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Adapting the environment

This is a brief introduction to some ideas of how to adapt the educational environment to include children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).  These are generally more applicable to younger children but the underlying principles could also be applied to environments with older pupils.

Many children with speech, language and communication needs have good visual skills. Visual support can be a very effective way of supporting understanding, enhancing an educational environment and promoting confidence and learning. For example:

  • Make timetables visual - use pictures, symbols or photographs, for younger children, having a visual time line can be very effective.
  • Label equipment and places for specific activities - use pictures, symbols, photographs or written labels.
  • Have visual displays of topics or current activities. This can be used to reinforce information. Beware there isn't too much, though - for some children, vast displays on the wall can cause overload.

You can adapt the environment in other ways, for example:

  • Consider noise levels. If the environment is too noisy, it can be difficult for children to listen effectively or focus on tasks in hand. 
  • Minimise distractions. This helps children to focus on language in class.
  • Make the routines of the classroom or activity very explicit. Often children can benefit from rehearsing these routines several times to become more confident in the environment.
  • Give children opportunities to familiarise themselves with the layout of the setting. They may need extra support to get to know the names of staff, or where particular lessons or activities are taking place. This is particularly important where a child comes into contact with many members of staff, or if the school site is large. This may involve providing a suitable map or guide.
  • The amount and style of adult 'talk' can greatly influence the environment and how accessible it is to children with speech, language or communication needs. Giving children time to process and understand information, and to respond is crucial. By adapting their use of 'talk' in the classroom, and in particular their level of language, adults can really enhance the learning environment.
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