Communication Friendly Environments

Using the Means, Reasons and Opportunities Model

Total communication

Learning environments can be adapted tosupport communication. Total communication accepts and utilises all forms of communication including informal methods such as facial expression, gesture and vocalisation and formal methods such as words, symbols, signs and VOCA. Pupils are encouraged to use whatever system is most effective for each given situation.

Means, reasons and opportunities to communicate


Money, D. (2002) Chapter 3 Speech & Language Therapy Models in Management of Communications needs in people with learning disabilities EDS Abudarham and Hurd, WHURR Publishers, Page 82 - 102 (model page 87)

Physical environment

It is important to provide the means to communicate needs and choices within the classroom. Access is one of the most important issues to consider when developing the classroom environment; fundamental to this is ensuring appropriate labelling of all storage, areas and equipment.

Photograph each pupil/adult this enables the pupils to identify who they wish to communicate or work with.

Communication boards these will include core vocabulary such as more, stop, finish, help, want. Less general subject-based vocabulary can also be made accessible on these communication boards.

Song boards/object tray these can be used to enable pupils to make choices of songs or within songs e.g. a variety of animals could be used to enable choices within the Old MacDonald song.

Photos/symbols of equipment this will promote pupils to become independent learners enabling them to make choices within their learning.

Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs) may be provided to suit a pupil’s communication level/ need. They can then be programmed to include key words in order for them to: gain attention, express emotions, contribute to songs/stories and join in discussions.

Sensory cues can be used to signify the day of the week using colours, textures, smells, tastes and sounds.

Objects of reference these are a universal set of objects that are used to signify places or activities to aid direction or choice.

Visual timetable this uses symbols or objects of reference to show a sequence of events or activities, these can then be removed as an activity is completed to show that it is time to move on.

Communication book these can include PECS folders or filo faxes. They are created for individual pupils and remain with that pupil to aid communication. They can simply give prompts to others about likes and dislikes, name, age etc. to encourage meaningful conversation, or have more complex sentence boards that pupils can display their opinions or needs using symbols.

TEACCH this approach uses visual structure to organise the world:

  • The environment e.g. with colour coded areas; dividing lines; different floor surfaces; position of furniture; place mats
  • The day e.g. using a visual timetable with objects, photographs or symbols
  • The lesson e.g. using a first/then template, a visual schedule or a job list
  • The task e.g. using start/finish baskets; a list of materials required; a visual sequence of steps within the task; an example of the completed task
  • The communication exchange, clearly marking the turns
  • The time (duration of the task) e.g. using sand timers or clocks

Approaches to teaching

  • Pause and give time for responses
  • Do not always ask questions; use other techniques e.g. give some information yourself, use encouraging noises such as ‘uh huh’ or non-verbal encouragement such as nodding
  • Ask open questions - ‘What do you think?’ ‘What about you?’
  • When necessary, model, talk through or give a physical prompt
  • When necessary ensure the vocabulary on devices is pertinent to subject or situation
  • Give pupils opportunities to practise using their device
  • Accept total communication responses if the pupil has effectively communicated his message

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Last updated: 19 July 2012

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