University of Edinburgh

Improving Memory Skills in Deaf Young People

Presented on Tuesday 26 January 2010 by Angela Cordingley

Improving children's writing

Where to start?

Hearing children only come to written text and writing for themselves when they have some mastery of language, either oral or sign or both. They have acquired many aspects of grammar.

What about our children?

Deaf children have a reduced vocabulary and often less structure. So what can we do to facilitate their writing development?


Immersion in language, talking to them and expecting them to watch and listen is very valuable. Many deaf children will acquire language in this way and require little additional support.

Many deaf children with direct teaching can extract language rules, which enables them to construct their own writing. However some children find this difficult. However Hudson (2005) suggested that immersion in language is not enough to develop an understanding of the structure of language. He suggested that children need direct and explicit teaching in the same way that foreign language teaching teaches grammar.

But to work this teaching of grammar has to be tailored to the language level of the child if it is to be effective. Many of the children who come into our secondary department have not developed a good enough understanding of grammar to allow them to construct grammatically correct sentences. 

We decided to focus on improving their written structures.

We looked at their WRIT profiles and discovered that many children had high visual profiles, hence were likely to be more visual learners. Hence we decided to try a new approach to support their writing, using visual hooks to help them to 'fix' the structure.

Shape Coding

Susan Ebbels has shown that the use of shape coding is effective with Speech and Language Impaired Children.

So I went to the school in Surrey to see it in action. It had potential ... but the shapes were too complex.

Speech and Language Impaired children have language (but it is disordered). Our deaf children often have more limited vocabulary and the language may be disordered.

Where to start?

Research has shown that for deaf children short sentences improve the development of grammar.

S V O means 'who, verb, what'

So we decided to go back to basicsand try to build up children's structure from the language level of the child. We started with the type of sentences the children were producing.


boy went  park
s v o

We decided that we would colour and shape code the main parts of a sentence to help the children 'see' the structure. This would aid their memory.

So they could write:

boy went  park
s v o

not :

the park boy  went
o s v

The initial shapes and colours.

Using Shape Coding

The shapes visually show the word order for simple sentences


This was really useful because now we had a language to talk about language.

Who / What?

Play with sentences


Play with the sentence


In school, we made our texts simpler to fit these shapes, so it would support their memory.

The children identified the shapes within the texts during group and individual activities and became keen to identify errors in given sentences (even those taken from their own work!)

Medieval England Text

William Duke of Normandy.
He came from Normandy.
He had an army.
His army were Normans.

Harold Hardrada was the King of Norway.
He was a powerful king.
He had an army.
His army were Vikings.

It was the 25th September 1066.
The Normans were shocked to see Harold's army.
The two men fought a battle.
Harald Hardrada was killed.
An arrow hit his throat.
Harold Godwinson won the battle.


One of the biggest difficulties for the children were verbs. We coloured them red because they are dangerous!

Children need encouraging to think about when the event happened

yesterday, today, tomorrow

What doing? - Verb

yesterday today  tomorrow
past present future
I ate   I eat I will eat
They jumped They jump They will jump

We introduced the idea of 'sensible' and 'silly' verbs

eg; jumped jump - sensible

ate eat - silly

When we showed examples we tried to put the past tense on the left, so we could show it was in the past

To be

The verb 'to be' has always caused deaf children problems

I jumped vs I was jumping

We taught 'to be' discretely first and wrote texts with lots of examples in.
W e played matching games, ordering games etc.

Verb agreement

verb agreement

Verb books

We developed verb sheets with the children for a visual reference.

verb books

This area has proved useful not just with our special needs deaf children but our GCSE cohort use it as a tool to self correct their work.

The big question: Does it work?

W 2007

W 2007

W 08

W 2008

Our objectives for the day:

Do you feel:

  • you have more knowledge about what deaf children can remember;
  • you are able to plan more effectively from a deaf child's perspective;
  • you can support writing - the permanent record of experiences;
  • inspired!