Examining parental experiences of the Word Aware programme

A significant proportion of primary school children still lack sufficient understanding of early word concepts, leading to serious implications for their engagement in the school curriculum and subsequent language development. Word Aware is a whole-school approach that supports the development of early word concepts that pre-school children are frequently exposed to in their environment. 

Word aware project


Research background

The significance of early vocabulary and conceptual knowledge on children’s language, literacy, cognitive and emotional development is well documented. 

Word Aware incorporates a deep level of language learning embedded in interactive classroom activities that are shared amongst parents, teachers and professionals. This project aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of this approach on pre-school children’s understanding of early word concepts, on receipt of a twelve-week intervention involving student speech and language therapists. Children’s word language scores obtained from informal and formal standardised language tests were compared before the intervention commenced and again on completion of the intervention. The performance of children receiving the intervention was compared to a waiting control group matched on age and socio-economic status. The experience and perceptions that students and teachers have of the Word Aware whole-school approach to early language development were also explored through semi-structured interviews.

Student speech and language therapists ran pre-test assessments as part of their clinical placement. The research was also supported by an SDG to recruit student research assistants from Psychology to collect the post-test data.

Research aims 

  1. To measure the impact of the Word Aware programme on the learning of early word concepts in pre-school children as measured by informal and formal assessments.
  2. To explore the views of teachers involved in the whole school approach regarding their experience using Word Aware to support the development of early word concepts in pre-school children and in their collaboration with speech and language therapists, student speech and language therapists and parents.

Research methods 

The project utilised a between-groups design in which the language abilities of two groups of pre-school children aged between 3-4years will be compared. One group received an early concept intervention called ‘Word Aware’ which targets relational concepts, and their language scores were compared to a waiting control group of children matched on age and socio-economic status. Effects of the intervention were not compared to a secondary experimental group at this stage as this was a pilot study. Socio-economic status was obtained by using the postcode of the school in addition to information on the percentage of children eligible for free-school meals. The waiting control group received teaching activities as expected in their school.

The intervention lasted for twelve weeks and was delivered by students from the department of speech and language therapy as part of their final year speech and language therapy clinical practice module, led by Dr Thomas Hopkins.

Three schools from a pool of schools who are experienced in applying the Word Aware intervention to their curriculum and teaching, were identified to participate in the intervention strand. The intervention was delivered in the school to a whole class of children one day a week for the 12-week placement period.

Before intervention began, children were assessed on an informal measure of early concepts in addition to three subtests from the Pre-school Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals test, a formal standardised assessment measuring expressive language, receptive language and early word concepts. All children were assessed on each of these measures pre-intervention and again immediately at post-intervention by a Research Assistant recruited via an SDG.


Staff from the department of psychology collaborated internally with staff from the department of speech and language therapy. All internal staff are experts in the field of developmental child language and literacy with Dr Hopkins, Dr Harrison and Dr Coyne-Umfreville having established research experience in literacy and in evaluating quantitative school interventions. Melanie Packer is a speech and language therapist who has vast clinical experience as a specialist in the field of early years’ language, having worked closely with schools and pre-schools on whole school approaches to developing early child language.


Results of the cross-group comparison showed that children experienced ceiling effects in the assessments of early vocabulary and word concepts at the post-test. As a result of this, no significant differences were observed between the experimental and control groups in terms of improvement on early word concepts between the pre- and post-test. Interviews revealed further exploratory findings regarding teacher’s and students’ experiences. Data analysis of the qualitative data is ongoing.