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Applebee Wood Community Specialist School

Respect, Belonging, Trust, Resilience, Aspiration


Total Communication

“Communication is crucial…. It is an essential life skill….and it underpins a child’s social, emotional and educational development.” (Bercow Review 2008)

We recognise that positive relationships and communication are inextricably entwined and essential to all learning experiences at Applebee Wood. Without relationship there is no desire to communicate and without communication further learning will not take place. One cannot happen without the other.

Relationship and Communication are the first priorities for each pupil and a personalised approach is key to their development. This is not something that happens in isolation but over-arches all learning experiences and therefore, opportunities to develop communication skills should be maximised throughout the school day.

Some children are assigned to a Speech and Language Therapist (SALT) who gives advice, activities and communication aids that are used in school and at home.

All children have access to nurturing and responsive adults and holistic communication which is led by the individual child’s needs.  To support understanding, adults use a total communication approach.

The total communication approach is about using the right combination of communication methods for an individual to ensure the most successful forms of contact, information exchange and conversation.

For example, an individual may receive information via speech and signs while expressing themselves via signs and symbols.

Methods used include:

  • Body language
  • On body signs
  • Facial expression
  • Objects of reference
  • Sign language (Makaton)
  • Photographs
  • Drawings
  • Symbols – (Widgit)
  • Written words
  • Vocalisation
  • Intonation
  • Verbalisation
  • Technology
  • Musical cues

A physical, multi-sensory curriculum with high interest, motivating activities is offered. An Intensive Interaction approach and child-led ‘ethos’ is embedded throughout the learning experience: children learn best when they are motivated and engaged in activity which is meaningful to them.

Children are given opportunities to respond, repeat, engage, request, initiate and finish an activity or interaction through:

  • consistent and predictable social routines
  • consistent and predictable environment
  • good relationships with adults who seek to understand them and recognise small changes in expression, body language or vocalisations
  • adults who recognise, validate and respond to their unintentional communications and who give time and support to early intentional communication
  • simple spoken language, early toys, games and pictures
  • time for physical comfort to be ensured as an essential priority
  • consistent and predictable cues for transition and daily activities
  • symbol and signs that are meaningful and relevant to the individual child
  • a multi-sensory curriculum which takes account of individual preferences
  • 1:1 intensive interaction with familiar people in a relaxed and happy environment where adult are attentive and ready to respond to and echo or mirror the smallest of communications from the child
  • opportunities to lead and terminate interaction games
  • opportunities to respond to familiar and less familiar adults
  • opportunities to hear and respond to spoken language, singing and music
  • opportunities to hear, respond to and show understanding of their own names and familiar early sounds and words eg. mum, brrrm
  • opportunities to working co-actively with familiar people, showing anticipation of repeated activity (eg: join in ‘row the boat’)
  • adults who are responsive to any indication that the child desires to finish an interaction
  • opportunities to show preference for particular people, objects and activities and time to process and communicate an indication of ‘more’ and ‘no more’ consistently through their responses
  • opportunities to respond with interest in the actions of others close by (eg: make eye contact, turn towards, reaching out, vocalising)
  • time to process information and engage actively in familiar social activities and events, for instance participating in a favourite action song or opening mouth for a drink
  • time to share joint attention in an object or activity, eg. shared looking at a toy
  • time to share space and proximity with adults and peers
  • time to process and communicate a choice of object or activity by making sounds, gestures or eye-pointing
  • age appropriate topics and literature so older pupils engage


Talk Boost is a communication package which covers a variety of areas.

In Primary 

  •  Attention and listening
  • Vocabulary
  • Building sentences
  • Telling stories
  • Conversation


In Secondary 

  • Listening carefully
  • Learning new Words
  • Telling stories and saying what happens
  • Remembering and thinking
  • Working with others
  • Making friends and having conversations


Pupils have weekly lessons using the Talk Boost resources. However the learning will be included in all areas of school life.




School communication

As a school we learn a new Makaton sign (or signs) each week and practice them during form-time.  


We also ran a competition for pupils to send in a video of them using Makaton. We had some amazing entries.  Below is KS3 signing to the song "Happy".  We also have some signing videos below by Miss Gotts, who uses Makaton with the younger, non-verbal pupils.

Makaton with Miss Gotts - Days of the week

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Makaton with Miss Gotts - Colours

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Makaton with Miss Gotts - Family

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Makaton with Miss Gotts- FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS

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