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School Makaton Signs

Being able to communicate is one of the most important skills that we need in life. At the most basic level, it enables us to express our needs to others – if we are hungry, hot or cold, or if we are feeling unwell.

Makaton signing

At school, lessons in communication happen every day. Whether they are structured tasks intended to build speaking and listening, or playtime games between groups of friends, many children learn these social skills without even realising – but for others, it may present additional challenges. For children with special educational needs (SEN), language barriers or other communication difficulties, the classroom can feel overwhelming, frustrating and isolating, rather than positive, safe and supportive.

This is where Makaton comes in.

What Is Makaton?

Makaton is a unique language programme that uses a blend of symbols, signs and speech to help people to communicate. Although it’s based on the signs used in British Sign Language (BSL), it’s not considered a formal sign language.

Makaton combines ‘key word signing’ in the same grammatical order as spoken English, together with speech or picture symbols, facial expression, eye contact and body language to give as much information as possible.

With so many components, it may feel as though it’s making things more complicated, but research has shown that signs and symbols are easier to learn than spoken words. Children often understand things before they know how to express them in words – for example, a toddler may not know how to say the word ‘biscuit,’ but pointing to the biscuit tin gets the point across just as effectively.

Who Would Use Makaton?

In the UK, over 100,000 children and adults use Makaton, either as their main method of communication, or to support their speech. Although it was originally designed to help individuals with learning and communication difficulties, anyone can learn it and use it. Its popularity and accessibility has increased in recent years, with characters such as CBeebies’ Mr Tumble becoming a familiar face on television screens across the UK.

CBeebies Mr Tumble doing a thumbs up

Makaton is also great for children and adults who are learning English as a second language. It is a fantastic, universal tool to allow students to communicate straightaway, supporting their learning and enabling them to build confidence with an unfamiliar vocabulary.

Makaton in UK Schools

In a classroom where diversity is the norm rather than the exception, Makaton is a simple and adaptable way to help level the playing field. It doesn't require extensive training, and can be seamlessly integrated into daily lessons, storytelling and playtime – both inside and outside the classroom. This ease of integration makes Makaton an invaluable tool, whether it’s facilitating communication for a child with speech difficulties, or enriching a learning experience for a whole class. Teaching Makaton not only serves to bolster communication into adulthood, but opens a conversation about inclusivity – becoming a gateway to developing empathy, open-mindedness and tolerance.

Makaton School Signs

A makaton school sign

The playground is a hub of activity and social interaction, but for some children, it is the place where communication barriers may become particularly evident. Introducing a Makaton school sign in the playground can be a game-changer in such scenarios, giving children a Makaton visual aid to explore in their own time. With bright colours and easy to understand illustrations, it can serve as an educational touch point, sparking curiosity and encouraging them to learn a new way to communicate. Teachers and students can learn the sign together, incorporating it into playground games or using it to initiate conversations, making it a living part of the school’s interactive landscape.

Tips for learning Makaton

1. Practise – use signs as symbols as much as you can.

2. Always speak as you use symbols.

3. Don’t forget eye contact, facial expressions and body language.

4. Start with short, clear sentences

5. Have fun! Learning a new skill can be frustrating to begin with, but with regular practise and plenty of encouragement, it’ll get easier.


The integration of Makaton into an education setting, from the classroom to the playground, serves as powerful tool for inclusion and breaking down communication barriers. It's more than just a language programme; it's a commitment to making education a truly accessible experience for all.

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