Short, structured language skill sessions prove effective

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Short interventions: The Nuffield Early Language Intervention is based around five 15 to 30-minute sessions a week

Undertaking short sessions to discuss everyday topics with young children has been found to boost their language skills and is being recommended as “a promising way” to help children catch-up when they come back to school after lockdown.

The Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) sees teaching assistants given training and detailed lesson plans in order to deliver short, structured sessions around topics such as “time” and “what we wear” with small groups of Reception pupils.

The 20-week intervention consists of two 15-minute individual sessions and three 30-minute small group sessions each week, which focus on developing children’s narrative, vocabulary and listening skills, in addition to their phonological awareness and letter sound knowledge.

Rewarding the children was an integral feature of each session, from targeted verbal praise to more formal incentives like a “Best Listener Award”.

An independent evaluation of the programme in 193 schools, which was published this week by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), found that participating pupils made, on average, three months’ additional progress in language skills.

The programme is also an effective way of boosting language skills for children with English as an additional language (EAL), the EEF says.

The programme was initially developed with funding from the Nuffield Foundation and is published by Oxford University Press and delivered by the University of Oxford in partnership with Elklan.

The EEF rates the intervention as high-impact and low-cast (£870 for the materials and training for a single form entry school; £1,290 for a two-form entry school).

It is well established that early language skills are crucial to long-term educational success, but disadvantaged children often begin school already behind their peers.

The EEF is now exploring ways to scale-up the programme across a large number of schools and nurseries. CEO Professor Becky Francis said: “School closures are likely to mean those children and young people who were already struggling, fall further behind. While schools are working hard to mitigate against this, in the long-term, we need to focus on how best to help pupils bounce back when schools open again. Catch-up teaching targeted especially at those who have fallen furthest behind during this period will be essential.

“It is always welcome to find good evidence that a particular programme or approach is likely to boost outcomes, but (these results) suggest that this programme could be a particularly effective way of helping young children whose language skills have been particularly affected by school closures catch-up when they reopen.”

For more information and to see the full evaluation report, visit

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