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Toy story
Children who are learning English as an Additional Language often go through a silent period at nursery or school, even when fluent in their first language. Arguing the case for providing such children with support, Cynthia Pelman introduces StoryF.R.A.M.E.S, a play and narrative approach designed to scaffold opportunities for English language output.


hildren who speak languages other than English and who are new to a school setting often go through a silent period in which they are assumed to be absorbing (inputting) the new language. It is presumed that once they have absorbed enough of the phonology, vocabulary and syntax, they will start to speak. But what of the child who remains silent for longer than is acceptable? And what of the claims of some authors (Granger 2004; Hoffman, 2008) who say that the silent period is one in which the child is not only having to acquire a new language but also a new identity to go with it? Some level of emotional difficulty might especially be the case for a child who has never attended school before, and for whom the first experience of formal education takes place in an incomprehensible language. I think we often underestimate the trauma such children experience, and too often the child is left to deal with this without any support. These children do not usually get onto speech and language therapy caseloads as they are reported to be speaking fluently at home in their first language, and are therefore assumed to be coping well. Working in Hackney, where there are reportedly 97 languages being spoken by school pupils, I have come across many such children playing alone on the edge of the action, unable to negotiate access to toys or to adult attention, unable to deal with peer competition and conflict, and sometimes not even responding to adult-initiated talk. One wonders whether a short-term simple intervention would have made all the difference? In working with such silent children I have developed a simple therapy programme which seems to be effective in helping them overcome initial difficulties in using the new language. It is not a language programme per se - it does not model or teach any specific linguistic aspects of form or content. Instead it is a way to scaffold the childs use of whatever English they have and to give them the confidence to do so. Merrill Swain (2001), working in the field of second language learning, makes a strong claim for language being learned through language use. Her research shows that rich input, while promoting advanced language comprehension skills, does not advance expressive language skills to the same extent as does providing opportunities for language

output. Swains Output Hypothesis argues that, for a complete processing of the second language, output on the part of the learner is essential. She claims that verbal social interaction, or collaborative dialogue, is where language use and language learning can co-occur. It is language use mediating language learning (Swain, 2001, p.97). The StoryF.R.A.M.E.S programme involves providing the child with a small set of miniature world toys (packed in a handymans toolbox and kept constant throughout the programme, see figure 1) and encouraging the child to play with them in any way they wish. The work is done in a quiet space away from the classroom, on a 1-1 basis. Where this programme differs from our usual speech and language therapy techniques is that it does not model linguistic form, but instead models how to create narratives out of the story that the child enacts with the toys. The vocabulary and grammar are not important here: what is important is the therapist putting the childs play into words. It appears that being present for the childs undirected play, and the making of a story based on this play, signals to them in some way an acceptance of their interests and provides a safe space in

which they can talk about their play. In this I have been strongly influenced by Paley: it is play, of course, but it is also story in action (1990, p.4). This work may be closer to play therapy than to speech and language therapy, but my experience indicates the outcome is lots of child language.

Common ground

I have called the programme StoryF.R.A.M.E.S, as the five main components are Feelings, Repeating, Adding, Modelling, and Extending. The first three draw on the work of DanonBoileau (2001) who has worked extensively with silent (not necessarily bilingual) children. These first three components have the effect of creating common ground between the child and therapist. This serves to make the child feel secure and relaxed, to know that whatever they do is of interest to the therapist, and to send the message that the child can choose to play or talk, without the adult having any expectations. So, if the child creates a play scenario where a doll sees a monster, I will verbalise the feelings (F) which I guess are in the childs mind (Oh, that is scary!) If the child says anything at all (even if it is just noises of cars



crashing and ambulance sirens) I will repeat (R) verbatim what the child has said, to show that I am really listening and that the childs words are of value to me. If the child is totally silent (this is a silent child, after all) I will add some words (A) aiming to verbalise what I think they are showing me in their play (the dolly is getting into bed, she has got a lovely warm blanket or the cars are crashing). The next step Modelling (M) refers not to modelling words or grammar, but rather modelling the creation of a narrative, showing the child how a spoken story can be made out of their play. So after the child has played for a few minutes (during which I have been doing the F, R, and A parts of the programme) I will start a story which describes their play, adding a beginning and an end, and using the past tense. For example, I might say Once upon a time, there was a green car, and he drove very fast and crashed into the red car. Then the ambulance came and took the driver to hospital. The end.) I find that children often choose to play the same games over and over. Car crashes, monsters and death seem to dominate. In such a case, I can Extend (E) the story by adding in a new character or event. To do this I always keep one miniature world toy or small object in my pocket as a surprise. I might introduce this by saying something like and suddenly a butterfly came and said, can I go in your car? Sometimes the child ignores this, but usually they pick up on the new character or object and incorporate it into their play, giving me the opportunity to model another story. I make the concept of storytelling explicit, for example greeting them in the morning by saying, Do you want to come and do some storytelling? I also introduce the spoken stories by saying, I will tell you a story. The pilot programme with two children who were almost completely silent in the classroom ran for six weeks with two sessions per week. Gradually and hesitantly they started telling the stories while playing. I recorded and transcribed their stories, illustrated them with images and stapled them into book form. I gave the child the book containing their own stories to take home, so they could tell their families the story they had made up and get even more practice in language output (figure 2). As their confidence grew they spoke more and I spoke less, until the sessions were dominated by their talk and I was able to sit quietly and observe their growing language use.
Figure 1 StoryF.R.A.M.E.S a) Toolbox ingredients 2 cars 1 police car or ambulance 6 characters (some human, some animal) 2 scary things (eg. snakes, spiders, dinosaurs, robots, monsters) miniature furniture: bed, table, chairs miniature food, plates, spoon a small box, or a fence or enclosure (you can use long blocks, or Lego pieces - should be big enough for the characters to be put into) some bits of soft cloth for blankets, big enough for the characters to hide under 1 truck (big enough to fit the cars into) + Keep in your pocket a surprise character or object (doll, animal, monster, unusual car, butterfly.) b) Recipe F R A M E Feelings - talk about what the characters might be feeling Repeat - repeat the childs sounds or words verbatim Add words to verbalise what the child is playing simply describe what they are doing Model a story - use an opening and a closing phrase, and use the past tense to tell the story about what the child has been doing Extend the story by adding the surprise character when the play gets repetitive

Figure 2 Story example Verbatim transcript no.5 (see take home printed and illustrated version at Key: A= child (Aishah) C=Cynthia (researcher) Double parentheses (( )) indicates action taking place Dialogue is indicated without parentheses. UPPER CASE script indicates louder voice

Provided a scaffold

I found the results very exciting. The StoryF.R.A.M.E.S programme seemed to provide the support needed for these two children to actually use the language they had acquired; that is, it provided a scaffold for output. Both emerged from their silent period, and started to talk to other children and to their teachers in the classroom. The most thrilling feedback was that of a teacher who had known one of the children at school for 18 months, during which time she hardly spoke. Now, said the teacher, I hear her voice all over the classroom!

Speaker A ((A picks up a little dinosaur)) . C Another one! A Can we the bigger? [sic] (( I indicate that I dont understand)) A How can we do the animals bigger? C Make them bigger? A Can we do the animals bigger? C I havent got any big ones. Have you got big ones at home? A .. C .. A .. C .. A .. C .. A We can make them bigger ((Returning to her concern about making the dinosaur bigger)) C How can we? What can we do? A I think we can, like, we can, can we say abracadabra make them bigger? C Oh! We can say abracadabra. You say it. A Abracadabra. He was still tiny!! A I can put him in my crown, and I will say abracadabra. ((she was wearing a tiara on that day; she puts the dinosaur in her crown)) A ABRACADABRA! and he was still tiny! C Lets try to put him in your pocket; ((A puts him in her pocket )) A Abracadabra! He still tiny. C Oh dear! A We do it in a magic box. ((she puts the dinosaur in a box)) A Abracadabra! Oh! still tiny! C Dinosaur said, I want to be big, Maybe if you eat lots of apples, you can get bigger? A Look, he cant open his mouth ((shows me the dinosaur has a closed mouth)) and he didnt get what- what to eat. C ((C drawing a picture of a glass of water so that the dinosaur could drink)) Lets give him something to drink then. A All drinked up! C And then? A And he didnt get bigger, and he didnt get bigger! C Maybe we need to say it very loud. A ABRACADABRA!! And he was still tiny. C Oh, poor thing! A Take a magic wand ((C gives her a pencil to use as a wand)) A ABRACADABRA! He still tiny! What we gonna to do? ((with hand gesture of despair)).


Name: Aishah Bus Story Information Raw Score Pre-test Chronological age 4 years 5 months 14 days Post-test Chronological age 4 years 6 months 29 days 19.5 [Age equivalent for native English speaker 4;6 years] 27 [Age equivalent for native English speaker 5;9 - 5;11 years] Bus Story Sentence Length 5 words [Age equivalent for native English speaker: Less than 3;9 years] 7 words [Age equivalent for native English speaker 3;9 - 4;0 years] Bus Story Subordinate Clauses 0 [Age equivalent for native English speaker: Less than 4;0 years] 0 No change R.A.P.T. Information Raw Score 18.5 [Age equivalent for native English speaker: Less than 3;6 years] 25.5 [Age equivalent for native English speaker 3;6 - 4;5 years] R.A.P.T. Grammar Raw Score 12 [Age equivalent for native English speaker: Less than 3;6 years] 19 [Age equivalent for native English speaker 3;6 - 4;5 years]

Name: Dasir Bus Story Information Raw Score Pre-test Chronological age 3 years 8 months 11 days Post-test Chronological age 3 years 9 months 26 days 14 [Age equivalent for native English speaker 4;0 years] 19 [Age equivalent for native English speaker 4;6 years] Bus Story Sentence Length 6 words [Age equivalent for native English speaker: Less than 3;9 years] 8 words [Age equivalent for native English speaker 4;1 - 5;0 years] Bus Story Subordinate Clauses 0 [Age equivalent for native English speaker: Less than 4;0 years] 2 [Age equivalent for native English speaker 4;4 - 5;0 years] R.A.P.T. Information Raw Score 28.5 [Age equivalent for native English speaker: 4;0 4;11 years] 30 [Age equivalent for native English speaker 5;0 - 5;5 years] R.A.P.T. Grammar Raw Score 16 [Age equivalent for native English speaker: 3;6 3;11 years] 16 No change

Figure 3 Pre and post-test results

An additional and unexpected benefit was that the two children not only made progress in terms of being willing to talk in the classroom, but also had significant development of both vocabulary and syntax. Both made notable progress on the Bus Story (Renfrew, 1997) and on the Action Picture Test (Renfrew, 1989) in the space of only six weeks (figure 3). The fact that both had been silent in the classroom for a long time (6 months for Dasir and 18 months for Aishah) suggests that intervention was called for. It may be the case that any 1:1 intervention would have Samantha Paula produced similar outcomes, but I believe it is the creating common ground of DanonBoileau (2001) which enabled the children to produce output and it is this which made the work effective. Although I am reporting on results with only two children and no control element, the outcomes suggest this approach merits further exploration. While children in extended silent periods are typically not thought to need speech and language therapy, there is no doubt they are experiencing difficulty with both communication and emotional and social adjustment. With children who have English as an Additional Language making up such a large proportion of the population in many inner city areas, it could be said we are not providing an equitable service if we do not include them on our caseloads.

The method is so simple that teaching assistants or volunteers can easily be trained to carry it out, so the additional load on a speech and language therapy department would be minimal. The interesting finding - that modelling narrative form instead of linguistic form can have such positive results on vocabulary and grammar - suggests that perhaps we as speech and language therapists sometimes provide too much input, and do not provide sufficient opportunities for output? I would love to hear the views of other readers. SLTP Cynthia Pelman is a speech and language therapist in London, This article is based on Cynthias thesis for her MA at the Institute of Education, University of London. The take home picture version of Aishahs story is at

Renfrew, C.E. (1989) Action Picture Test. [Now available from Milton Keynes: Speechmark.] Renfrew, C.E. (1997) Bus Story Test. Milton Keynes: Speechmark. Swain, M. (2001) The Output Hypothesis and Beyond: Mediating acquisition through collaborative dialogue, in Lantolf, J.P. (Ed) Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.97-114.


Danon-Boileau, L. (2001) The Silent Child: exploring the world of children who do not speak. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Granger, C.A. (2004) Silence in Second Language Learning: A Psychoanalytic Reading. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. Hoffman, E. (2008) Lost in Translation: life in a new language. London: Vintage. Paley, V.G. (1990) The boy who would be a helicopter. London: Harvard University Press.

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Reprinted from

Ref. Pelman, C. (2010) Toy story, Speech & Language Therapy in Practice Autumn, pp.14-16. This is the take home picture version of Aishahs story.

The Dinosaur
By Aishah

One day there was a dinosaur. He was tiny.

He wanted to be a big dinosaur. Aishah asked Cynthia, How can we make him bigger? I dont know, said Cynthia. Aishah said, I think we can say abracadabra and make him bigger. So she said, ABRACADABRA!!

But he was still tiny. Then she said, I can put him in my crown, and I will say abracadabra.

She put the dinosaur in her crown and said ABRACADABRA! But he was still tiny!

Reprinted from

So she put him in her pocket and said ABRACADABRA! But he was still tiny.

Aishah said, We can put him in a magic box.

So she put the dinosaur in a magic box and she said ABRACADABRA! Cynthia said, Maybe if he eats lots of apples, he will get big. But Aishah said, He cant open his mouth. So he cant eat. Cynthia drew a picture of a glass of water so that the dinosaur could drink.

Aishah said, He drank it all up! And still he is not bigger!

Reprinted from

Cynthia said, Maybe we need to say it very loud. So Aishah said,

And he was still tiny.

Aishah took a magic wand

and she said

And he was still tiny.

What are we going to do?