& Professionals

How to help young people with Expressive Language Difficulties



General Difficulty expressing themselves

Possbile implications:

  • May be very quiet in the classroom and reluctant to answer questions.
  • May give very limited answers.
  • Limited spoken language will be reflected in the written language.


Useful strategies:

  • Give the pupil plenty of time to formulate their ideas and to provide an answer.
  • Encourage the pupil to expand his answers by saying for example “I don’t quite understand what you mean.  Could you give me some more information”. 
  • Ask open ended questions e.g “what are you doing now?” “How does this work? “ “Why do you think that happened?


Vocabulary knowledge and word finding difficulties

Possbile implications:

  • Misinterpreting an explanation, instruction or question due to unfamiliar words.
  • Lack of specific vocabulary when speaking and overuse of words such as he, it, thingy, that
  • Frustration at not being able to recall the vocabulary that he wants to use.


Useful strategies:

  • Teach new vocabulary thoroughly and in an organised way so that this vocabulary can be recalled when needed.
  • Introduce a few new words at a time.
  • Focus on the vocabulary that is most relevant for that pupil.
  • Use a multi-sensory approach to vocabulary learning e.g. mind-maps.
  • Give the pupil lots of opportunities to say the new words in order to retain them.
  • When a pupil is struggling to recall a specific word give semantic and phonic clues to jog the memory e.g. ‘what do you do with it, tell me something else about it, what sound do you think it begins with?'
  • Giving the initial sound will often prompt the pupil to remember the word e.g. It begins with ch..
  • Discuss with the pupil which strategies help him to remember words.


Grammatical difficulties 

Possbile implications:

  • May make grammatical errors or omit words
  • Common difficulties are past and passive tense errors,  incorrect plurals or pronouns, limited range of connectives.


Useful strategies:

  • All staff should model the correct grammatical structure e.g.

Pupil: ‘the material catched fire’

Adult models: ‘it caught fire’ (stressing the correct form)

  • Consider teaching specific grammatical structures in English lessons if there is a pattern of errors e.g irregular past tense.

  • Use close procedure worksheets which reinforce the structure that the pupil is learning.  The pupil can then fill in the gaps with the correct word or word ending.
  • Encourage the pupil to self-monitor or reflect on his use of grammar, by saying “Listen to the way you said that… does that sound right?”


Being able to verbally explain an event or tell a story

Possbile implications:

  • May take time to respond and therefore appear rude.
  • Not able to clearly explain a sequence of events. 
  • May have limited time vocabulary e.g before, last week, immediately.
  • May have limited imagination for creative writing
  • Difficulty writing stories, factual accounts, descriptive writing, comparing and contrasting.


Useful strategies:

  • Give the pupil time to respond. He may need longer to think about what he wants to say.
  • Support the pupil with a visual structure to re-tell his story. Use words such as first, and then, last. 
  • Develop sequencing skills – draw attention to sequences of events throughout the curriculum e.g. in science experiment, in history event or timeline.
  • Encourage story planning through brainstorming ideas and creating mind-maps or story boards.
  • Allow oral methods of recording e.g. tape/video.
  • Ensure that the vocabulary related to the task is understood e.g. perspective, comparison, argument.



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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