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Using Makaton Symbols in Special iApps

Using Makaton in Special iApps is easy: Makaton word lists are available in our Special Words Plus, Special Spelling Plus and Special Stories Plus. In this article, we explain why we use Makaton Symbols in Special iApps an how you can use them too. 

I am a mum of 2 boys. My younger son William is now 17 and attending our local Special School 6th form. He has a dual diagnosis Down syndrome and autism with other complex needs. We have used Makaton since William was a baby and continue to use it today. I wanted to tell you more about Special iApps and the story of why we started creating educational tools as well as give you more details and insight on the new collaboration between The Makaton Charity and Special iApps and how this can support you.

Why Use Makaton Symbols?

When William was 5 years old, I founded Special iApps which is a not-for-profit social enterprise developing educational apps for children with special educational needs. William not only uses our apps, but he also tests and evaluates them as we develop our products and update or extend content. He has been the inspiration behind Special iApps throughout. In fact, Special Words and Special Stories were created specifically for him. Starting a non-profit meant that we could share what we knew we could do for our own son with other kids like him. Over the years our work through Special iApps has made a difference to tens of thousands of children’s lives.

Since we started developing in 2011 incorporating Makaton Symbols has been one request that kept cropping up time and time again. Over the years we have seen parents and professionals use Makaton Symbols in our apps. There is a long list of reasons why doing this makes a very powerful learning tool. It is very quick and easy to create accessible personalised learning resources and communication materials for Makaton users of all ages and abilities using these tools. Helping progress educational outcomes and developmental skills alongside speech and communication. Improving literacy, numeracy, working memory, fine motor skills along with soft skills as we have feedback that self-confidence and self-esteem blossoms.

My son William was the first to try using Makaton Symbols within Special Words Plus and I was amazed when he quickly sailed through over 450 Core Vocabulary and Makaton Signing for Babies and Families Symbols. He also explored using Makaton Symbols in our other apps and you will soon be able to download and use these yourself as will be available in Special Stories Plus and Special Spelling Plus. Our spelling app with downloaded Makaton Symbols is a fantastic way to spell any word, even those tricky high-frequency words which can be difficult to learn as not easy to represent pictorially but a breeze when using Makaton Symbols. During my time exploring the new Makaton Membership I have found some real gems, things I did not know existed.

How To Use Makaton Symbols In Special iApps

Luckily, if you are new to Makaton or Special iApps, there are free trial memberships that are available to everyone.

Makaton Memberships have a variety of options which give you access to their range of symbols and resources. Special iApps have a free 14-day trial available to everyone then membership is £50 per year for a single device with multiple device options available too. 

You can use Makaton Symbols in Special iApps Membership by importing the word lists we’ve created and published into three apps: Special Words Plus, Special Spelling Plus and Special Stories Plus. The downloadable add-ons are at a one word level: one Makaton Symbol, one written word and the audio is the synthetic voice on your device reading the written word. 

Below, you can learn how to download your Makaton Word List, how to use Makaton in Special Words Plus, how to use Makaton in Special Spelling Plus and how to use Makaton in Special Stories Plus. 



How To Download Makaton Word Lists

Watch this video to learn how to download the Makaton Word Lists into your apps.

How To Use Makaton with Special Words Plus

By default, Special Words shows you 4 Cards Per Page where you can move between 6 matching activities:

  • Match Pictures
  • Match Words
  • Word to Picture
  • Picture to Word
  • Sound to Picture
  • Sound to Word

You can use this tool to support children with their individual learning targets. For example, a child in nursery may have a target to match pictures of animals, so use Special Words Plus to match pictures including cat, dog, bird, fish. With this tool the child matches pictures in the first activity. They see the picture, see the word and hear the word and associate them. They can then move to matching words.

Once they progress to matching words to pictures this becomes more of a testing and assessment tool. Special Words Plus can provide a framework that helps children learn and develop a number of skills. For children who have poor fine motor skills using technology removes barriers, they can focus on the activity and not struggle with being able to do the activity. If a child can’t easily pick up a card and place it on another then using tech with a finger tap, swipe or even an accessible switch connected to the tablet they can match cards and succeed.

You can change the number of cards per page and modify the settings to personalise for the session and what the child needs. The wide range of settings is fully documented in the user guide, see https://specialiapps.org/en/user-guide/special-words/settings

    Makaton 1 Card

    Makaton 4 Cards

    You can make each activity harder or easier simply adjust for the individual and their learning target they are working towards or the desired outcome from the session. Differentiation is a mix of both content that you have downloaded within the apps as well as adjusting settings in order to change things like the number of cards per page, appearance or when sound is played (or not) or if there are rewards or not. The clapping and wiggle reward is great for smaller children but may not be appropriate for older kids. It is usual to phase out clapping rewards once it has become inappropriate for

    them, the age to withdraw clapping rewards will vary from child to child. When introducing new concepts make the app easier to use at first as the focus is on learning and repeating matching activities to hear the word, read the word and see the Makaton Symbol. You can make activities more challenging as your child progresses. However, content plays a big part so the same child may need different Settings for different content. The adjustable settings include:

    • Appearance,
      • Dark or Light Theme
      • Font
      • Text Size
    • Using Sound
      • Synthetic Voice and Text to Speech
      • How and when sounds are played
    • Cards
      • Number per page 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 or 8
      • Shuffling
      • Rewards ON/OFF
    • Printing setup

    Printing Makaton Symbols With Special iApps

    If you have a Premium Makaton Membership you can print Makaton Symbols from Special Words Plus, printing baseboards, print and cut out matching cards alongside printing assessment sheets so that you can record progress. Doing this easily creates differentiated paper learning materials meaning that you can switch between paper and tech and keep a written record of progress on file with targets, observations, progress, and outcomes.

    Printing and cutting Makaton Symbol and word cards means that you can use these in table-top activities to match with paper, play games, cut and stick so Special Words Plus not only supports you using Makaton Symbols within the app but also supports you creating resources from the ideas in the Makaton Library.

    Special Words Plus uses Makaton Symbols when downloading Makaton resources. As mentioned, what is available to download depends upon your Makaton Membership level. To view the Makaton Sign or Makaton video of the sign or other resources you need to open The Makaton Library, this can be done simultaneously as your child may be engaged in a Special Words Plus activity while you look up a sign in The Makaton Library on a different device. This can be on your phone, laptop, or another tablet. Even on the same device, for example another browser window on your laptop or if using an iPad split the screen if you wish to explore both with your child together or you are preparing a session and refreshing the signs that you need to practice beforehand as when preparing sessions, you can run through and check signs or anything else that you need in order to prepare for the intervention in advance so that your child gets the best experience.

    Exploring alongside your child gives them the opportunity to watch the Makaton videos and practice the signs for the session. Some children are absorbed in the Special Words Plus activity and when they know the sign they match the symbol-word-sound then sign the word themselves before going on the next. Children who sign often do all four as they can match the symbol-word-sound-sign. Supporting adults can prompt by signing the word themselves or encourages the child to changing the pace of the activity to suit the need.


    Tip: In The Makaton Library when you perform a search, you can add symbols, signs and videos and other resources to a named folder or your favorite folder. For more information on this check out

    Using Makaton With Special Spelling Plus

    This is a tool that includes several spelling activities. Note: this is not a phonics app, the activities relate to spelling.

    You can download the same word lists that you have used in Special Words Plus and there are 6 activities in Special Spelling Plus:

    • Spell the Word
    • Find the First Letter
    • Find the Ending
    • Find the Vowel
    • Find the Double Letters
    • Find the Sound

    Like all Special iApps tools the personalisation for individual and differentiated learning resources and materials is not only content downloaded into the app, but also Settings which may be globally for all apps (such as font), or for all activities within one tool (such as dark theme) or for the activity for example in Spell the Word you can have Extra Cards and/or switch the Hint ON/OFF/Flash depending how much scaffolding and help is needed.

    Special iApps support errorless learning in small steps. Taking your finger away when moving cards leaves them where they were last placed. They stay where they were left on the screen. Some children remove their fingers when using the app, others put cards in the wrong place on purpose, but doing this is part of their thinking and logic not an error, they just need time to make the decision if the cards are being placed correctly.

    Accessible switches can be used for children who need or use these. We have seen switch adaptations being used to support simple cause and effect as children press the switch to select the correct matching symbol-word-sound. This use of switches is a way to introduce children to the concept of cause and effect, fundamental in learning to communicate as they learn that their actions cause responses.

    Special Spelling Makaton

    Special Spelling Book Makaton

    Using the same resources, removing scaffolding makes the activities harder and more challenging and this can be in small steps. For example, start spelling with the Hint ON so the child can see the word as they are spelling it by moving the letters. Then change the Settings so that the Hint Flashes the word before removing the Hint altogether. If the activity is too hard then use the Settings to make it easier.

    Special Spelling Plus has more activities including "Find the First Letter" where the child if offered a choice of two possibilities for the first letter. They need to select the correct one.

    How To Use Makaton With Special Stories Plus

    The same word lists can be downloaded into Special Stories Plus. This is a tool that allows you to use the Makaton Symbol word lists as flashcards, so you can scroll through the pages to see each symbol, written word and hear the word read.

    Using these 3 tools together (Special Words Plus, Special Stories Plus and Special Spelling Plus) alongside The Makaton Library means that you can interactively perform matching activities as well as check signs by watching videos and exploring or downloading related Makaton resources.

    We have more word lists in the pipeline. It is a growing set available to download and use, included within the Special iApps Membership which saves you time as you do not need to search and group Makaton Symbols together. Through the collaboration we have done a lot of the groundwork for you.

    Special Stories Makaton Dolly


    You can then go on and edit the word lists if you wish, so removing words or re-ordering as needed. Supporting children who have additional needs and require differentiated learning materials personalised to them can be very time-consuming. These tools can save you preparation time and provide the framework to deliver interventions.

    The word lists in the Makaton Symbols from the Signing for Babies and Families are perfect for Early Years and those new to Makaton, coming soon will be word list with Makaton Symbols that can be used to support safeguarding. Safeguarding Workshops and training is available if you need.

    Special iApps Supports Makaton

    Makaton is a unique language programme which uses signs, speech and symbols together to support communication and spoken language. As language develops, new signs and symbols are added. Makaton's use has evolved over the years to support people of all ages in a variety of ways to improve their communication, education and everyday life. Over 100,000 children and adults use Makaton daily as it can be tailored to the individual’s needs by using a mix of speech, signs and symbols.

    See how you can use your Special iApps membership with Makaton or Even sign up to a 14-Day Free Trial for Special iApps below.

    Learn More About Makaton