Experienced West Midlands based speech & language therapy

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Closing the Word Gap – two years on

Thankfully, for some schools and settings across the city, the rallying call  has become more than a transient strap-line which fades away to be replaced by the next ‘must-do’.

The battle to improve vocabulary skills will not be won in a week or a term or even a year.  Long-term robust plans need to be in place to not only help children to make gains but also to ensure those gains are sustainable.

Crucial to the success of any whole-setting strategy are the staff and the commitment to build knowledge and skills should be embedded in their practice.  At the end of last term Jervoise primary staff participated in a training event entitled ‘Supporting Vocabulary in the Classroom’. 

In order for our training to be effective, demonstrate value for money and ultimately benefit the children in a setting, we identify anticipated outcomes.  The descriptors below cover the main points delivered in the training. 

Here are those key learning points and the percentage gain in partipcants' learning post training :





% gain post-training


The impact of vocabulary difficulties in the classroom



How a child with vocabulary difficulties might present



How we learn new words



How to select the right vocabulary to teach



How to effectively use word maps/webs



How to run a vocabulary group



How to ‘activate’ and ‘review’ taught vocabulary to support effective teaching



How to measure progress



We look at how confident (i.e. knowledgeable) participants feel before the training, whether their confidence increases and to what extent.  In this way we can help settings to think about next steps.

The Jervoise staff group made gains for all descriptors and significant gains (i.e. 75% or more) for 8 out of the 9.   The process whereby we learn and store words is quite complex and it’s encouraging to see that everyone felt they had learnt something new.  The smallest gain was for descriptor D (how to select the right vocabulary to teach) which is logical in that staff will be familiar with the curriculum vocabulary children need to know - participants already felt reasonably confident about what vocabulary to teach.

We encourage the senior leadership to share the feedback with the staff group and to see how they feel about possible ways to build on what has been learnt so far.

Going forward, we have suggested that it is now worth considering a session specifically about narrative.  Narrative looks at the way children use all kinds of different words to construct sentences (i.e. grammatically) as well as convey ideas, information, make inferences, develop theories and hypotheses.  Spoken narrative skills are essential for good written narrative skills.

Contact us to find out how your setting could benefit from help to close that word gap.