Good practices in the CapEnglish Network

Good Practices

Using Makaton with Maternelle.

Killing two birds with one stone, stick to English and captivate your audience. Teachers around the world rave about the benefits of Makaton in helping their students imprint new vocabulary in their long term memory.

Already using Makaton ? Send us your feedback and share your pictures. 

Why use signs/actions when teaching young children?

Young children naturally learn language through a variety of methods – listening, observation, repetition, interaction and movement. By introducing an action or sign while using a word helps reinforce the retention and recall of the word as different areas of the brain are working together. You have probably noticed that children recall the actions of a song such as ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’ long before they are able to sing all the words correctly. Learning action verbs such as – run, walk, hop, clap, stamp is always easier when the children are able to do the actions rather than just look at flashcards and repeat the words. When learning a new language interaction and movement are very important; children retain more from being involved and moving their bodies than, for example, by passively watching videos in English where they can understand the meaning by watching the pictures only and not by listening to the words.

Being able to introduce signs (actions) for nouns helps children retain and recall the words in the same way as for action verbs. Children who are shy or perhaps unwilling to make mistakes feel more confident in answering by using a sign instead of verbally and when praised for this, move more quickly into responding verbally in the future. It also helps the teacher, as you are able to give a non-verbal prompt when asking them to recall a word.

There are many of you who already use signs and actions (sometimes without being aware of it!) with the children and find them useful.

What is Makaton?

Makaton is a version of British Sign Language (BSL) that was developed for use with young children and those with special educational needs to use as a stepping stone to either verbal

language or signing. It uses signs (and picture cards) so that non-verbal children are able to communicate with adults. If you are interested, you’ll find more information here :

It is similar in concept, and signs used, to baby singing which you may have heard of.

I was first taught to use Makaton when working with children with special educational needs when in the UK, but found that it has been useful when working with children who have English as an additional language both in the UK and abroad. I used it when working in the maternelle in the last couple of years and got feedback from the parents about it as the children would show them the signs at home. The teachers in the school were also interested and asked more about it as they could see it helped the children.

The signs are simple to use and very visual and often have a reason behind them. The sign for a rabbit is putting your hands upright on top of your head, for orange it is making a circle shape in front of your mouth and ‘squeezing’ it.

Using Makaton in the CapEnglish settings would not only be a useful aid for teaching and helping the children to learn, it would also mean a uniform series of signs that the children across all the schools would understand. Therefore if you are replacing a teacher for a one off session or taking over a class in another school, then the children would already know the same signs and actions that you know.


How to use signs in the classroom

It is not necessary to sign in complete sentences or learn all the Makaton vocabulary in one go!

It will take a few sessions to get used to using Makaton with the children but then it starts to feel natural. I found that I used it a lot with the PS and MS but by the time it came to the GS I would use it to introduce a new word/concept and then stop using the sign when they understood the word.

Start with learning the signs for the flashcards that you are using for the lesson you are planning for and gradually expand your vocabulary that way. When you feel comfortable using it you could start to add some signs as actions in some of the songs you use.

When introducing the flashcard/keyword add the sign the same time you are saying the word and encourage the children to do the same. Children are natural mimics and the confident ones will join in right away. Do not worry if the sign they are making is not quite correct, the general idea of it is fine. Once this is established as part of the routine the children will happily imitate

the signs. When asking ‘What colour is this?’ if the child gives the sign but does not say the colour, this is acceptable and to be praised as the words will come later. If they do not answer then you can give them a reminder of the sign as this will help the less confident children become more comfortable with responding to you.

Here are links to some good sites for learning the signs. Singing Hands is an excellent YouTube resource as the videos are clearer than the pictures as they show the movement of the hands. The first set of links is for you as the teacher to learn the words you need (there are more words than the keywords used in CapEnglish) The later links to stories and songs are to help you learn but could be used with the children, but please reinforce by doing the actions along side the screen so that it is not a passive experience.

Colours –

Farm animals –

Pets –

Wild animals –

Weather –

Numbers (not difficult!) –

Stories – Where’s Spot (for bear, penguin and lion) –


By Charlotte Welply – Coordinating teacher, Lyons