Meath School

Meath School

Talk, Learn, Grow

Interactive Bar


More about sign supported English

As part of our whole school Total Communication Approach (using a combination of communication methods for each child), all staff and children at Meath use a signing system called Sign Supported English. This supports children’s understanding and use of spoken English across their school day.


Sign Supported English has a core vocabulary base that is the same as Makaton and is derived from British Sign Language (BSL). The signs are used alongside speech and do not replace the spoken word. Recent evidence suggests that signing does not stop children using the spoken word, but can provide them with a valuable communication tool and the opportunity to put more words together.


Why do we sign?


We use signs to:

  • Support understanding of spoken language. Since signs are more visual and less transient than the spoken word, they can help children to process meanings.
  • Slow down and simplify adult language.
  • Help children to learn and remember new words.
  • Give children a tool to communicate with others if they find speaking difficult.
  • Facilitate interaction. Signs help children to communicate their options and build relationships with others.
  • Support the development of literacy skills.


How is Sign-Supported English used at Meath?

At Meath, we work through three stages of signing with the children.


Stage 1: Functional Signing


A single sign is used to communicate the main idea e.g. more, toilet, home


Children who are first learning to sign are encouraged to use functional signing of words which are important to them and help them to have their needs met, e.g. toilet, food, drink. The adults working with children will sign the main idea to help them understand what is being said. Staff working in the lower language level classes model signing using keyword signing.


Stage 2: Keyword Signing


All of the key words (information carrying words) are signed e.g. I want more bread. The girl is sitting in the lounge.


This level of signing is often used across the school day during assemblies, lunchtimes, playtimes to support the children in understanding key messages and encourage independence.


Stage 3: High Signing


All words in the sentence are signed with grammatical markers (eg tense markers)


Signs for grammatical structures are taught by teachers and therapists alongside the development of their language and literacy skills. As children’s sentence structures increase in length and complexity, grammatical information can be learnt through the additional visual cues given in signing. In the higher level language classes we are working towards Sign Supported English at high signing level with full grammatical structure.





If you would like to learn signing or encourage your child’s learning, here are some resources we recommend:


Something Special: a TV programme which uses Makaton to help children communicate and develop language skills. DVDs and monthly magazines are also available.


Makaton Charity provide books and songs with signs relating to daily life. They have also developed a Makaton Friendly search tool to identify museums, cafes, etc. where signing is used.


Singing Hands produce resources to support signing through songs and games.




The children’s classes will send home new signs that children learn specifically linked to the topics they are thinking about at school.  It is great if the children can share the signs with their families and friends at home too.


At certain times during the year we offer formal signing lessons for parents and professionals for the core vocabulary. If you are interested in learning to sign, please contact us.


If you live some distance from the school you may wish to access training from a tutor local to you. Details of upcoming beginners and follow up workshops can be found here.