6 ways to help students who stammer

There are some small steps that teachers can take to help make school less stressful for young people with stammers, says this student
30th September 2021, 12:00pm
Kimi Chaddah


6 ways to help students who stammer

Stammering Student

The register. The termly drama performance. A presentation. A speaking assessment. The "good morning". These little moments of human interaction are magnified into moments of fear and restless unease for students who have a stammer. 

Having a stammer doesn't have to taint one's experience of school, but it certainly shaped mine. And while you can't stop me stammering, you can make a real difference to a child who stammers. You may already do so, every day. But here are some tips for supporting students who have a stammer.

1. Be aware of trigger points

The fast-paced register. With the hard sounds of "Miss, Mr, Mrs or Dr" preceding most teachers' names, registers were an obstacle before I'd even had the chance to settle down in the room. "Please forget," I would think. But they never did. 

Where possible, try and do the register without needing to elicit a verbal response from a student with a stammer.

And if you are trying to learn students' names at the start of a new term, allow them to write names on whiteboards, sticky notes or pieces of paper, as having to say your name out loud can be difficult. 


2. Talk to the student (in private) about how they'd like to contribute in the lesson

It may seem odd that the antidote to an issue with the act of talking is talking, but finding an opportunity to discuss how a student feels comfortable contributing is key to establishing a relationship built on trust. 

We're not asking to evade every chance of speaking; we're asking for things to be broken down sometimes, so a presentation in front of a whole class can take place in an easier situation, such as a presentation in front of a couple of friends, before harder situations in the future.

3. Provide safety nets

A lesser-known feature of stammering is a tendency to "block" on words, where the word is physically unable to come out, remaining lodged somewhere in my throat. Allowing students to spell words out or write them on a mini whiteboard can offer a useful safety net.

4. Listen

It's so important to feel listened to, even if I have to restart, take some more deep breaths or simply stammer it out - I like to think that sometimes it is not what I sound like, but rather what I say. I want to try to answer a question, to express an opinion, even if it involves me stumbling and stammering my way through it. 

This goes without saying, but if another student chooses to pass an inconsiderate remark, please challenge it, even if I can't. 

5. Time

Lessons where students were spontaneously chosen to read something out loud equated to one hour of heart-pounding terror -  it's difficult to change a word when I'm reading from a book. 

Consider giving students with stammers extra time in speaking assessments, allow students to finish sentences in their own time, and most of all, please don't finish my sentences. This makes me feel that my stammer is a problem, an inconvenience to the frenetic pace of school-life and answering emails and moving on with the lesson.

6. The little things

A smile at the end of a presentation. Maintaining eye contact in a conversation. A thumbs up. The lessons I willingly answered a question. The time I stood up to do a presentation, not in front of one other person, but the whole room. Little measures of progress. The little things really do matter. 

Kimi Chaddah is a first-year university student

This piece was originally published on 20 November 2020

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