Lately, we have all had to get up to speed quickly with technology such as Google Classrooms and Zoom. I’m sure we’re all looking forward to seeing people face-to-face again! However, this doesn’t need to stop when children return to school as both teachers and pupils can learn from our newly acquired video-conferencing etiquette. Many of the strategies needed for successful video-conferencing interactions, can be transferred into the classroom and will support children with speech, language and communication needs. Here are some of the things to keep up, when learning moves away from the screen:

Take turns to talk: Within a group call, signals for when to take turns need to be very clear, as talking over each other does not work. If pupils have got used to signalling non-verbally, that they want a turn, keep it going. If not, this might be an ideal time to introduce a ‘talking stick’, or a more subtle way for children to show you they have something to say. This could be a card on the table turned one way or another, to show whether they have something to say just to you, or to the whole class.

Look at the person who is talking: Paying closer attention to facial expressions, and keeping focused on the person talking, can make video-conferencing calls tiring. But learning to look at the person who is talking, is a lesson adults and children benefit from and leads to a far better understanding of what’s being communicated.

Make non-verbal communication explicit: Rather than relying on your facial expression, explain verbally what you are feeling or thinking. Some children need this to understand your meaning, either because they find non-verbal communication difficult to understand, or because they may not be focused on the non-verbal messages at that time.

Make any gestures you do use bigger and clearer: Gestures are a great way of helping pupils understand your language, but if you are always waving your hands around when you talk, how will your pupils identify what’s a gesture and what’s not? Use a gesture when it helps the children understand your meaning, for example for abstract concepts (e.g. full/empty, above/below for younger year groups, or evaporation/condensation for older year groups) – and keep your hands still the rest of the time!

Extra planning and providing of models: More preparation will be needed for a virtual lesson, but the quality of the teaching will reflect this.

Limit teacher talk: If you know you only have a limited amount of time in front of the camera to teach your lesson, plan very carefully what needs teaching via talking, and what can be learnt via other methods. Children and teenagers consistently report that they prefer lessons that include a range of learning methods: “With the best teachers, the lesson revolves around the discussion. They don’t speak for hours and hours.” (Communication Trust consultation 2009).

Concise, unambiguous instructions: People seem to avoid waffling on video-conferencing calls or videos and are aware of the need to keep to the key information. Giving instructions clearly and concisely, in the order they need to be followed out, greatly helps those with language and communication needs.

Embrace the silence: There are naturally more pauses in video-conferencing calls and learning not to fill the silence will have helped children explain themselves fully and feel listened to. Many children need extra processing time not just to understand language, but also to find the right words, to structure their spoken sentences and their explanations.

How else can the ‘new normal’ help teachers and families?

Families and school staff may well have been in touch with each other more during this time and parents/carers may feel they’ve got to know their children’s learning better. Use technology to keep this going, whether it’s continued use of an app such as ‘ClassDojo’ or the use of video-conferencing to help parents attend a parent-teacher meeting or a meeting with another professional.

Home learning has changed in format as well as amount! Now there’s an understanding that carrying out activities with children, when away from a book or screen, can still be learning – embrace this:

  • Set a P.E. lesson or dance class (hello Joe Wicks and Oti Mabuse!) as an activity, requiring pupils to be able to repeat one or two of the moves in school to demonstrate their learning.
  • Ask families to tune in to an inspiring speaker online, either ‘live’, e.g. the ‘Guest Speaker sessions’ offered by Skype or on YouTube, then think of one question they’d want to ask the person if they could interview them.
  • Older pupils could make a video recording with a guest speaker in their family or community (a small business owner, a war veteran, someone with an unusual pet…).

Before video-conferencing was a necessary way to connect with loved ones, many were not keen on using it as they didn’t like seeing themselves on screen. If pupils are ‘thawing out’ to this, use it as an opportunity to use video to self-monitor speaking and listening skills. Similarly, for teacher peer supervision!

So, embrace the positives from our new-found technical knowledge, and continue to use it support your own, and your class’, digital and face-to-face communication skills.

About Alys Mathers

Alys is a Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist working within the NHS and for Bubble and Speak, an online and face-to-face Speech and Language Therapy service run by therapists who have been embracing delivering therapy via video-conferencing for over 5 years.

To find out more visit

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