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Becoming a communicator
Group discution
  • Communication is not just functional, it is also about being part of a social world.
  • It is a big developmental leap to move from simply using words to taking part in conversations.
  • Conversation can be practised in one-to-one and peer group settings.
The elements of conversation

Harris and Wimpory (1991) categorised the elements of conversation as follows:


  • Imitating.
  • Responding.
  • Initiating.
  • Talking about one's own interests.
  • Asking simple questions (using intonation).
  • Combining gesture and speech.


  • Monitoring how much the
    other understands.
  • Responding to correct misunderstanding.
  • Changing communication modes.
  • Providing cues for the listener.
  • Combining responding and initiating.
  • Talking about others' interests.
  • Responding to questions.
  • Making sense of speech without cues.
  • Using speech with no cues.

For a child with learning difficulties to engage in conversation, a sensitive, responsive partner is needed.

Supporting inclusion
Teacher and girl interacting

Children will become confident communicators when their communication partners enable them to:

  • Feel able to make mistakes – be tentative and able to think aloud without being judged;
  • Use their own language – so that their ways of talking are respected;
  • Offer their own opinions and take them seriously; and
  • Take part in social conversations, rather than just communication for functional purposes.
A social communication session

In this clip, a group of girls with SLD/PMLD/CLDD take part in a social communication session.

What strategies does the adult use to enable the girls to converse?

  • Poster


Stories and anecdotes
Teacher shows a girl three cards

Social conversation often involves the telling of stories and personal anecdotes.

Through stories and anecdotes speakers:

  • Draw listeners in;
  • Present their views;
  • Make value judgements on what has occurred; and
  • Invite a response.

Children with expressive difficulties have personal stories too. They need to be encouraged and enabled to share these. Communication partners need to support children to tell their stories without hijacking the process.

Conversation partners

The following diagram, based on Harris and Wimpory (1991), shows helpful and unhelpful behaviour by conversation partners.


Observe a colleague's classroom.

Do children's communication partners enable
them to:

  • Feel able to make mistakes;
  • Use their own language;
  • Offer their own opinions; and
  • Take part in social conversations, rather than just communication for functional purposes?

Discuss your observations with your colleague and suggest any areas where practice might be improved.

Invite your colleague to carry out a similar exercise with your class.

Are there areas of practice that need to be addressed across the school?

Make an action plan and discuss with colleagues how it might be implemented.

Evaluate the changes you make in terms of improvements in opportunities for communication.

Find out more

Harris, J., Wimpory, D. (1991). BIMH Workshop Modules 'Get Kids Talking.' First Draft Publications. BIMH British Institute of Mental Handicap.