Saturday, 11 January 2014


Please note links provided on this page link to youtube. Please use your own caution when opening youtube links, especially on a school network or in public.

As part of our communication development in our Nursery we have introduced Makaton.  Makaton was developed to aid children who were unable to communicate verbally as part of the special needs teaching of the recent past.  Nowadays we (the teaching community) don't use Makaton very much at all.  Our designated special provision area (DSP)  in our school have become experts over the last few years because they work with some extraordinary children with specific needs and Makaton is compatible with their needs.
One of our EYP's knew some Makaton so we introduced this last year on a bit of an ad-hoc basis, but as part of the CPD for the school and the DSP we decided to introduce it to the school as a whole.
The theory was that if we began this in the Nursery, it was the best chance of it being incorporated into practise throughout the school.  The Nursery is a the foundation for most of the school's children as most progress into the main school when graduating from us.
We want the Makaton to be used alongside oral communication because of the importance of the different types of learning (VAK).  But most importantly we appreciate that it would be difficult for a child to be successful by only learning Makaton in an environment where oral language is the most prominent form of communication.
We began by introducing some basic greetings and question words: (click to see examples where possible)

What (Level 1 question [see previous post on ELKLAN])
Who (Level 1 question )
Where (Level 2 question)
What doing (Level 2 question)
Why (Level 4 question)
Good morning
Good afternoon

The staff use these most often and we have had some limited responses from the children.  We powered through and introduced the next set of words:


(all colours here)

This time around we had much greater success.  In the past when we had introduced colour we had had very mixed results.  Some of the children would pick up a few (certainly no-one learned silver, gold, grey, black or white).  This time we found that many children were picking the colour names up after only a few minutes of teaching.  By the end of the first session introducing these colours the signs had become embedded.  The phenomenal success of these gave us a lot of hope for the success of Makaton for the school.  Pretty soon we were having training sessions with all of Foundation and some KS1 staff.  (We are still working at this point however have introduced many more new sounds.)

The downsides:

Firstly, Makaton is a new language in itself.  Its very logical and simple however it is still a new language to learn.  We are at about the 140 word level but I have to admit that I only remember about 30-40.  Working together as a team means we can remind each other of the signs we have forgotten.  However some of the signs are not appropriate for our level and therefore go unused and forgotten.

Secondly, we have found some of our children are not using Makaton alongside verbal language. We have one girl in particular who will not speak in any language but will reply to questions in Makaton.  Its great that she knows the signs, but it does limit her to a very small vocabulary.

What else?

We are using Makaton in our environment in all areas of the provision.  For example we have A3 posters of the children demonstrating the sign and the word written underneath.  In the snack area we display, "milk, water, snack, finished," as these are the words which we use most often here.
Each area have specific words relating to that provision area displayed there as well as a list of ELKLAN appropriate questions.

Where next?

We are continuing to meet once a week in a large group to learn new sounds.  We are aiming for around 10-20 signs per week and where possible, making these appropriate to our topic or theme.

We are starting to tell stories using Makaton, encouraging children to use these signs themselves to retell the story.

The head of the DPS wants to write a small scale research project to highlight the advantages of Makaton for children with EAL or limited linguistic skills.  I'd appreciate any readers comments about any papers they have seen about Makaton because as far as I can find, there are none!

Also one last note. We are in Bradford, UK if anyone is interested in finding out more about Makaton, ELKLAN or its effectiveness in our setting/how to adapt to your setting, please leave a comment and I can email you on your school email address.

1 comment:

  1. Hello

    For information about using Makaton with EAL, contact our Training Services Manager - Helen Hayhoe ( We also have Tracy King who can help with suggestions of introducing Makaton (symbols and signs) in your setting (

    Hope this helps!