Education Endowment Foundation:EEF blog: The ​‘ShREC’ approach in practice

EEF blog: The ​‘ShREC’ approach in practice


Martin Cumming, early years teacher and SENCO at St Paul’s Nursery School, describes how he uses the ShREC approach to develop high-quality interactions between adults and children in his setting.

Blog •3 minutes •

Martin Cumming, early years teacher and SENCO at St Paul’s Nursery School, describes how he uses the ShREC approach to develop high-quality interactions between adults and children in his setting.

Following the Covid 19 pandemic, we have seen a national rise in children struggling with speech, language and communication. Lack of access to early years settings, playgroups, and social gatherings have fuelled this worrying trend. It is therefore our top priority, as teaching professionals, to help young children recover and strengthen these core skills in the early years.

So how can we best achieve this?

As early years practitioners we need to call on all the tools in our arsenal to help children achieve. In designing our early years curriculum, we have created a whole setting approach to developing speech and language.

This approach involves: early, thorough assessment of individual pupils’ language skills; interventions tailored to particular children’s needs; and immersing children in language at every opportunity. We are lucky enough to be part of the Early Talk for York Project (supported by Rob Newton) – an approach to improve speech, communication and language of children aged 0 to 5 years’ – on a city-wide scale.

ShREC in practice

The ShREC approach exemplifies our approach to developing high quality interactions.

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What does it look like, and sound like in practice?

Imagine the scene, a warm afternoon in late April, the sun beating down on the playground at the back of nursery. A small boy, we will call him Jos, lies on the floor with his eyes closed and his hands behind his head, enjoying the unusual British weather.

Jos what are you doing this afternoon?’ I asked.

Just sunbathing Mr. Cumming, just sunbathing,’ replied Jos.

Oh, can I sit down and join you?’

Please do…’

There were a few minutes silence as we sat and enjoyed the weather. I spotted a completely unremarkable twig with a small piece of fluff attached to it.

As early years practitioners we are always looking for a way to engage children in play and language interaction. The ShREC approach provides practitioners with responsive strategies to promote these interactions and further expand children’s vocabulary and curiosity in the world around them.

I wonder what that is?’ A simple question but a question that changed the course of the afternoon.

It turns out that, that small fluffy stick was a broomstick for a small witch that had gone missing, somewhere on the top playground. Well, I don’t know about Jos but I was hooked in that moment of Shared attention.

It felt like time had stopped still, staring at that little broomstick, suddenly realising that I was surrounded by four other faces staring intently at that piece of fluff.

Responding to children’s imaginations means becoming a child yourself at times. I really could see how this object belonged to a lost magical being. So where do we go next? How do we take this to the next level? Questioning and deepening language. Are there any other clues that we can find?’ I asked my growing number of witch finders.

I have found something,’ a small voice chirped up from the back of the crowd. A net!’ We proceeded to pass the net around the group, all lying on our stomachs looking intently at this new clue. We talked about what the net may be used for and how we could best describe it.

This Expanded conversation, had in the top playground of our setting, was all from that small piece of fluffy stick, an interaction that lasted half an hour, where children worked collaboratively, talking to each other as they hunted for the missing mini-witch.

An experienced practitioner can have significant impact in the development of language in a child just through talking and knowing where to take a conversation next.

This simple mnemonic ShREC has been a game changer in child interaction within our setting. We have always prided ourselves on adult-child interactions, but these strategies enable us to be responsive and intentional. Something that is needed in the times we are living in.

Further reading:

Early Talk For York Approach – A city wide approach to improving the outcomes for Speech Language and Communication on a city wide level. This scheme has used Wellcomm Assessment and ELKLAN Level 4 (Communication Friendly Setting Approach) in conjunction with Huntington Research School.