How to help children with speech and language difficulties


According to research, around 1.7 million children are struggling to talk and understand words – so how can teachers help in the classroom? Jane Harris, chief executive of Speech and Language UK, shares her advice.

1.7 million: that’s how many children our research suggests are struggling to talk and understand words in the UK right now.

Scores of historical research suggest that these children will find it harder to read, write, do maths and learn other subjects. They will also face challenges around mental health: we know, for example, from research from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, that around 45% of young people referred to mental health services have a higher-order language impairment.

Often, difficulties with learning, literacy, behaviour or friendships can mask the signs of speech and language difficulties, and it’s worth taking the time to consider whether the pupil could use extra support in this area.

If you think this could be the case, there are many practical teaching strategies to use in the classroom:

Using real objects, photographs and pictures can make language processing easier for children who are struggling to talk and understand words. For example, for a cooking lesson, create a prompt sheet to describe the preparation and equipment needed for the task: photos or symbols should represent washing hands, putting on an apron, getting out the utensils you need. You could also create a visual recipe card, adding photographs for each step.

Cue children in to listen by saying their name before giving an instruction.

Give instructions on the order they need to be completed. For example, instead of saying: “You can go out to play after you have put your books away”, say: “Put your books away. Now it’s time for playtime.”

Build in thinking time in class discussions so that children can process what has been said before they must respond. You could try having a “no hands up” rule for seven to 10 seconds after a question has been asked, or you could introduce a “think-pair-share” approach, when the child thinks on their own for a few seconds, discusses with a partner and then shares ideas with the class.

Use visual instruction cards, with each step of a task broken down into clearly defined stages to follow. This can help a pupil understand what to do, reduce language processing demands, and help to develop their independent working and organisational skills. In practice, give the child a template with first, next, then and finally, and take the time to talk through what tasks need to be completed. For example: first think about the question, next discuss it with your partner, then write down your ideas, and finally check your answers.

Encourage children to let you know if they have not understood, and teach them phrases such as: “Please say it more slowly”; “Please show me”; and “What does this word mean?”

Of course, some children will need support beyond these classroom strategies, and may need intervention delivered by trained teaching assistants or other non-specialists outside of the classroom. Around two children in every classroom have a lifelong speech and language challenge, and therefore need even further support from a speech and language therapist or specialist advisory teacher. If you have concerns about a child, and they aren’t making progress with the universal and targeted support on offer in your setting, do refer them for a full assessment.

However, even if this is the case, these children are in the classroom for most of the time, and introducing some simple strategies like those listed above will provide much-needed support.

Jane Harris is the chief executive of the children’s charity Speech and Language UK www.speechandlanguage.org.uk

Source: tes.com

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