Creating a communication supportive environment: Primary

What is a communication-supportive environment?  

A communication supportive environment is one that ensures that children’s speech, language and communication skills are planned for and supported throughout the day.  It will look slightly different in early years settings and in school environments, but in general, it covers three aspects: 

  • The physical environment  
  • The strategies that adults use  
  • The opportunities that children have to practise their communication skills  

Physical environment 

A communication supportive environment in the primary years has:  

  • Visual timetables and visual cues in the environment (e.g. vocabulary walls, targets/learning objectives written on the board, visual reminders of vocabulary) so that children know what to expect. 
  • A classroom environment that is not too cluttered and where equipment is clearly marked with a label saying what it is.  
  • Planned seating arrangements so that children are encouraged to work together and communicate with each other. Children with challenges are sat closer to the front and facing the teacher.  
  • Additional resources that are available if needed, for example IT software, alternative recording sheets with less information or where less writing is needed, vocabulary lists with visual support, narrative/work planning sheets.  
  • Managed background noise levels so that children are able to listen and think when needed.   
  • Labelled resources to help children to be more independent in accessing resources and organising themselves.   
  • Book corners – these are important throughout children’s education, not just in the early years. 
  • Clear and consistent routines – how does the environment help children to know what to expect and when?   

Adult strategies 

The way adults talk to children can have a big impact on the development of their speech, language and communication skills. Key strategies in the primary years include: 

  • Using visual supports and practical teaching approaches including use of real objects, practical activities, pictures, video. 
  • Using gestures, pointing, showing and other visual cues to support children’s understanding at the same time as talking. 
  • Giving children thinking time so that they can plan how they want to respond or plan how to complete a task.  
  • Giving short instructions in the order that they should be followed (avoiding using terms such as ‘before’ and ‘after’). 

Have a look at our strategies to support primary-aged children’s communication skills for more information and ideas. 

Opportunities for children to practise their communication skills 

Finally, a communication-supportive environment means that children have lots of opportunities to practise using their speech, language and communication skills throughout the day. These could include: 

  • Talking partner activities, planned frequently throughout the day so that children have the opportunity to discuss thoughts and ideas with each other before sharing with the wider group. 
  • Small group activities where children work together and group roles are given to support children to contribute in different ways. 
  • Group discussion activities where children are supported to discuss ideas as a group. Adults can support children to contribute in different ways by giving children different roles or providing sentence starters and word lists. 

Reflecting on practice  

Take a learning walk around your classroom and other areas of your school and look at the environment from a child’s point of view. Does it make sense? Does it have a variety of different spaces for different purposes and different types of conversations? Are there lots of planned opportunities for children to communicate? 

Links and references 

Better Communication Research Programme: