Teaching pupils with speech and language difficulties

Auditory Processing Problems Expressive Disorders Receptive Disorders (Elective) Mutism
  • Teach prepositions one at a time, perhaps using visual reinforcement.
  • Use gestures, repetition and choose words at the child’s level of difficulty.
  • Talk to pupils as much as possible, using slower speech rate, shorter remarks, simpler sentences, repetition, exaggeration and gestures.
  • Choose questions carefully giving pupils opportunities to use language; how? Why? If – then … Avoid closed questions with yes/no answers.
  • Encourage games which use the senses.
  • Play games that talk about making mistakes, then “fixing them”. E.g. If I said “I want a baw” I would have to fix it and say, “I want a ball.”
  • Reinforce self-corrections. i.e. if a child makes a mistake and corrects it himself, then praise him and say, “Well done, you fixed that up by saying ‘ball'”.
  • Use labelled praise. E.g. “You read that well. I really heard the ch sound in cheese.”
  • Make modelled corrections. E.g. child says, “Look at the bat cat”. You respond by saying, “Yes, a black cat, a dark black one.”
  • Don’t ask the child repeatedly to say the correct word over and over. Just say it yourself several times so that the child will notice.
  • Verbalise thoughts and actions as they happen.
  • Use role play to give children opportunities to work in pairs where they take turns at being speaker and listener
  • Encourage an atmosphere where children are not afraid to ask for clarification.
  • Try to find a ‘buddy’ for the child with speech difficulties – very often children can communicate better through each other.
  • Use carefully graded reading books. Oxford Literacy Scheme publish a list of commonly used books and have graded them according to difficulty.

Auditory Processing

  • Play listening games where children have to listen for the sounds around them. You could also record common sounds and ask children to identify them.
  • In science use containers with different contents and get children to identify them by shaking.
  • In music have children close eyes while teacher taps out a rhythm. Children can try to count the beats or can repeat pattern back.
  • With closed eyes try to teach children to discriminate between near and far sounds, loud and soft sounds, high and low sounds.
  • Play find the sound where a ticking clock or a music box is hidden.

Expressive Disorders

  • Teach vocabulary through examples and demonstrations.
  • Keep instructions simple.
  • Prepositions are best taught one at a time.
  • Encourage children to speak by asking open-ended questions such as How? and Why?
  • Verbalise actions as you do them.
  • Have short role plays where child takes alternate parts in turn.

Receptive Disorders

  • Use gestures to help child understand your instructions.
  • Talk to the child in short simple sentences.
  • Encourage children to explore through their senses and talk about what they see, feel, hear etc.

Sample Phonics Lesson

Prepositions worksheet 1 (for young children)

Preposition worksheet 2

Rhythm Rhyme

(Elective) Mutism

  • Think about using a picture exchange system. Take photographs of the child doing the activities he/she likes to begin with and also drink and items he/she would like to eat for break. This would be a starting point for helping him/her to communicate some choices. When he/she chooses the activity make sure she gives it to a member of staff who will say what is in the picture and encourage the child to do likewise.
  • If the child can read, could she read the book onto a tape on her own and bring it back for you to listen to? Then you will hear the voice but not directly.
  • Sometimes a child can be encouraged to read with partner onto tape and then in small group again onto tape. Plays were good for this.
  • Talk to the child and alternate with talking to a puppet! Get the puppet to answer . After a while the pupil hopefully will take the puppet away and converse with it. In time the hope would be that the child will converse with a puppet held by an adult with the adult talking through the puppet. Another idea is to have a bring small pets day and encourage the child to talk to a pet!
  • Another idea to try is having a small group of pupils sitting in a small comforting circle and saying easy things out loud round the circle eg counting a number each. You may be able to recite rhymes that had already been done with your whole class etc,
  • What about passing a soft toy as you say numbers, rhymes etc, emphasis on toy not what they are doing. Rewards can be given for even a slightest utterance e.g. clips which child then hooked together; again emphasis on doing something rather than correct production of language. A puppet for each person in group is another idea. (Ideas from Anne Stockdale, SENCO forum)
  • When trying to assess these pupils for oral examination you are going to have to be creative; You need to choose the best environment for him/her. Consider using a phone between pupil and examiner. Could you tape the questions and get the child to listen to and respond at home?


Communication Plan – Reflexes, Learning & Behaviour; a window into the child’s mind, by Sllay Goodard. This book includes an article by a 17 year old talking about the difficulties of elective mutism.

Further Information

Causeway Trust (Tel. 028 2766 6600) in conjunction with NEELB and Homefirst Community Trust (Tel: 028 2563 3700 have produced a booklet, “An Introduction to Coping with Speech and Language Difficulties in the Classroom” (March 2000).