Thursday, 4 November 2010

Sign a Story Project

I'm delighted to welcome Katja O'Neill as this month's guest blogger. We came across each other via the blog and it's already been a pleasure to know her:

Running my own classes for babies and toddlers for the past 7 years, I thought I had probably seen all the fantastic benefits the Signing can do in terms of language development and confidence in those little ones.

Nothing quite prepared me, though, for what I experienced with some 4-5 year old children last year...

I was approached by the Luton Borough Council to help them run a project in Preschools and Reception age children – primarily in settings which had been found to be well below average in their scores for Language for Communication as well as Dispositions and Attitudes.  I jumped at the chance as it provided me with a huge challenge – over  two 8 week periods I visited over 300 children in 10 different schools to help improve one particular aspect of their language – Story telling and sequencing, by accompanying spoken words with signs taken from British Sign Language.
We called the project ‘Sign a Story’....

Sign a Story aims to teach 3-5 year old children the language of storytelling kinaesthetically, using sign language for key storytelling words, so that new words and phrases are literally at their fingertips! The children internalise storytelling phrases, sequencing language and connectives such as “first”, “next”, “finally”, “after that”, “suddenly”, “unfortunately” and “once upon a time” by learning traditional tales accompanied by signs. This project takes inspiration from Pie Corbett’s “Talk for Writing” materials, with the added benefit of consistent signs taken from British Sign Language and a complete teaching package including DVD, puppets and laminated story cards, which we developed.

Data from our initial research shows that the percentages of children at risk of delay in EYFS Language for Communication and Dispositions and Attitudes fell rapidly during the eight week research period, in some cases by up to 60%, with the percentages of children at and above age related expectations in these two key areas increasing rapidly. There is also clear evidence that the children quickly apply this learning into their writing – and teachers reported on average a 300% increase in the numbers of children at risk of delay who achieved EYFSP Reading point 7 “Retells narratives in the correct sequence drawing on language patterns of stories” following the Sign a Story project.

The extend of the success of this programme has surprised all of us  The teachers, in particular, are really keen to bring Signing into other areas of the curriculum.
One teacher told us:

“I have not been this excited about an initiative in a long time. You can see the impact almost immediately in the children’s attitudes, speaking and writing. It helps all abilities to understand and retell the story and engages my boys as they are telling the story kinaesthetically. I am especially pleased with the impact it has had on the shyer children and those who have very low language as they can now sign to show me what comes next in the story, allowing me to provide them with the language they are looking for. It has also helped my highers with their writing and compared to this time last year they are using more story language in their writing and find it easier to retell events, normally structuring their writing using first next and finally (some of the first signs we learnt).” Reception class teacher, Beechwood Primary, Luton
For more information, including the Sign a Story package or to attend a workshop, contact or

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  1. It's amazing how a sign can add meaning to words. We were using sign with the introduction of narrative at the Richard Clarke First School in Abbots Bromley. Who, what, where, when are hard but if there's a sign the children pick up the concept so much better.
    I really enjoyed hearing about this.

  2. Sounds really good!

  3. Thanks for another wonderful post. Where else could anybody get that type of info in such an ideal way of writing?