Research School Network: Conversations Matter Sarah Stock, Director of Newcastle Research school shares her insights on the use of the ShREC model.


Conversations Matter

Sarah Stock, Director of Newcastle Research school shares her insights on the use of the ShREC model.

by Newcastle Research School
on the

It is well documented in research evidence that language development in the early years is linked to other cognitive domains and later educational attainment. For children who have barriers within communication and language it can impact on learning as well as behaviour, social and emotional development.
The EEF Early Years Toolkit highlights that using communication and language approaches can impact positively on children with up to 7+ months progress. Communication and language approaches involve intentionally acting to develop young children’s understanding of language and their ability and confidence to use language, and other strategies, to communicate effectively.

In our schools we recognise the different needs of our children. Within our Early Years settings, the environment, both physical and emotional is crucial, and is highlighted in the in EEF’s SEND in Mainstream Primary School Guidance Report ( Recommendation 1 within this guidance report outlines the need to create a positive and supportive environment for all pupils, without exception. This recommendation focus’ on how it is crucial to hone our efforts on developing and promoting positive relationships. Many studies highlight that attending to children’s social and emotional well-being has positive effects in promoting language and communication.

ShREC Model
ShREC Model

As a trust, we have developed our approach to language and communication using the EEF’s ShREC model which provides a simple and memorable set of specific evidence- informed strategies that can be embedded into everyday practice.

Jake entered nursery in September with identified communication barriers and was at times overwhelmed by the environment flitting between different areas and activities. It took time for him to feel familiar in his new surroundings and engage in self-directed play for a few moments. Early years practitioners recognised this and time was spent focusing on the Sh’ part of the model with Jake where he was comfortable with an adult nearby. Overtime this developed where the adult could play alongside and then with Jake.

For some children it was essential that we put in this time to develop these key relationships. We reflected on this approach with Jake and for our pupils with SEND and used the ShREC framework with a clear focus on establishing and developing relationships.

ShREC Model

Share attention

Establishing a warm rapport with children ensuring that you have open body language, at the child’s level and being present in the moment and interested in what they are doing.

Connect It is essential to connect with the child to develop and build that rapport.

Engage Ensure you have joint engagement which shows you value what they are doing and have a shared interest.

Mirror Observe closely to notice signs of engagement and tiny moments of joint engagement tuning in through responses from the child


Follow the child’s lead making an attuned response through noticing how the child communicates and acknowledge this.

For some children where you are placed can make a difference. We have started to position ourselves next to the child as opposed to face to face which can feel more intrusive and uncomfortable.

Respond with a brief comment and use your body language to reaffirm by smiling, nodding and through eye contact. It could be here that non-lexical words are used e.g. oh, uh-huh.

Notice and make a brief supportive comment about what the child is doing, this could be narrating the child’s play, noticing what they are doing being in the moment and present.


It is important to know your children well and their stage of language development and so consider using contextualized talk focusing on the here and now. At this stage modelling and scaffolding begin and adult should pitch their language just above the level of the child. The adult should continue to follow the child’s lead.

Child: my shell

Adult: your shell …it is a bumpy shell

To support children further you can use gestures where appropriate e.g. rubbing your finger along shell and encouraging the child to feel the bumpy texture.

It may also be appropriate to support with hand over hand or sign bumpy.

You can consider the use of pictorial cues to support as a stepping stone to expand the conversation.


Overtime this develops into a conversational turn through using prompts, comments, recapping, extending.

It is important to allow an increased amount of time for the child to respond. At times they may respond with non ‑verbal gestures and as a adult it is important to make sure to pause.

Child: my shell

Adult: it is a bumpy shell

Child and Adult hand over hand runs finger along bumpy’ shell

Adult: that’s right … a bumpy shell

Adults should be explicit and model and repeat language to give children the opportunity to hear it again.

It is important to note that questions can be useful in helping children to cue turn-taking in conversations. However, practitioners should consider how to use questions so they extend conversational turns.​‘Wh’ and open questions are the most useful as they invite children to elaborate rather that a one word response. As children’s conversational skills develop, adults can sensitively challenge children, shaping the conversation to incorporate more abstract topics that are removed from the here and now.

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