Makaton: a safety net of symbols for non-verbal students

Imagine not being able to communicate with your friends, peers or colleagues about something important to you. Consider how frustrating it would be not being able to use words to explain a situation. This can be the daily emotions of non-verbal students.


Makaton allows people of all ages to improve their communication levels in a simple, yet effective, way. Utilising signs, symbols and speech, students can build on their vocabulary and their confidence. It’s a valuable tool within the classroom and Makaton is giving pupils a voice.

“Non-verbal kids can be much more involved. You do see a big difference in them when they feel they can say what they want to say and they can communicate with you, without just having to point at things,” explains Gwenno Williams, a science and principal teacher for additional support needs at Lanark Grammar School.

The South Lanarkshire school became Makaton Friendly nearly three years earlier when former staff member Debbie Hughes began teaching several nonverbal students in her class, and brought Makaton to Lanark.


“It was only quite recently that all of us, all the teaching staff and support staff within our department, were officially trained. We all knew quite a lot anyway, but we got certified,” Gwenno says. “In the wider school, we have signs at the cafeteria explaining what various symbols mean so other kids can see it.”

Alongside a whole-school approach to using Makaton, Gwenno has created a dictionary for herself and fellow teachers to use within their classrooms. “I made up a general dictionary for the entire department, so there is a copy in each class. I went through the regular dictionary and I picked out every word I thought might be useful for any subject at any time.

What teachers tend to do is find out what they need to know and go on from there. I’m a science teacher so I know science Makaton and the kids know it, but the other teachers don’t know it because they don’t need to,” explains Gwenno.


When used on a daily basis, Makaton can improve vocabulary by building phrases from one word and upwards. Removing the frustration of being unable to communicate, Makaton can empower young people (and adults) to feel confident in connecting with others.

“There are a lot of kids who don’t have great language skills and Makaton is a concrete thing for them,” adds Gwenno. “We have some kids who, by the time they reach second year, their speech is fine but they’re still signing at you.”

Makaton is an indispensable learning tool that can provide structure and a safety net for SEN pupils. From expressing their emotions to answering a question in class, Makaton is one sign away from greatness.

Your school can be Makaton Friendly, too. Visit or call 01276 606 760 for more information.