Learning Makaton Signing: The Key to Good Communication

By Anne Vize

For pre-verbal language students in special education, learning Makaton signing is an effective way of helping them develop language and communication skills. Makaton signs and Makaton symbols are easy to implement in the classroom, and they can boost verbal skills too!

Why Are Students Learning Makaton?

Signing is simply the action of using hand gestures, body movements and facial expressions to convey meaning, without the need for verbal output. Around the world, different languages have developed, so that in America there is American Sign Language, while Australia has its own 'Auslan' language. Formal sign language is the language of the deaf community, and it has its own structure and conventions. Most languages combine finger spelling (where each letter can be shown using a separate hand signal) and whole word signs (where a sign shows a word in its entirety). Sometimes finger spelling is used to add a suffix or prefix to a word, to improve the level of communication which occurs.

Learning Makaton is a little different to other forms of sign language. In a special education setting, Makaton signs have come to be an effective tool in the communication kit of teachers. Makaton signs and signing use a single sign to convey the intent of a short sentence or phrase. The same sign may have more than one interpretation depending on its context, whereas in true sign language, the sign would be amended slightly to show the difference. By learning Makaton signs and Makaton symbols, children can communication simple needs and wants to teachers and others around them. With support, learning Makaton can become a key step in promoting verbal communication down the track.

Makaton can be learnt easily when it is related to themes or units of work in the classroom, such as weather words or when it is linked with the learning of processes and key skills areas such as numeracy. And research and experience tells us that learning Makaton does not inhibit verbal communication, as many students go on to use Makaton in conjunction with speech or replace their Makaton with speech entirely.

Some 'Key' Makaton Signs and Makaton Symbols to Try

So where should my students who are learning Makaton begin? Well, first off think about why we communicate as human beings. Communication is power. Communication is self expression. Communication is independence. Communication is self-fulfilment of needs and wants. We know this, and we know this is vital for our students. Without the ability to verbally 'paddle their own canoes' our students are left voiceless and unable to take charge of their own lives in a meaningful way. As teachers, the most useful skill we can give is the ability to communicate with others.

So here are a few makaton signs and makaton symbols that can help at the very beginnings of developing intentional communication with others:

Finish - a waggle of the thumb with the rest of the fingers closed. (I've finished my meal, I don't want anymore drink, I'm done with that activity!)

Stop - a hand raised and pushed forwards with the thumb and fingers outstretched (stop - no more!)

More - a cupped hand faced towards the chest and then moved forwards slightly (I want more of that drink - I'm thirsty!)

Toilet - the pointer finger pointed at the other hand, which is held flat

No - clenched fist waggled from left to right a few times

Yes - clenched fist moved up and down in a nodding action

Jumper - clenched fists to shoulders then waist (or other related clothing signs to show a need for a change of clothing)

Give these Makaton signs a go with your pre-verbal students, and combine them with a graphic image laminated on a card to reinforce the Makaton sign (often the Makaton symbol is a visual representation of the Makaton sign).