The Communication and Learning Enterprises (CandLE) Literacy Programme



Literacy Resources for All


 Back to the homepage


This is a description of our Literacy programme, but it should enable you to set up your own literacy programme using resources you have made yourself. For further advice do contact us at  We are happy to help you to set up a literacy programme with single students or groups of students without charge. If you would rather buy resources, our sister company, can be contacted.



The staff team at CandLE have spent many years researching and trialling various approaches for teaching literacy to students who have complex communication needs and/or rely on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). The first resource was developed by Marion Stanton (Lead teacher and assessor at CandLE) over a 15-year period and is called ‘Phonics for All’. Initially she planned the programme, with the support of a Speech and Language Therapist, around the needs of one student. Over the years, many students have been found to benefit from it. ‘Phonics for All’ and all of CandLE’s other resources will be described in detail in the relevant sections of this document but first, an explanation of how we arrived at the programme.



In 2004 Karen Erickson, researcher and teacher from University of North Carolina, came over to the UK and shared her research in teaching literacy to students who have significant, complex needs. Inspired by this, Marion immediately began to implement some aspects of the approaches Karen suggested. Marion was further encouraged by the visit in 2009 by Caroline Musselwhite of AAC Intervention in Arizona. You can find out more about the work of these two specialists at the following links:



In 2015 Marion was invited to an introductory training in 4-Blocks. 4-Blocks is an American literacy programme that has been adapted and made accessible for students with complex needs. It has also been adopted in parts of Australia. The same year Saff Murphy-Mann (our senior teacher) and Marion had PODD training. This is a specific system to support communication. You can find out more about 4-Blocks and PODD at the links below:



In 2016, Saff and Marion attended the full 5-day 4-Blocks course after which we began to think about how to apply all we had learnt within a UK context. The course we attended was run by Jane Farrell and Sally Clendon. You can find out more about them at these links:



Although we really like 4-Blocks there are elements that, in our opinion,  don’t conform to education systems in the UK and we strongly feel that students with complex needs and/or who rely on AAC deserve to access the education system of their own country. The emphasis on phonics in UK systems needed incorporating and we already had ‘Phonics for All’ to add into the mix. Marion also had experience of successfully teaching literacy through whole word alongside phonics. One of her most prominent students, Jonathan Bryan, has achieved considerable fame having been labelled as PMLD prior to Marion supporting his mother to set up a home education, literacy system for him. At the age of 12, he is now fully literate. You can find out more about Jonathan and his campaign to see literacy taught to all students regardless of their label here:



Staff at CandLE have considerable experience with optimising physical access to AAC low and high-tech devices. Marion has worked in Occupational Therapy as well as being a teacher. This knowledge has led to the development of our ‘Access for All’ communication book. The design, Marion Stanton, is a cross pattern rather than the conventional arrangement of placing options in the four corners. This was trialled with several students who rely on AAC and in every case targeting accuracy improved.


If you are interested in buying any resources to support your literacy programme, you can access them at:



Feel free to use any of the ideas you read here to develop your own resources or mix and match your own with purchasing some resources from our sister company if you wish.




The Programme Elements:



‘Literacy Resources for All’ is a comprehensive literacy package which can be accessed by students who rely on AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) and/or who have complex needs. The program is also useful in a wider context; we have found that what works in AAC works for all – hence the name!


1.   Communication


2.  Emergent Literacy


3.  Literacy Needs Assessment


4.  Conventional Literacy


5.  Thinking skills


6.  Mainstream curriculum support




These six elements take the learner through from no known literacy skills to age appropriate ability levels.


There are a number of low-tech and software resources including:


  •   Communication:
    •    Our Access for All communication book
    •  Our high-contrast, waterproof letter board
    •  Our topic and conversation boards


  • Emergent Literacy:


o   Alternative pencils


o   Predictable chart writing


o   Choice boards that match predictable chart writing


  •  Letter cards (bridging to conventional literacy and supporting assessment)
  •     Letter, word, sentence and text level assessments


o   Letter cards


o   Single word assessment



o   Text level assessment (assessing comprehension of text with increasing levels of difficulty) is in development.


  •  Conventional Literacy:


o   The popular ‘Phonics for All’ spelling program


o   Adapted reading scheme is in development.


o   Reading for pleasure.



  •    Resources for writing including:
    • A full dictionary and thesaurus.




  • Also in development are: Thinking Skills:


o   Curriculum and thinking skills activities.




The CandLE Literacy Programme in Detail.



The programme is designed for students who have no known literacy skills through to those who are fully literate and need support to access the mainstream curriculum. Each Step is described below:




The means, reasons and opportunities model of communication was created by Della Money almost 30 years ago for people with learning or physical difficulties, ever since work with those with communication impairments, (including our population of AAC users), has been underpinned by this model.




The principles of the model are that to communicate effectively everybody needs the means, (the ‘how’ someone communicates/ their system), a reason to interact, (e.g. to persuade, argue, describe) and opportunities need to be available in order for communicative exchanges to occur, (including having responsive social partners who engage in conversation, don’t anticipate and are able & willing to wait for responses).  




Those around a young person who is developing their communication skills have a responsibility to create, engineer or capitalise on all opportunities to communicate, to model the multitude of reasons language is used for and to ensure that the means they have is functional and evolving.



When practitioners are aiming to ensure that their young people are provided with optimal communicative conditions then it is best to visualise Money’s model in it’s Venn diagram format, with the central segment, (where all factors are overlapping), being the ‘gold standard’.  If a student’s needs are all predicted and no opportunity is created for them to influence their life, then their means of communication can be redundant.  Also to use communication to their full potential, for a range of language functions, then the beliefs and expectations of those around each student also need to be that they have ‘capacity and the ability’ to use and develop their means of communication.   




In short; finding and developing a tool for a young person to communicate with is just the start of their journey towards them being able to express themselves.  The environment that they are exposed to, the attitudes & expectations of those around them, the modelling of their communication system, the opportunities created and the young person’s motivation to want to share information, (not just answer questions), are all factors which impact on the success of their use of the communicative tool (means) provided. 




Jackie Dearden and Ann Emerson (2013) have developed this approach into a scheme they call MORE, Means Opportunities Reasons and Expectations. They argue that raising expectations and providing access to literacy at a very early age can make an enormous contribution to development of the young person who relies on AAC.



Emergent Literacy



The emergent literacy resources are for the student who may not have any known literacy skills. We recommend a session every morning as follows:


Students use their communication systems to complete a page of Predictable chart writing. If the students are not yet at a stage where they can use a communication system, they can make choices from the Predictable chart boards that are designed to go with each page in the Predictable chart booklet. If you are working with a class of students, you may wish to create a larger version of the chart on a flip chart.