Will an increase in adult interaction in the role-play area increase children’s attainment in Communication and Language?

Research and study conducted and implemented by Nivruti Patel.


This study aims to highlight the impact that high quality communication from practitioners and language strategies has on the attainment of Nursery children and children with English as an Additional Language (EAL). I wanted to find out whether more high quality conversations between practitioners and children in the role-play area, can help to develop children’s communication and language skills including vocabulary and sentence structure.

The school end of year data in 2016 for Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) shows that 79% of the pupils achieved at least expected in speaking compared to 86% of pupils who achieved at least expected in speaking compared in the Redbridge borough. I decided to focus on speaking because 68% of children enter the Nursery with Early English or English as an Additional Language.

Context of the school

Background information about the school in which this research was conducted:

The school is larger than the average-sized primary school with two classes in each year group. Most pupils come from minority ethnic backgrounds and the proportion speaking English as an additional language is much higher than the national average. The proportion of pupils eligible for the pupil premium is lower than the national average. The pupil premium is additional funding for pupils known to be eligible for free school meals and looked-after children. The proportion of disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs supported through school action is below the national average. The proportion of pupils supported at school action plus or with a statement of special educational needs is similar to that found nationally.


Ethnographic Research

“Ethnography literally means ‘a portrait of a people’. Ethnography is a written description of a particular culture – the customs, beliefs, and behaviour – based on information collected through fieldwork.” – (Marvin Harris and Orna Johnson, 2000).

Ethnography is a qualitative research method that uses participant-observation techniques. It can provide information that is less biased (Atkins and Beschner, 1980). Ethnography aims to describe the nature of those who are studied (i.e. to describe a people, an ethnos) through writing. The researcher has to become a part of the particular group in order to conduct ethnographic study where the focus is to get familiar with group’s culture to then sense the underlying problems.

Action Research

Action research is a process where participants reflect on their own educational practice using the techniques of research. Teachers work effectively when they examine and assess their own work and then consider ways of working differently. Teachers help each other and work collaboratively and improve their professional development (Watts, 1985, p. 118).

A review of research which informed this study:

Play underpins all aspects of children’s development and is paramount in the Early Years Foundation Stage setting. Play helps children to explore and discover their immediate world, take risks, develop imagination and solve problems on their own or with others. Play can develop language skills by promoting talk between children or introducing new vocabulary that they use and act out in their play (Early Years MATTERS, 2017). Similarly, Bredekamp and Copple (1997) argues that “play is the most developmentally appropriate way for children to learn, and others have suggested that play facilitates problem-solving, perspective-taking, emotional and social skills” (Godwin, 2005). Glover (1999) states that play enables children to build and extend their knowledge and skills as they interact with their environment, with others, and on their own (Godwin, 2005).

Vygotsky believed that the role of an adult was crucial. Vygotsky (1978) believed that interaction with peers/ adults as an effective way of developing skills and strategies. He developed the term “Zone of proximal development” (Siraj-Blatchford, 2009) which means “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p86). For example: if a child needs help on a specific task, a adults guidance can help the child to complete the task and show him how to do so. If the child then does the same task again they would be able to master the task independently. Social constructivists such as Wood, Bruner and Ross (1976) also support this view that the interaction between adults and children are steps for development and helping the child reach their full potential. This supports my view that an increase in adult interaction and adults modelling thinking through spoken internal dialogue within the role-play area can extend children’s vocabulary and sentence structure.

Priscilla Clarke (2015) states that the quality and timing of teacher interaction has the potential to make a real difference for all children. When a teacher actively participates in children’s play, s/he models roles and offers ideas to extend play and support children’s growth (Jones and Reynolds, 1992).

An overview of actions:

The review of research informed my next steps on how to increase children’s attainment in communication and language by increasing adult interaction within the role-play area and supporting staff to have quality interactions with children to extend the children’s vocabulary and sentence structures. My first steps involved supporting staff on how to have high quality interactions with children by giving them Continued Professional Development sessions across the Early Years Phase to discuss the information gathered during the ethnographic study, the impact that this was having on the children especially EAL children and what could do to increase their language. The sessions involved a range of strategies and approaches on interacting in role-play. It was crucial that adults knew when to join in with play, when to watch children’s play and when to model language whilst playing alongside the children to support their vocabulary and understanding. The EYFS team were also given opportunities to observe each other on how to have high quality interactions with children during role-play.

Staff gained support on how to interact effectively with children in the role-play area by:

  • Asking open-ended questions to gain more understanding
  • Tuning into the child’s learning by listening, watching and observing
  • Showing a genuine interest in what they were doing
  • Thinking about when to join in, lead, model, or watch
  • Respecting decisions made by the child
  • Inviting children to elaborate to their ideas
  • Modelling thinking through spoken internal dialogue
  • Increasing adult time in the role-play area


nursery graph

Graph results:

The end of the academic year of 2015/2016, 47% of Nursery children reached end of year expectations compared to 2016/2017 who reached 69%. This is an increase of 22% of children reaching end of year expectations.

The actions of the research (increased adult interaction, guidance given to adults on high quality interactions and staff peer observation) have had a massive impact on the children’s attainment in Communication and Language development and a positive impact on EAL children within the nursery especially with vocabulary, sentence structure and confidence to share their ideas with peers and adults.

reception graph

Graph results:

The graph shows 80% of children in Reception class 1 and 2 reached the end of year expectations compared to 63% of children in Reception class 3. There is a gap of 17% because the Reception class 3 teacher was reluctant to engage in the research study and this was shown in the ethnographic observations.


I’ve have carried out my research and found that an increase in adult interaction in the role-play areas supported children’s language development. I am going to make sure that I continue to provide opportunities for pupils to develop their language and confidence by providing high quality interactions with adults. It is paramount that adults are constantly reflecting on their practise and finding ways to make their teaching better. If you want your research to be successful then you need to support your staff, talk to them about your study, involve them and allow them to be a part of the change you will make as a team. This will also allow them to become reflective and good practitioners.


Do you have an area of learning or something that you have noticed in your setting that needs attention and could be used as a study?

Do you have the right people to support new staff who are coming in to your setting to ensure a study that you start can be continued and sustained with or without your influence?

Do you have the support of senior leaders to implement the changes required in planning, structure and learning focus in your setting?

Can you motivate and justify your study to support staff ensuring that they are on board when it comes to change?