How Can The Shape Coding™ System Support Children With Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)?

May 30, 2020 No Comments

The Shape CodingTM system is a resource designed by Speech & Language Therapist Dr Susan Ebbels at Moor House School & College. Shape Coding is used to teach spoken and written grammar to school-aged children, between the ages of 7-20, with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)

The Shape Coding™ system uses a visual coding system to show a child/ teenager the rules for how words are put together in sentences, to develop their understanding of spoken and written grammar and to develop their ability to use grammar successfully to express themselves.

The system uses colours (parts of speech), arrows (tense and aspect) and shapes (syntactic and argument structure) to support school-aged children to understand and use these grammatical rules.

An example of the Shape Coding ™ System

This approach been used successfully to teach school-aged children the following aspects of grammar:

  • Parts of speech
  • Questions
  • Past vs present tense
  • Noun-verb agreement
  • Verb argument structure
  • Passive vs active sentences
  • Data sentences
  • Embedded structures
  • Conjunctions
Here Susan Ebbels describes how the Shape Coding System is used to support children with DLD

Here at Sparking Speech we only use evidenced-based therapy approaches, such as the Shape Coding™ system, to ensure the best possible outcomes for the children/ teenagers we work with.


  • Balthazar, C. H., Ebbels, S., & Zwitserlood, R. (2020). Explicit Grammatical Intervention for Developmental Language Disorder: Three Approaches. Language, speech, and hearing services in schools, 51(2), 226-246. doi:doi:10.1044/2019_LSHSS-19-00046
  • Calder, S. D., Claessen, M., Ebbels, S., & Leitão, S. (2020). Explicit Grammar Intervention in Young School-Aged Children With Developmental Language Disorder: An Efficacy Study Using Single-Case Experimental Design. Language, speech, and hearing services in schools, 51(2), 298-316. doi:doi:10.1044/2019_LSHSS-19-00060
  • Calder, S. D., Claessen, M., & Leitão, S. (2018) Combining implicit and explicit intervention approaches to target grammar in young children with Developmental Language Disorder. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 34 (2): 171-189. doi:10.1177/0265659017735392
  • Ebbels, S. H., Maric, M., 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. 
  • Ebbels, S. H. (2014). Effectiveness of intervention for grammar in school-aged children with primary language impairments: a review of the evidence.Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 30: 7-40. 
  • Ebbels, S.H., van der Lely, H.K.J., and Dockrell, J.E. (2007). Intervention for verb argument structure in children with persistent SLI: a randomized control trial. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, 50, 1330-1349. 
  • 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.  
  • Ebbels, S. and van der Lely, H. (2001). Meta-syntactic therapy using visual coding for children with severe persistent SLI. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders 36 (supplement), 345-350. 
  • Kulkarni, A., Pring, T. & Ebbels, S.H. (2014). Evaluating the effectiveness of therapy based around Shape Coding to develop the use of regular past tense morphemes in two children with language impairments. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 30: 245-254. 
  • Newton, C., Kirby, P., & Bruce, C. (2017). Getting into shape: the effect of Shape Coding on the spoken language production of two men with chronic aphasia. Aphasiology, 1-23. doi:10.1080/02687038.2017.1306639.
  • Springle, A., & Hester, P. (2019, in press). A comparison of visual- and movement-based grammar interventions for school-age children with language impairment. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups. doi:10.23641/asha.9454127
  • Tobin, L. M., & Ebbels, S. H. (2019). Effectiveness of intervention with visual templates targeting tense and plural agreement in copula and auxiliary structures in school-aged children with complex needs: a pilot study. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 33(1-2), 175-190. doi:10.1080/02699206.2018.1501608 

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