Group members are given a card and asked to read the sentence using the appropriate volume. A discussion then follows on variation of volume according to the content of the sentence and the context in which it may occur.

  • What do we mean? The group is seated in a circle. A card with sentences written on it is passed around and each group member is asked to read the sentence changing the stress or intonation pattern, e.g.:
  • He did not want to eat his dinner
  • He did not want to eat his dinner
  • He did not want to eat his dinner
  • He did not want to eat his dinner?

The group then discusses how intonation and stress affect the meaning of a sentence.

Literal language is when language states exactly what is happening or what it means. Non-literal language is more abstract and may use similes, metaphors, and personification to describe something. Some students can find non-literal language difficult to understand and they may take the language literally e.g. ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ they may take this as cats and dogs falling from the sky.

The student may need support to understand the meaning of non-literal language including:-

Sayings (idioms)

e.g.      ‘Reach for the sky’, ‘Get your act together’, ‘Hit the ground running.’

Support the student to understand these by discussing the literal and non-literal meanings. Look for any examples of non-literal language on greeting cards, e.g. sorry you're under the weather, and in advertisements. Discuss the literal and non-literal meanings.


Read through joke books. Pick a joke and discuss why it is funny, e.g. that words can mean different things in different contexts. Draw a picture that explains what it means.


A simile is a saying which uses the word ‘as’ or ‘like’ to compare to things which are not similar

e.g. ‘proud as a peacock’, ‘brave as a lion’ 

Choose a feeling e.g. proud, angry, or miserable

Support the student to understand the meaning and think of more examples.  


A metaphor is comparing 2 nouns without using ‘as’ or ‘like’

e.g. ’Life is a roller coaster.’ ‘They were swamped with orders.’

Support the student’s understanding by explaining the meaning and changing one word to make more metaphors:- He’s a champion with the ball, He’s an elephant with the ball, He’s an old man with the ball.


The student may need support to understand the meaning of slang phrases and abbreviations related to their age/peer group and appropriate situations for using this language. Discuss these words/phrases and what they mean and give examples of how to use them appropriately.

  • Use questions to structure the problem solving process:

How do you know it is a problem?

What can you see e.g. broken glass, crying, fists clenched

What can you hear e.g. alarm, humming, soft voice

What can you feel e.g. headache, butterflies in tummy

What can you remember e.g. other times like this?

What will happen next? i.e. cause/effect

What do you need to do about it?

How will you do it?

  • Encourage the student to:



Find a Solution, rather than to act impulsively.

  • Give the student possible choices when verbalising their solutions
  • Think out loud. Understand that the student needs to learn how to solve problems. Demonstrate how to solve problems at every opportunity. Create opportunities to make mistakes and problem solve. They may need you to show them, demonstrate and talk through the process.
  • Use comics, TV programs and stories to identify problems, cause and effect, consequences, emotions, and the solutions. Read the beginning of a story, identify the problem, close the book and think out loud about the possible solutions.
  • Identify the clues (see, hear, feel & remember) around them in their environment.

See: flashing lights, facial expressions, body stance and distance

Hear: angry voices, bells, telephones, people talking or silence

Feel: tight jaw, loose muscles, nausea, headaches

Remember: remind the student of other events like this one. Use concrete examples/visuals to assist learning. Practise by asking the student to draw the problem, use arrows to link the problem to the solutions (use only key words or pictures)

  • Avoid problems: practise using the strategies of see, hear, feel and remember to tell you a problem may happen. Show and tell the student in day to day living situations e.g. running out of milk, doing homework
  • Teach these skills when the student is calm and during everyday situations, particularly those that don't involve emotions or conflict e.g. running out of milk. Repeat the strategy over and over in a calm situation before attempting to use it in situations which may be emotional. Being able to problem solve in difficult situations is the last step in learning the skill of problem solving.
  • Talk about emotions. Discuss emotions and feelings. Split the group members into 2 teams and challenge them to write down as many different emotions as they can. Discuss how we show our emotions e.g. facial expressions, crying, laughing, crossing arms, slumping shoulders etc.
  • Guess the expression. Hold a picture up that depicts a facial expression and get the group members to guess how he is feeling / discuss and copy his expression. Students encouraged to take turns to guess.
  • Think of a variety of scenarios relevant to students e.g. messy room, being told off, party, winning football match etc. Group members take it in turns to tell the group how they would be feeling in that situation.
  • Pass the expression. A group member makes a facial expression and this is passed around the circle with each student copying the expression in turn. Continue with variety of expressions until everyone has had a turn.
  • “A time I felt…” Pick an emotion picture out of a bag. Group members take turns to discuss a personal experience that made them feel that emotion. 
  • The Name game. Write your first and last names vertically on a piece of paper and using the letters of the name write different words that express positive emotions e.g. Jane Doe- Joyful, Assertive, Nice, Energetic – Delightful, Optimistic, Exciting.
  • “I am…when”. Pick an emotion from the cards (see below) and ask the students to complete this sentence using that emotion e.g. “I am scared when I see a spider.”
  • Emotions thermometer. Give each student a thermometer picture and a set of emotions cards (see below). Tell a story and ask the students to decide how they would feel and where on the “emotional thermometer” they would be as the story progresses.
  • Emotional Body Parts. Two sets of cards are prepared. One set should have various body parts written on the cards whilst the second set should have different emotions. The group is divided into pairs and each person is given two cards – one from each set. Each member will take it in turns to express to their partner the emotions on one card with the body part on the other card, e.g. happy feet, angry hand. Their partners should try to guess the emotion.
  • How do you rate? The group is seated in a circle and instructed that each member must rate how they are feeling at the time on a scale on one to ten. A rating of one denotes feeling low and ten denotes feeling very good. Each member takes a turn giving their self-rating and disclosing a reason for this. All the ratings may be added up and divided by the number of group members to give an average group rating of feelings. These group ratings may be compared during various sessions.
  • Where do we stand? A selection of large pictures should be prepared, e.g. pictures of famous people, different types of food, places to visit, types of transport, etc. One picture is places in the centre of the room. A member of the group is asked to position themselves in the room and adopt a posture and facial expression that demonstrates how they feel about that picture, i.e. stand far away from a picture of jelly with a look of disgust (indicating this person dislikes jelly). The remaining group members should then describe what the position, body language and facial expression discloses about that person’s feelings.
  • Talk about body language. Discuss what body language means e.g. how we use our bodies to show other people how we are feeling. Discuss and demonstrate positive/negative body language e.g. slouching, head forward, looking, sat up straight etc.
  • ‘Give us a Clue’. Group members take it in turns to act out an emotion using facial expression and body language. The rest of group guess the emotion and say what the clues in the body language were.
  • Our Body.  Put a big piece of paper on the floor (several A3 stuck together). One group member is selected to lie on the paper and the rest of the group draw round their outline. Discuss as a group which parts of our body we use to communicate and what we do with them e.g. hands for pointing, waving, arms for hugging, crossing arms etc.
  • Charades. Each student thinks of a book/film/TV programme and acts it out using their whole body, without talking.
  • Emotional Body Parts. Two sets of cards are prepared. One set should have various body parts written on the cards whilst the second set should have different emotions. The group is divided into pairs and each person is given two cards – one from each set. Each member will take it in turns to express to their partner the emotions on one card with the body part on the other card, e.g. happy feet, angry hand. Their partners should try to guess the emotion.
  • Another Pair of Hands. The group is divided into pairs and seated in a semi-circle. The first pair stands before the group, one in front of the other. The person standing in front is instructed to hold his hand behind his back and talk on any topic for 30 seconds. At the same time his partner will place his arms around him and will provide appropriate gestures for what is being said. When each pair has had a turn, the group reforms to discuss the use of gesture. To simplify statements could be used e.g. I am yawning, I am cold.
  • In The Manner of the Word. A student leaves the room. The rest of the group sits in a circle and decides on an adverb e.g. unhappily, slowly. The student is invited back into the room and asks individual group members to perform various actions ‘in the manner of the word’, e.g. ‘Jack, brush your teeth in the manner of the word’ and Jack brushes his teeth unhappily or slowly. The student has to decide what the adverb is.
  • Who feels the same? Two sets of emotions vocabulary cards copied. The pairs of cards are then shuffled and each group member is given one card. The participants move around the room miming the emotion on their card. The aim of the exercise is for each group member to find the other person who is miming the same emotion. When everyone has found their partner, the group discusses non-verbal ways of expressing emotions.
  • Who started it? One group member is asked to leave the room while the rest of the group is instructed to choose a leader. The leader will be required to start an action e.g. clapping, foot stamping, which the rest of the group will copy. The leader must change the action periodically and the rest of the group should follow suit. The person outside the room will be asked to return and guess which person is the leader initiating the actions.

There are some behaviours which are frequently linked with communication difficulties and it is useful to be aware of these:

  • Difficulty following timetables and using planners
  • Presentation of work being very rushed and messy or over meticulous causing work rate to be slow
  • Problems predicting outcomes
  • Struggling to solve problems rationally
  • Having literacy difficulties – particularly reading fluently but without understanding
  • Being obsessed with certain topics/ routines/people
  • Being isolated and vulnerable
  • Finding it difficult to cope in non-structured times
  • Distress resulting from misunderstanding other students behaviour/comments
  • Inappropriate eye contact/ personal space when speaking or being spoken to
  • Refusal to listen to staff or students when angry or upset
  • Over-sensitivity to noise
  • Easily becoming anxious or stressed for example by a change of room


Understanding of Spoken Language

  • Ensure the student is listening before you start speaking
  • Slow down your speech rate and give the student extra time to process language
  • Encourage the student to say when they have not understood
  • Do not assume comprehension of instructions and vocabulary - check by asking the student to explain what you have told them
  • Be aware of gaps in vocabulary and ensure that key vocabulary is understood
  • Break down instructions into short, clear chunks
  • Sequence information in a logical order. It is easier to understand when the order of the language you use reflects the order that tasks should be carried out in e.g. ‘first run around the pitch one time, then pick up a tennis ball’  not  ‘before you pick up a tennis ball run around the pitch one time.’
  • Avoid use of ambiguous language such as sarcasm, jokes or sayings that can be misinterpreted e.g. "You'll be the death of me"
  • Give the student plenty of support with activities that involve verbal reasoning
  • Use visual strategies to support understanding of spoken language

Expression of language

  • Remember that we communicate to get a message across – try not to focus on how the student is communicating e.g. the grammar, pronunciation or stammer – concentrate on the meaning
  • Give the student extra time to respond
  • Accept a reduced amount of output e.g. a one word answer rather than a sentence or only having to give a presentation to a few peers rather than the whole class.
  • If the student gets stuck on a particular word – encourage him to think of other related words e.g. to describe the target word
  • Try helping them to structure their language by asking specific questions e.g. “who was there? When did it happen? What happened first?”
  • Use visual strategies to support expression and ensure that students can show their knowledge e.g. photo boards

Social skills

  • Encourage the student to give you eye contact and take notice of the interactions between people happening in their environment
  • Do not let the student dominate interactions – reinforce the importance of turn-taking
  • Model appropriate conversational rules, responses etc. e.g. how to greet peers
  • Encourage interaction with peers but recognise the difficulties of group work. Engineer it so that the student with SLCN has a good role model as a partner in group activities
  • Help the student reflect on the dynamics of relationships and why there may be negative outcomes
  • Restrict time spent on any obsessive topics or interests e.g. can only talk on ‘special topic’ after completing work
  • Explain non-verbal communication and social rules that the student may find confusing


  • Provide a calm, predictable environment
  • Place students with SLCN with positive peers who are good role models in terms of behaviour and learning
  • Ensure work is differentiated to a level the student can access
  • Have appropriate LSA support in lessons
  • Be aware of stress triggers and put support strategies in place
  • Ensure any differentiated behaviour strategies are in place consistently e.g. trackers, rewards, alternatives to moved room
  • Allow the student to leave the room with the LSA before they lose control
  • Use visual supports such as 5 point scales and social stories consistently
  • Be aware that a student with SLCN may need time-out before they can have a conversation about an incident
  • Have a supervised place to go during non-structured times
  • Never respond to the student in a confrontational manner
  • Check that the student has understood a situation and the language used when their response is not appropriate so misunderstandings can be cleared up immediately
  • Be aware that students may not want to admit in front of their peers that they are finding language or a task confusing. If you have concerns speak to them individually


  • Provide a suitable environment and minimise distractions
  • Provide curriculum pathways that are suitable for students with SLCN
  • Differentiate work appropriately. This includes the spoken and written language of instruction and language of the curriculum.
  • Students with specific SLCN are usually strong visual and kinaesthetic learners. Use visual strategies –pictures, diagrams, charts, mind maps/word webs etc.
  • Consider the best ways to present written information so that students can process it by themselves e.g. chunk related information, bold key words and provide word definitions.
  • Use writing frames and have templates ready for completion. Get the student involved in practical activities
  • Use the students’ interests and experiences to help him understand - relate the curriculum to real life
  • Make clear associations between new and old information
  • Ensure homework is suitable and clearly recorded.  Homework may take students with SLCN significantly longer
  • Support students with organisation of work e.g. ensure that work is saved in an appropriately named file in the correct area on the students’ computer drive
  • Ensure that there are clearly defined breaks in lessons and have a clear system for rewards/motivation
  • Explicitly highlight potential dangers such as those in technology and science and when leaving the school for trips etc.

Key Stage 3 and Above: Supporting SLCN

Speech and language skills continue to develop as students move into secondary education, with many needing help and support. Language develops throughout adolescence and beyond.

Secondary school is a much more demanding environment which challenges young people’s language skills, not just in class but in their social interactions too. They need to develop an ability to understand and use the right sort of language and tone of voice for the right purpose and to fit in with different groups.

The Children’s Speech and Language Therapy (CSLT) service will provide assessment, consultation, and intervention for young people with significant SLCN who are in Key Stage 3 or above (up to their 19th birthday) as described in an Education and Health Care Plan.

For concerns regarding the SLCN of young people in Key Stage 3 or above (up to their 19th birthday) who do not have an EHCP, the CSLT service will carry out an assessment to highlight the main areas of need with the student’s speech, language and communication skills and identify the impact in the classroom.

Settings can support young people with SLCN by using universal level strategy-based approaches that incorporate the development of

  • Metacognitive skills (thinking about thinking)
  • Metalinguistic skills (understanding and reflecting about language)
  • Vocabulary Development
  • Verbal expressions or Oracy
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Communication Friendly Classroom

All teaching staff should have a good understanding of strategies to support speech, language and communication needs and know how to create a communication friendly environment.

How to support students with speech, language and communication needs 11 + years:

  • A Pupil Passport should be created and distributed to all teaching staff so that they have a good understanding of the student’s needs and strategies to support their speech, language and communication skills. Ensure the pupil’s voice is clear in understanding how work needs to be differentiated.
  • Increase predictability Structure the lesson so students know what is going to come up.
  • Visual supports Have a clear visual reference accessible so they can see where they are in the lesson. Support the use of visual planners, organisers and text deconstruction aids.
  • Vocabulary support Highlight key words which are essential for the topic and explain that they will have to understand and use these words. Pre teach topic words, send word lists home, access to dictionaries, Google images and BBC Bitesize.  Think about practical demonstrations of new topics. Use “word bingo” to practise and reinforce subject-specific vocabulary. Encourage students to write down unfamiliar vocabulary and then target these during one-to-one or small group sessions. Develop exercises where students must match key terms to their meanings (to teach new words).
  • Questions Plan questions in advance, don’t just ask students to recall information – ask them open-ended questions.
  • Plan in thinking time and let the student know when that is so they know they can take the time to develop a better-quality answer.
  • Peer support Arrange for students to talk in pairs or small groups to build and structure answers. Pair with a stronger student so they can also offer support.  Sometimes students find it easier to ask a friend than ask an adult.
  • Make information easier to understand Reduce the complexity of teacher-generated text, such as assignment instructions. Use a multi-sensory teaching approach.  We know students with SLCN respond well to visual aids such as pictures, diagrams, writing. Send PowerPoints home to give opportunities for repetition & rehearsal of new information.
  • Support expression Look at alternative ways of recording e.g. scribe/ speech to text Microsoft.  The student’s ability to get their knowledge down on paper may be difficult so it is important that their knowledge can be assessed in different ways. Use differentiated worksheets that involve less writing - labelling a diagram, flow diagrams, filling in missing words, paragraph starters. Multiple choice questions are really useful to ascertain a student’s understanding of topic.  They may struggle to express themselves concisely but they can choose the correct answer from a choice.
  • Teach study skills Mind maps, taking notes, word deduction skills, highlighting key words which will then help students to answer questions. Sparknotes is a useful website to paraphrase information. Other useful websites – Quizlet is a useful flashcard website that helps students to learn new concepts and vocabulary, BBC Bitesize can help to summarise new topics, You Tube, s-cool, Educake. Organisational skills and recording homework in their planner can be difficult for students who find it hard to understanding of spoken language.
  • Teach active listening skills Agree ways to ask for support when they do not understand.  Create an environment where it is okay to make mistakes, not to know everything and it is okay to ask questions for clarification.   
  • Support oracy skills Encourage group discussions to explore levels of understanding around a topic and then new information can be added to their foundation knowledge.
  • Reinforce self-identity & emotional resilience The evidence base recognises the strong connections between effective communication skills and mental health and emotional well-being.  The learning process is much easier if we are happy at school. Consider the learned helplessness cycle – repeated exposure to failure leads to the self-fulfilling prophecy ‘I failed at my last test so I will at my next, I am not going to bother trying it is too difficult’. Create opportunities to be successful, frequently.
  • Recommended Book: Language for Behaviour and Emotions: A Practical Guide to Working with Children and Young People by Anna Branagan, Melanie Cross, and Stephen Parsons.
  • A practical guide to give teachers and other school-based professionals guidance on how to identify and support children with Developmental Language Disorder in mainstream primary and secondary schools is available from Educational Support for Children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) (

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