Scaffolding Scripts

Why use scripts?

The scripts include questions from the four levels of questions described in a system widely used in the field of speech and language development.



The aim of the scheme is that the children will abandon the scripts once they have gained understanding and experience in using the four levels of questioning. They are able then to apply the questions to any of the younger Pals chosen books, and also to generate stimulating discussions.

Some of these skills are illustrated in this conversation between an Older and Younger Pal at Pakeman Primary. Despite the awkwardness caused by the filming it is possible to see the warmth of the relationship between the two Pals, the Older Pals use of stimulating questions and the Younger Pals confidence in replying.


  • The scripts coach the older Pal, or adult, in the different types of question forms that can be used to develop the reader’s comprehension. The scripts are a tool that is used initially to give the older Pal, or adult, confidence. Once their knowledge and confidence are developed they are able to produce their own levelled questions.
  • Whilst they are using the comprehension scripts the older Pals can focus on developing their positive feedback and strategies to help the stuck reader. Once these skills are established they are then able to move their attention to making up their own questions.
  • The scripts and the reading record forms give the Older Pal a structured role, this increases their engagement in the paired reading activities. One SHS practitioner noticed that in cross-age reading groups she had run previously the older children seemed to get bored quickly and were often not following what was being read, or asking questions. With the introduction of the Pals structure she found the older children had a clearer understanding of their role, showed an increased sense of pride in their role and supported more effectively.
  • The scripts include questions that encourage discussion and sharing of experience between the pair. The questions also help the pair to work together to develop better understanding of the emotional literacy and philosophical meanings presented in the stories.

I wish my teacher knew …

Today I came across an article in the Independent newspaper that describes how a teacher in USA received ‘heartbreaking’ notes from the children in her class when she asked them to share their worries with her. The teacher, and those who have read some of the responses given by the children, were surprised by the range and seriousness of the worries presented by the children.

While educating and supporting children living in areas of high social deprivation I heard children expressing similar worries. What concerned me was that many of the staff, working with the children daily, were oblivious to the problems and stresses that the children were being exposed to at home and in their local environment. Many of the teachers lived outside of the areas they worked in; most had not grown up in socially deprived areas; few had any reason to visit the child’s home. Although they had the intention of being supportive and caring, the teachers’ lack of real knowledge of what the children were experiencing outside school, meant the children’s needs were not being properly met.

Often when I asked children why they were looking so tired, or pale, I would hear stories of overcrowding in the homes that prevented children from sleeping properly, late night parties and domestic violence keeping them awake, gang violence in the street outside and so on. Or when spending time with a child complaining of ‘not feeling well,’ discovering they hadn’t eaten anything from lunchtime the day before because the cupboards at home were bare and parents, suffering from addiction or mental health problems, hadn’t even considered their child’s needs.

Many teachers, believing they are ‘aware’ of the social conditions of the area,  make assumptions about a child’s home, these assumptions colouring the expectations they have of the children’s performance. Many teachers assume that a child has someone to read with at home, or has the resources needed to do a simple homework task, this just simply isn’t the case for many children.

Many families are so highly disorganised, or are struggling financially to meet even the most basic needs, that the children don’t have access to simple things like books, or pencils and are often too embarrassed to tell anyone.

I heard that one of the children we taught was given a facebook profile as his birthday present. Some children would say that they wish someone in their family had even remembered it was their birthday.

Reading Pals helps all children by developing reading comprehension skills and language. As a Community Interest Company it particularly aims to help children and families in socially deprived areas. Reading Pals can help in several ways:

  • By working with Give a Book charity free books can be provided for the children to use at school and home, this is vital in homes that can only afford basic commodities.
  • The Pals can read with children who are not being supported with their literacy at home. Children in areas of high deprivation are often not supported at home for a variety or reasons including a lack of resources, or parents lacking time due to work commitments.
  • Being responsible for helping their younger Pals has proven to increase the Older Pals confidence and sense of self-worth. Social deprivation has been linked to low confidence and self-esteem. Coaching their peers will  give children important opportunities to develop their skills and self-belief, enabling them to aspire to positive goals in the future


Speech and Language and Mental Health

Speech, language and communication are vital skills that are linked with many different areas including children and young people’s mental health. Reading Pals base their scripts on a language model, used in the training and practice of Speech and Language professionals, to stimulate and support children’s higher level language development. The vocabulary and concepts explored in the books, carefully structured reading comprehension scripts and meaningful discussion between the children, facilitate the development of higher order language skills that support good mental health.

‘What are the links between speech, language and communication and mental health?

  • Mental health and communication skills are linked in different ways. Having good language skills means that children and young people are able to talk about how they are feeling. Children and young people need to have good language and communication skills to be able to understand and talk about emotions and to help them deal with different situations.
  • If children struggle to express themselves they are likely to become frustrated. This can cause them to either act out or to withdraw and become socially isolated.
  • We know that young children who have difficulties communicating are three times more likely to have behaviour that concerns parents and early years practitioners. We also know that some children and young people with mental health difficulties have some kind of communication problem; one study found that 40% of 7 to 14 year olds referred to child psychiatric services had a language difficulty that had never been suspected.
  • Evidence tells us that children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more at risk for both SLCN and mental health issues.

Many treatments for mental health issues rely on language and communication to work effectively, so this might be an issue for children and young people with SLCN.

The model used in the Reading Pals’ scripts ‘helps to support and further develop a child’s understanding of abstract language and verbal reasoning. It gives us a tool to be able to develop children’s language development in a structured and developmental way. It allows us to support children’s understanding at the right level or to challenge children at the appropriate level. This model moves from understanding and answering concrete questions to more abstract questions.’ The structure of the scripts facilitates reading comprehension and meaningful discussion for the Older and Younger Pals, allowing them to develop the higher order language skills that enable them to understand and process their emotions.

What supports children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing?

  • Secure attachment experiences – developing good relationships and bonding with key people in their lives.

Reading Pals is a cross-age scheme which fosters supportive relationships between children, in a similar way to a healthy sibling relationship.

  • Good communication skills – being able to understand what’s being said, express themselves and how they are feeling, get their message across and get on with other people.

The scheme helps facilitates the children’s communication skills by developing a wider vocabulary and understanding of concepts and facilitating stimulating discussions. The question scripts encourage the children to express their ideas and experiences in a supportive environment.

  • Having a belief in control – feeling that they have a say in things and can make choices. They might be simple choices such as choosing what to eat, drink or do.

The children are the tutors and also the monitors who set up and ‘run’ the scheme with only light touch support from adults. This helps develop the sense of responsibility required to help others and the organisational skills needed to run the scheme, contributing to their self-confidence and belief in control.

  • A positive attitude

The training given to the Pals emphasises the importance of being positive with their peers.

  • Experience of success and achievement – everyone needs this whether the achievements are big or small. This helps develop our sense of self and self esteem.

Pals supports sense of success and achievement in two ways: the readers make progress in their reading and communication and the Older Pals understand that they are helping others to make progress. In some instances the Older Pal may be chosen because they lack in confidence in their reading, supporting the younger children helps them to focus on and feel proud of their abilities. The Younger Pals receive regular positive feedback on their reading progress and contribute to discussion.

  • The ability to reflect – being able to look back on things, think about them and work out why something happened and if they might do or say something different in the future.

The question scripts include high order question forms. These questions require the children to predict and reflect on the concepts presented in the book, or in their own experiences. Asking and answering this level of questions is a key strength in the Pals scheme. Often children are not required to reflect or work out the answers to questions at this level in their daily life, this scheme gives them vital practice in these areas. Developing these skills allows the children to understand their own feelings, empathise and problem-solve.