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Speech and Language in the Classroom

The Blog

Friday, 16 September 2016

How Communication Friendly Is Your Classroom? By Heather Stevens, SaLT

Approximate reading time: 2 mins, 30 secs.
How Communication Friendly is your classroom? Heather Stevens explores ways to maximise the classroom space to support language development.
If a stranger walked into your school what would be their first impression? How does your school welcome them?

Perhaps their eye would be drawn to your displays? Where would they see children working together? How easy would it be for them to identify the places that encourage children to talk?

The new National Curriculum recognises the need to improve oracy for all pupils. OFSTED’s survey, Removing Barriers to Literacy, reported that a common feature of the most successful schools was the attention they gave to developing speaking and listening. This also led to improved standards in writing.

Creating Communication Friendly Spaces
Effective communication friendly spaces give children a reason to talk as well as offering a place in which to do it.
The best spaces will have:
- A level of intimacy – e.g. a den, tent, large cardboard box
- Lower levels of background noise
- Role play opportunities that encourage dialogue through sharing or co-operation, e.g. shops or work places, telephone conversations, gardening, etc.
Former Communication Champion, Jean Gross, highlights the importance of identifying places to talk throughout the school. She suggests carrying out an audit of your environment to identify areas that are hotspots for encouraging talking and those which need to be developed to make them more communication friendly.
Some things to try: Communication Friendly Classroom
The Elizabeth Jarman Trust has developed a tool-kit called “Communication Friendly Spaces” which focuses on ‘de-cluttering’ the learning environment to support children’s listening and speaking skills.

Visit for more information on the Communication Friendly Spaces approach and to view the wide range of books and resources available.

Using The Existing Space To Encourage Communication
Sometimes it’s not about creating new spaces for talking but rather adapting existing spaces to give children a reason to talk and question. Wall displays around the school provide an excellent conversation starter for all pupils.

Communication Friendly Displays Should:
- Pose questions for pupils, e.g. what’s missing, why is this picture on the wall?
- Link to targets in pupils’ work.
- Use topic vocabulary.
- Provide a consistent approach to colour coding or question formats, e.g. colour coded questions, use of symbols.
- Encourage pupils to look beneath the surface, e.g. lift the flap.
- Be placed at the right level for children to access them easily

For some examples of communication friendly display boards visit Linda Hartley’s blog at  

Visit our website to download your copy of The Link’s talk friendly environment audit to see where the best talking spaces are in your school.

References: Removing Barriers to Literacy available from Gross, J. (2013) A Time to Talk: Implementing outstanding practice in speech, language and communication. Routledge: Oxon

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Friday, 9 September 2016

SLCN Glossary 2, by Heather Stevens, SaLT

Approximate reading time: 2 mins, 30 secs.
SLCN Glossary: Speech Delay versus Speech Disorder

Speech Delay versus Speech Disorder
It’s not difficult to appreciate that a child’s speech skills take a while to develop and that it can be difficult to understand the speech of little ones when they first start to talk. What is more difficult to get to grips with is the fact that speech sounds develop in a particular order and that certain substitutions are “normal”. Some two year olds may be very talkative but there will be sounds that they are not yet able to use and that we would not expect them to use. If they make the “normal” substitutions we, as listeners, know what they are trying to say.

There are a number of normal developmental processes that affect the speech sounds of young children. The most common are:

Where a sound made at the back of the mouth is replaced by a sound made at the front. For example: instead of “cup” you might hear a child say “tup” and instead of “book” you might hear “boot”.

Final consonant deletion: 
Where the last sound in a word is left off. For example, for “bus” you might hear “bu_”.

Where a child uses a short sound (also known as a plosive or a stop) instead of a long sound (also known as a fricative). For example, using /t/ instead of the long sound /s/. So you might hear “tock” instead of “sock”.

If these normal processes persist for longer than expected a child can be described as having delayed speech. In other words, they are following the normal developmental pattern but at a slightly slower rate.

A child who is making errors that do not fit into this normal developmental pattern or is substituting sounds that we would not expect to hear is described as having disordered speech. This may be the result of a physical or mechanical problem such as a hearing loss or cleft palate. It may be the result of a difficulty with motor coordination. Some children have specific difficulty processing and discriminating between speech sounds. Vowel sound difficulties are not part of the normal developmental pattern of speech and are usually associated with a speech disorder.

Children who have disordered speech should always be discussed with a speech and language therapist (SaLT).

Speech Link is an assessment and intervention package that helps schools decide if a pupil has a
speech delay or a speech disorder. The Speech Link evaluation takes into account the age of a child and uses developmental norms to establish whether or not a child is making the appropriate sounds for their age. When a delay is identified by the Speech Link screen, the package will provide speech sound programmes and resources for the school to use to develop the pupil’s speech.

The Speech Link evaluation will also identify when a child is using unusual or unexpected substitutions and recommend discussion with SaLT. 

Order of Development of Speech Sounds Age Established sounds Emerging sounds 2 – 2 ½ years p, b, t, d, m, n k, g, y, ng, w, h 2 ½ - 3 years k, g, y, ng, w, h f, s, l 3 - 3½ years f, s, l z, v 3½ - 4 years z, v, ch Some blends, j/dge, 4 – 5 years j/dge, blends r, th, sh 5 – 7 years Complex blends Sh, r, th

To find out more about how Speech Link can help your school visit

Read more from our SLCN Glossary.

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Friday, 2 September 2016

SLCN Glossary 1, by Heather Stevens, SaLT

Approximate reading time: 3 mins.
SLCN Glossary, by Heather Stevens, SaLT
Here at Speech Link Multimedia Ltd. our focus is on communication and so it’s especially important that we communicate effectively with our users. We are mindful that sometimes speech and language therapists can be guilty of using technical terms or terms that may not hold the same meaning for our colleagues in education.

Over time it is our intention to put together a glossary, which will also appear in our Link Magazine, to define a few terms in detail. Let’s start with some of the broad terms that are used regularly in relation to children with SLCN.

Receptive Language:
This is the term speech and language therapists use to describe the language that someone understands. It is the skill that Language Link focuses on and refers not only to the understanding of vocabulary but also the understanding of grammar and the way that language works in different contexts. In the process of language development understanding proceeds spoken language, in other words a child is able to understand more language than they are able to use. The terms receptive language, comprehension or understanding may be used interchangeably. Throughout the Language Link packages we use the term understanding.

It is very hard to identify that a child is having difficulty understanding language as it is not an observable skill. Language Link is designed to identify children with difficulty understanding language and will highlight the areas of language where a child needs support.

Spoken Language:
This describes the language that someone is able to use. It is important to distinguish between spoken language and speech. The term spoken language encompasses a variety of skills only one of which is speech.

It describes vocabulary and the grammar used to combine and structure the words into meaningful communication. The term expressive language is often used by speech therapists to describe language output. A difficulty with spoken language may manifest itself as difficulty learning or remembering vocabulary or difficulty using grammar to sequence thoughts and ideas coherently.

The terms expressive language and spoken language can be used interchangeably.

Throughout the Speech Link Multimedia Ltd. packages we use the term spoken language.

It is usually easier to identify that a child has a spoken language difficulty because what the child says may be difficult for the listener to follow or understand.

Speech is the physical process of forming and combining speech sounds into recognisable strings of language. It is one medium that we can use to embody the language that we want to communicate. We can also use the written medium or the medium of non-verbal gestures or signs.

If a child has a speech problem it will be obvious to the listener. It is easy to identify that there is a problem but it can be more tricky to work out exactly where the problem lies. Speech Link is designed to identify the sounds that a child is having problems with.

Find out more:

Click on the SLCN Glossary Tag below to show all other linked articles.

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Friday, 26 August 2016

Spotlight on Verbal Dyspraxia, by Derry Patterson, SaLT

Approximate reading time: Under 5 mins.

Have you ever tried to do up coat buttons with your gloves on? Now imagine trying to do up your shoe laces wearing oven gloves. Would you be the first in the class to get ready for PE?

For children with Dyspraxia this is their world. Everyday tasks can become major challenges.
Spotlight on Verbal Dyspraxia
Dyspraxia or Development Coordination Disorder (DCD) affects between 2% and 10% of children. It is a motor co-ordination difficulty which can have wide ranging effects. Children with DCD will struggle with tasks requiring the co-ordination or sequencing of movements. They will lack organisational skills and may be easily distracted. Anxiety can play a large role with some pupils becoming reluctant to speak or participate in certain situations.

Dyspraxia can affect gross and fine motor skills or be more specific, affecting just groups of muscles, e.g. oromotor dyspraxia effects lips, jaw, tongue and soft palate or oculomotor dyspraxia which just effects eye movements.

You may be familiar with pupils who struggle with dressing, movement and handwriting but did you know that Dyspraxia can also affect speech and language?

Dyspraxia and Speech
Verbal dyspraxia affects the production and sequencing of speech sounds. The child’s speech may be difficult to understand, even for family members. The pattern of errors can also be very inconsistent making it hard to ‘tune in’ to the child’s speech. These speech difficulties can persist for many years and the child will not simply grow out of them. If you think a child in your class has verbal dyspraxia you should contact your local Speech and Language Therapist.

Therapy focuses on repetitive exercises which should be built up gradually and carried out frequently - a challenge within a busy curriculum. However, small step repetitive exercises can make a huge difference with many pupils achieving clear speech as they move through the school.

Verbal dyspraxia - signs to look for:
• Limited range of sounds
• Distorted vowels
• Difficulty with longer words
• Unusual stress and intonation
• May have problems eating and/or drinking
• Literacy difficulties
• Language difficulties

Dyspraxia and Literacy
Many pupils with verbal dyspraxia will struggle with reading and spelling and indeed difficulties with literacy can persist even when the child’s speech has improved and become easy to understand. Verbal dyspraxia affects the child’s phonological processing, in particular any tasks involving segmentation, so they are likely to need a lot of support with phonics. They may find it very hard to blend and segment sounds and syllables.

You may notice that they are slow to move on from whole word reading to breaking words down into sounds. It may take them a long time to learn grapheme-phoneme correspondences and they may also struggle with both rhyme detection and production tasks.

To support literacy development for these pupils try these ideas. You should find they benefit all pupils, not just the children with dyspraxia.
- Introduce sound cards – pictures to represent sounds e.g. The Speech Link sound cards.
- Teach letter sound relationships using hand signs (e.g. Cued Articulation*) for sounds and finger spelling for letters. Make sure you use the hand sign up at your mouth to show it represents speech and the finger spelling sign down by the page to represent letters.
- Develop an awareness of sounds in words, e.g. ask the child to find something in the classroom beginning with a given sound, or to decide which two words have the same sound at the beginning from a choice of three pictures.
- Work on segmentation skills using sound cards and coloured cubes to provide visual support.
- Use whole word teaching strategies.

Speech Link Activity Resources
It is likely that pupils with verbal dyspraxia will take a long time to grasp phonics and will require time for repetition and revision of skills.

Dyspraxia and Language

Dyspraxia can also affect a child’s understanding and use of spoken language.
Pupils with Dyspraxia may have difficulty: You could try…. Understanding concept vocabulary related to time and space • Introducing reference pictures to represent position words • Hiding a ‘character’ in different places around the classroom on request e.g. where’s the monster hiding today? • Working on one concept at a time • Allowing time for overlearning before moving on to the next concept • Introducing a concept of the day/week and provide lots of opportunities for the pupil to hear, see and experience the concept Remembering and following instructions • Using simple language alongside some visual prompts e.g. task management boards • Giving extra time for child to process the language • Providing repetition of instructions • Using demonstration i.e. show the child what to do Sequencing instructions or tasks • Using task management boards and visual timetables Giving explanations or answering questions • Using sentence and story planners and story • Rehearsing answers with talk partner or adult • Using scaffolding techniques to lead pupil to the answer

*Cued articulation is a signing system that was developed by Speech and Language Therapist, Jane Passey, to help anyone who has difficulty processing, pronouncing or sequencing English speech sounds. Each sound has its own hand cue which the adult uses to show the child how and where the sound is produced. It is a very simple system to use and can work extremely well for many pupils with a variety of speech difficulties including Dyspraxia.

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Friday, 19 August 2016

SLCN Update: Language Delay by Numbers (Infographic), by Derry Patterson, SaLT

Approximate reading time: Under a minute.

In the last few years the importance of early language development has come into sharp focus. The link between environment in early childhood and language development is well established. 

Here are a few uncomfortable numbers:

40% Of the poorest boys in England start school without the language skills needed to learn. Read On Get On campaign.  7 years. Is the gap between the best and worst 10 year old readers in England. Read On Get On campaign.  25% Of children start school unable to communicate at the level expected for their age. Early Intervention Foundation Report  1 in 3 Children growing up in poverty have delayed language development. ICan  15 months If you lag behind by more than 15months when you start school you are unlikely to be able to catch up.  8 million Fewer words heard a year by children living in social disadvantage. Early Language Delays in the UK

Sources: Early Language Delays in the UK. Law, J. et al (2013)/Read On Get On campaign (2014) Early Intervention Foundation report (2015)

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Friday, 12 August 2016

Education Update: 'Funding for Disadvantaged Pupils’ Report, by Jo Chessum, Specialist Teacher

Approximate reading time: 2 mins, 30 secs.

With Pupil Premium children being a key focus of Ofsted Inspections, here’s a summary of the recent Funding for Disadvantaged Pupils’ Report published in September 2015.

The report shows that the funding has narrowed the gap for both primary and secondary aged pupils. However, the gap has remained large and progress has been uneven across the country. Although there is a growing evidence base for ‘what works’, the report claims that more needs to be done to encourage schools to use and share ‘best practice’. The report goes on to suggest that Pupil Premium Reviews should be mandatory for schools that fail to evidence effective use of the funding.

Lack of parental engagement has been identified by many schools as a significant barrier to closing the attainment gap. The report suggests that very few schools are using the Pupil Premium to address this and that clear guidance is required on ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘how’!
Only 37% of schools recommended for a Pupil Premium Review actually had one. Disadvantaged pupils do better in schools where they are present in very high or very low numbers. Only one third of schools fully adhere to the requirements of the Pupil Premium Annual Report.
Top Tip
Parental engagement has been identified as a significant barrier to closing the attainment gap but schools are not using Pupil Premium to address this. Here are some of the ideas we have seen used to engage ‘hard to reach’ parents. Why not try some out in your school?

• Staff greet parents at the school gate, putting faces to names.
• Parental Support Workers/Family Liaison Workers offer 1:1 or small group support.
Home visits to make contact outside of the school environment.
• Frequent text message updates to highlight children’s achievements.
• ‘Welcome to School’ room that feels more like a lounge than a meeting room.
• ‘Success Lounge’ for sharing positive experiences.
Workshops on phonics, language, writing, etc. to help parents understand what their child is learning.
Workshops on English, ICT, etc. to develop the parents’ own skill base.
Workshops on how to understand school reports, EHCPs, etc.
Out of school hours learning opportunities for children and their parents, both academic and fun!
Resources to support learning outside school.
Parent mentors through a ‘Parent Support Group’.
Parent-led workshops relating to personal experiences.
Child-led workshops to encourage parents to attend.

Read more: Narrowing the Gap

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Friday, 5 August 2016

Effective TA Support for SLCN in the Classroom

Approximate reading time: Under 1 min, 30 secs.

One of the messages we are keen to share is that those strategies that support children with language delay or difficulties can also promote learning for children with other or indeed no additional needs. Embedding such strategies into daily classroom practice is a move towards a more inclusive approach but that must involve both teachers and TAs.

Pre-Teaching key concepts, ideas and vocabulary prior to lessons can enable children to access learning at a higher level, rather than focusing on meaning alone.

Repetition and Clarification of instructions or information helps children to understand. Remember to maintain some level of challenge. Encouraging children to break down tasks into manageable chunks and think about their organisation can help children develop a more independent approach to learning.

Commentary is a very useful tool and not just for younger children. Providing a narrative whilst children are working on tasks models good language and helps children understand processes. Encouraging children to provide commentary for each other extends opportunities for use of language across a range of classroom activities.

Rehearsal allows children to practise oral work (or orally for written work). Repeating what they have said, word for word, helps them check for sense and structure. Asking open questions, those that require more than just a one word answer, promotes higher level thinking and provides a deeper learning experience.

FREE RESOURCE: Teacher lesson guidance for TAs! Download from

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