Using the SHAPE CODING™ system – A Practitioner’s Story

The SHAPE CODING™ system works with natural conversation

I’d like to share a little of my clinical experience in using The SHAPE CODING™ system with school-aged students with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). This evidence-based intervention approach explicitly teaches the rules of English using a combination of shapes, colours, arrows and lines to indicate phrases, parts of speech and morphology (word endings) respectively (Ebbels, 2007). It helps children who are struggling with comprehension and production of more complex sentence structures to ‘see’ the rules of English grammar and learn to apply them.

I’ve been using The SHAPE CODING™ system in speech and language therapy sessions and within the classroom for over two decades now. Here’s a typical example of how:

“Did you saw the film, Miss?” is a question I might be asked in conversation with one of my primary school students. I respond ‘Yes’ and another student adds, “I see it too.” I ask them both when they saw it. One responds ‘on Sunday ’, the other ‘at Fairfield Cinema’.

Both students are already familiar with using shapes to code the phrases of English so I write the sentence below on a whiteboard and ask them to add the shapes for where and when. I ask the second student again when she saw the film and she responds, “On Friday evening.”

Both these students also make errors when attempting to use the past tense. Using the same system I can show the students how we change verbs to form the past tense and how to change it again to ask questions. Teaching these grammatical rules using The SHAPE CODING™ app forms the basis of their next blocks of intervention.

How the SHAPE CODING™ system fits with other systems such as Colourful Semantics

The SHAPE CODING™ system aims to teach more complex aspects of language than is possible with other systems such as Colourful Semantics (Bryan, 1997) and hence may be more useful for older children. Students such as those in the example above require support in understanding and forming sentences containing relative clauses and conjunctions as they progress into their secondary years. Again, this intervention approach can be employed to show how the grammar of complex sentences works (Ebbels et al, 2014). I am able to use The SHAPE CODING™ system to support their comprehension of complex sentences without having to teach a new strategy per se.

The SHAPE CODING™ system isn’t the only tool in my speech and language therapy toolbox but I can genuinely say that I use some aspect of it every day in my clinical work. This could be to support vocabulary learning, grammatical accuracy, text comprehension or to support other professionals understand the errors their students make.

Do you want to learn, and be certificated to use the SHAPE CODING™ system?

Come to my next Course Beetle hosted course where you can master the principles of a visual coding system to show a child the rules for how words are put together in sentences. You also learn how to develop children’s understanding of spoken and written grammar and to develop their ability to use grammar successfully to express themselves.

Find out more:

Find out more about The SHAPE CODING™ system and the app.

Show references

  1. Bryan, A. (1997). Colourful Semantics. In S. Chiat, J. Law, & J. Marshall (Eds.), Language disorders in children and adults: psycholinguistic approaches to therapy. London: Whurr.
  2. Ebbels, S.H. (2007). Teaching grammar to school-aged children with Specific Language Impairment using Shape Coding. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 23, 67-93. Link. Accepted version with update notes.
  3. Ebbels, S. H., Maric, N., Murphy, A., & Turner, G. (2014) Improving comprehension in adolescents with severe receptive language impairments: a randomised control trial of intervention for coordinating conjunctions. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 49: 30-48. Link.