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Shape Coding with Susan Ebbels

The SHAPE CODINGTM system is a resource used by Speech & Language Therapists at Moor House, across the UK and further afield. It was designed by Speech & Language Therapist Dr Susan Ebbels (pictured right) at Moor House School & College to teach spoken and written grammar to school-aged children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). It has been developed and progressed since 1999 primarily for children and young people with language disorders aged 7-20, but it also used elsewhere with younger children, children with hearing impairment, children with Down syndrome and adults with acquired aphasia. The system uses a visual coding system to show a child the rules for how words are put together in sentences, to develop the child’s understanding of spoken and written grammar and to develop their ability to use grammar successfully to express themselves.



The system includes use of colours (parts of speech), arrows (tense and aspect) and shapes (syntactic and argument structure). It has been used successfully to teach children the following aspects of grammar:

Parts of speech Questions Past vs present tense    
Noun-verb agreement Verb argument structure Passive vs active sentences  
Dative sentences Embedded structures Conjunctions  


Please note that we are currently the only providers of accredited the SHAPE CODINGTM system resources. If you are offered any resources via other sources, they are not accredited and their quality and accuracy is uncertain. 

We accredit Shape Coding trainers to deliver Part 1 training. If you are offered training on the SHAPE CODINGTM system , please check the trainer has been on our "train the trainer" course and is accredited to deliver SHAPE CODINGTM training. Otherwise the quality and accuracy is uncertain.  


Resources, courses and support  

For a written introduction to the SHAPE CODINGTM system see: 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. LinkAccepted version with update notes.


Evidence of effectiveness of the SHAPE CODINGTM system

The findings of studies investigating the effectiveness of the SHAPE CODINGTM system have been published in peer-reviewed journals and references are listed below.

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 Link

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. Link

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. Link

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. Link

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.  LinkAccepted version with update notesVodcast.

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. Link  

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: 245-254LinkAccepted version

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. Link

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 Linkaccepted version

SHAPE CODING is a UK Registered Trade Mark under number 3284600, and the SHAPE CODING logo is a UK Registered Trade Mark under number 3261873