A guide for how primary and secondary school teachers can support children who stammer.
Does a child in your class stammer, or stutter as it's called in other parts of the world? As a teacher, you can make a real difference to their school experience.
Create an inclusive environment for them. It doesn't take much to provide the right support once you understand how stammering might affect the child. An added bonus is that everyone in the class will benefit when communication is encouraged and supported. Share this information with other teachers and staff the child is likely to come into contact with, so everybody know how best to support them.
On this page:
Stammering & its effects
Our What Is Stammering? page explains what stammering looks and sounds like, and has answers to FAQs.
All children and young people who stammer are unique. Some may not be bothered by their stammer. Other children may feel embarrassed or worried about how they talk. How they feel about their stammer may also change over time.
At school, a child or young person who stammers might:
- not put their hand up to a question even if they know the answer, for fear of stammering in front of the class. They might also keep quiet if they haven't understood something rather than ask for help
- try to hide their stammer. They might change words, say less or avoid speaking altogether in some situations, eg in front of a group
- worry intensely about reading aloud in class or answering the register
- worry about being teased, mocked or bullied for sounding different.
As a result, they might:
- become anxious, distressed and reluctant to speak
- withdraw from friendship groups or become less sociable
- try and avoid coming in to class if they know they’ll have to speak.
If you notice a difference in how a child feels about their speech, try some of our tips below on how to help. Or you could ask them. Talk to the child about their stammering in a sensitive and open way and ask what you can do to help. Too often stammering is the 'elephant in the room'. Children can grow up feeling there's something wrong or shameful about having a stammer.
Not every child will need all of these, but they will help to make the environment easier. Many of these strategies can also help children with language difficulties or who have English as a second language.
Speaking with the child
- Give the child who stammers plenty of time to say what they want to say. Don't interrupt or finish their sentences for them.
- Slow down your own speech to show there is plenty of time to talk. Encourage the whole class to take their time when answering questions.
- Don't ask the child who stammers to slow down or take a breath. While well-meaning, this may make them feel more anxious.
- Listen to what the child is saying rather than how they are saying it.
- Keep natural eye-contact even if the child looks away when stammering.
- Acknowledge the stammering in a neutral in a matter-of-fact way. This helps the child feel it's OK to stammer. You might say something like "That was a hard word to say, wasn't it? Well done for getting through it".
- If you feel anxious when the child is stammering, try not to show it. Remain calm, kind and approachable.
- Be aware that a child who stammers may stammer more when expressing complex ideas or using new vocabulary or sentence structures.
- Try to reduce the number of questions you ask. If you need specific information you could use statements or give alternatives, eg "Did it happen in class or in the playground?".
Changes you can make
- Answering the register may be hard for the child who stammers. Consider alternative ways for them to respond. Ask everyone to do this so the child doesn't feel singled out.
- Reading out loud can also be tricky. Ask the child if they'd like to go first, as waiting for their turn can make them feel anxious. Or ask them to read together with another child. This can take the pressure off them and make them feel more comfortable.
- If a child who stammers does put up their hand to answer a question, try not to keep them waiting too long for their turn. This can increase anxiety.
- Create a classroom policy that encourages a relaxed reading pace. This may help the child who stammers as well as any slower or more hesitant readers.
- Go round the class to check if everyone is following OK. This will make the child who stammers more likely to let you know if they haven’t understood something.
- For older children, if you think they might know the answer to a question, ask them if they would like to have a go at answering it. It's best to ask them first in a one-to-one chat if they'd be comfortable with you doing this.
Primary school tips
Here are some more tips that can help primary school children.
- Include speaking tasks into your lesson planning where the child is likely to be more fluent. For example, reciting familiar lists like the days of the week or counting. Or, singing or speaking familiar words with a strong rhythm as in nursery rhymes or poetry.
- Praise the child for things they are doing well. This will help to build self-esteem and confidence. Do not praise them only when they are speaking fluently.
- Work towards reading in front of the class gradually. You could start by asking the child to read to you alone outside of the lesson. Follow this by bringing in a classroom support assistant or one of the child's friends. Then in small groups, before building up to reading in front of the whole class.
Watch the video 'Wait wait, I've not finished yet' made by the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering. In it, primary school children talk about the challenges they face and how teachers can support them.
Secondary school tips
Changing from primary to secondary schools can be challenging for any child. For a child who stammers it can be even more so, with many more teachers to have to speak to and new classmates to meet and introduce yourself to.
Have regular friendly informal chats with the child about how things are going. Ask them directly what help they might need. By the time a child is in secondary school, they usually know what can make things easier for them. Including them in the process will help them to feel in control. It can also make a big difference to their well-being and confidence.
Speech & Language Therapy
If you are still concerned after trying these tips, talk to their parents. Ask them whether their child may benefit from speech & language therapy. Share our Help If Your Child Stammers and Therapy Options for Children pages.
If you know a child is having speech & language therapy, ask their parents if you can speak to their therapist. This can help you discuss how you can support the child. You could even arrange a meeting between you, the child and the speech & language therapist (SLT) so you're all working together. The SLT might suggest organising a talk about stammering to the class, which the child could be involved in. This can give them the opportunity to educate their classmates about stammering and what they can do to help.
Teasing & bullying
Children who stammer are at a greater risk of being teased or bullied at school, which can have long-term consequences for their mental well-being. Be on the alert for any teasing or bullying in the classroom or in the playground. If you suspect a child is being teased or bullied, take action immediately. It's not acceptable to mock someone for the way that they talk.
If the child is at secondary school, try making time to discuss your school's antibullying policy during personal health and social education (PHSE) lessons.
Stammering can be a disability under the Equality Act and the Disability Discrimination Act. Therefore, schools have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments for pupils who stammer if they need them. This could be changes oral presentations or other assessments. Download our Reasonable Adjustments For Students guide below to see what they could look like.
'Tips for teachers'.
Ex-STAMMA Trustee and teacher Abed Ahmed presents (produced by Action for Stammering Children).
'Working with, teaching, and employing people who stammer'.
An online seminar we produced in 2020 about ways to create an inclusive environment for people who stammer at your workplace, school, university or institution.
'How to support secondary school pupils who stammer' and 'How to support pupils who stammer — top tips'
Videos made by Maddie and her speech & language therapist Anna Prince from Sirona Care & Health NHS.
'My tips for supporting pupils who stammer': award-winning teacher Abed Ahmed, who stammers himself, gives some suggestions for teachers.
Our old podcast Around The Block has an episode called 'School Stories', where hosts Gemma & Matty share their experiences of stammering at school and discuss how they would have liked to have been treated. At 25m 46s, teacher Abed Ahmed gives tips for teachers on how to make the classroom a stammering-friendly environment for children who stammer, as well as tips for pupils who stammer.
The Michael Palin Centre for Stammering has some great resources for teachers, including a short video and suggestion sheets.
'Let's talk about stammering'. An interactive resource from Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust, which sets out to 'bust myths and highlight evidence-based facts about stammering'.