& Professionals

How to help young people with Receptive Language Difficulties


Losing attention when being given verbal information

Useful strategies: 

  • Ensure that the pupil is attending to you before speaking to him.  Use verbal/physical prompts, such as saying name, touching arm etc.
  • Give an overview or context for the day’s lesson.


Not following instructions correctly

Useful strategies:

If there is a sequence of instructions to follow:-

  • pause between each one to allow time to process the information;
  • emphasise key words;
  • give instructions in the order they should happen.

Not understanding longer pieces of spoken information, such as a story/ factual information about a topic

Useful strategies: 

  • Be aware of the complexity of the language you are using with the pupil.  You may need to simplify the language and break down the amount of information given.
  • Provide simple written information or key points to reinforce spoken information (being aware of pupil’s literacy level).
  • Use a multi-sensory approach with the whole class i.e. visual information, pictures, objects and real life experiences to reinforce information the pupil has to listen to.
  • Encourage the pupil to tell you when he does not understand.


May misinterpret an explanation, instruction or question due to unfamiliar words i.e. vocabulary/ The pupil may have gaps in his vocabulary

Useful strategies:

  • Use simple vocabulary when speaking with pupil.
  • Avoid technical words and jargon – try and replace them with a simpler word that the pupil will understand.  If technical words do need to be used, explain what they mean e.g.  terms such as ‘contrast, compare, explain’.
  • Pre-tutor vocabulary in 1-1 or small groups if at all possible.
  • Display key vocabulary  in the classroom


Difficulty responding to non-literal language e.g. sarcasm, idioms, such as ‘pull your finger out!’, ‘put a sock in it’ etc.  Pupil may look ‘blank’ or take the information literally

Useful strategies:

  • Avoid using sarcasm, metaphors and idioms because these styles can be difficult for some pupils to understand.
  • If you do use them explain the meanings.


Difficulty understanding and answering questions, such as ‘Why? How? If?’ type questions

Useful strategies:


  • Re-word questions if the language is too complex for the pupil to understand e.g ‘look at his facial expression.  How do you think he is feeling?’    


Difficulty understanding written information

Useful Strategies:

  • Use questions, such as ‘who, where, when, what happened’ to form a visual structure to encourage the understanding of information and text.
  • Discuss the information together verbally.




Further information can be found in Secondary Language Builders - Advice and activities to encourage the communication skills of 11-16 year olds available from

Local Initiatives

Early Years Initiatives

Our Early years team are currently working together with the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, this includes a rollout of language screening of children using the Wellcomm tool.

School Age Initiatives

We currently offer a range of virtual training sessions to schools for free! SENCo's will have been informed of training dates that you can book your staff on to. Please contact Fiona Taylor ( or your Link SLT if you have any questions about this. 


 Enhanced Services initiatives

The Enhanced Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) Service offer bought-in input in schools. This might involve universal input, individual or group interventions. The Enhanced Team also support schools and staff to develop communication friendly environments and deliver training. For further information, please contact Fiona Taylor –


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