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Language development in primary years

Produced by Speech and Language UK/NEU: 4 key things you can do to enhance primary school children’s communication. 

Primary school children, one with his hand up

Supporting language development

Classroom resources on key actions to aid language development in school.

View the resources

Being able to communicate is the most important skill we have in life. Almost everything we do involves communication; learning, making friends, sorting out problems and doing well at school all rely on our ability to communicate with others.

Language development in Primary steadily builds on the solid foundations established during the early years. Children’s attention, listening, understanding, vocabulary, speech, grammar, storytelling and conversations all develop further in terms of skills, knowledge and complexity.

Many people take communication for granted, but for some children communicating is difficult.

Language is the medium of teaching and learning in schools. Language is used to teach a lesson and explain tasks and pupils are required to use language to extend, clarify and consolidate ideas.

This leaflet outlines four key things you can do to enhance all children’s communication as well as provide effective class-based support for those who need a more targeted approach.

1. Know about typical language development

Speaking and understanding language develops gradually through childhood and into adolescence. Understanding typical language development and knowing what to expect from the children you work with is important.

If you know the progression of language you can support children to move to the next stage as well as spot those who need a more targeted approach.

There are some helpful resources available that show what to expect at different ages and stages of development including:

2. Identify children needing support

If you become aware either through your observations or assessments that a child needs a more targeted approach with their speaking and understanding:

Use an identification checklist to explore your concerns further and help determine which aspects of speaking and understanding the child is finding difficult. Some helpful resources include:

Universally speaking

Universally Speaking Primary Checklist can be used with any children that you’re concerned about.

The Progression Tools

Progression Tools Primary Years Set. These can help with identification and also be used to track progression of these skills over time or following interventions.

Speak to parents/carers – they know their child better than you and can provide information about how the child understands and uses language in lots of different situations. It may be that a child’s difficulties have been spotted before or parents/carers have already raised concerns. Some children though may have just slipped through the net.

English as an additional language (EAL) – It’s important that parents use their home language with their child so that they can develop the important foundations for language learning on which to build English. Speaking English as an additional language is not a cause for concern and can be a real benefit. However, children with EAL are just as likely as their monolingual peers to have a difficulty with speaking and understanding.

For more information about EAL and Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) visit: Bilingualism London Clinical Excellence Network

3. Know how to support all children’s language development

All children benefit from being taught in communication friendly schools.

These resources will help you to think about your classroom environment and whether it is communication friendly

Some children with language difficulties benefit from a focused language intervention group to accelerate their language skills. This enables them to learn and practise skills through quality interactions in a small group.

For those children who need a more targeted approach the assess,plan, do and review cycle works well.

Classroom observationsClass-based strategiesFollow planReview support strategies: continue / adapt?
SLC tracking: concerns?Input from SENCO-Targeted support / interventions?
SLCN checklistInput from parents-Further support / external advice

Some key strategies and approaches you can use to remove barriers to learning and support the child can be found here: Speech and Language UK’s Talking Point.

Some children have Developmental Language Disorder, which is a long term language difficulty that impacts on everyday social interactions and educational progress. DLD can be mistaken for a range of things including behaviour problems, poor attention, being shy or quiet, general learning difficulties or another type of SLCN such as Autism or Dyslexia. It is therefore important to be tuned into possible signs of an underlying language difficulty so that children do not get missed.

More in depth information about Developmental Language Disorder can be found here.

4. Work with others

Seek advice from your school SENCO on setting up a plan and support package for individual children about whom you have concerns. Through discussion a decision might be made to refer to outside agencies. They include speech and language therapists, specialist or advisory teachers and educational psychologists. Services vary depending on location but planning carefully and working closely together has been shown to be important to achieve the best possible impact.

These resources provide tips on what to consider before making a referral; how to provide effective information in a referral and what the decision-making process might look like.

Making effective referrals - Considering the whole child or young person

Making effective referrals - Building a communication profile

Making effective referrals- The referral decision-making process

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