At work

Totemigo – bringing Makaton symbols to life

Totemigo – bringing Makaton symbols to life!

Alice using Totemigo

As a parent and Makaton Tutor I have seen first hand the advantages that Makaton Symbols can bring as part of a multimodal approach for reading, writing , and developing memory skills.

I have found that they can sometimes printed card type resources can appear uninspiring to learners, and so when was asked to trial Totemigo by Makaton I was excited!

The totemigo is a robust, colourful ‘tool /toy’ which welcomes exploration and limited motor skills. The reels  attach together by internal magnets – it has a ‘rubic cube’ feel and I have found it kinaesthetic and undestructable (so far)!

Don’t be fooled by the colourful early years appearance – Totemigo uses are easily differeniated across ages and abilities and I see many uses across High School, Colleges and Adults to express feelings and choices. For example it could be used by people who have recently had a stroke and lost the ablilty to verbalise  to express their needs.

Each of the reels can be rotated vertically offering a choice of symbols and/or images and text. The vertical strips are produced online, printed, laminated and cut into strips to lead into one or more reels – depending how many you want to use. In the above pictures there are 4 and 3 reels used. The user can then build options by twisting the catridges and lining up the symbols up across the reels.

When you purchase your Totemigo you will receive the device itself (4 blank reels)  in a handy storage tube, an A4  folder to keep created activities in an activation code to enable your for your account on the Totemigo website.

Once you create your account you are able to view activities other people have shared and create and edit your own.

Using the online tool is relatively easy. When you choose to ‘+’ an image you will be able to switch on the Makaton tab and access all the Makaton Core Vocabulary symbols.

This is how it looks on screen. You can search by typing the start of the word and the symbols will be displayed to choose from. A click on the symbol adds it to your Vertical Strip.  Once you start creating an activity you can save, share and print , ready to laminate and load into your Totemigo. Previous activity strips can be stored in the folder for future use.

I have found many uses and thought I would share a few ideas here:

1. Simply Sentence building using only Core Vobabulary. You are able to colour the backgrounds, this means you can support a Colourful Semantics approach to the level your user needs

2. More personalised Sentences using pictures alongside the symbols by loading images

3. Symbol support for topic work like the 3 pigs, dear zoo by loading pictures and /or non core symbols.

Alice using Totemigo Whatever you are supporting as a Makaton Tutor I can recommend using the Totemigo, especically when talking about and illustrating the use of symbols – it really brings them to life.

My daughter Alice took the Totemigo into school to support some literacy work. Here is what her teacher said:

“Totemigo is an excellent tool which I found really helpful for children in a school setting. I used this at first for a sequencing activity within a communication activity. The pupils found it easy to use and the visuals created a great support and reference point. This would be a tool that I would use widely across my classroom for various activities and with a variety of children.”  Alicia Dooley – Dorin Park School

If you are interested in purchasing a Totemigo and have any questions please feel free to contact me . The after sales and technology support you will receive from Antonin and the team is also first class.

Highly recommended!


Totemigo is availble to purchase for £59 from the online shop.


Amanda Glennon

16th June 2020

At work

Totemigo Trial

Totemigo Trial

About 18 months ago I received delivery of an education tool called Totemigo. I had been asked to trial it for The Makaton Charity and had no idea what to expect. As a newly retired learning support teacher in Further Education and SEN teacher in Special Schools, and as a Makaton Regional Tutor I was interested to see the latest way of combining communication learning and Makaton symbols.

I run a community Makaton club (Makachat) for Makaton users who live semi independently and thought I would ask them to trial Totemigo. When it arrived, I was surprised to see that it is an old school object, in several sections which clip together magnetically with a satisfying clunk. I wanted to handle it immediately, and so did members of my Makachat group when we met. To use it requires turning each section so that you see a row of symbols that make up the syntactically correct sentence, and you can use smaller or greater numbers of sections as you build competence. My three testers were able to bring different experience to the challenge.

Totemigo Colourful SemanticsYou can use Totemigo with a stimulus picture on the first section, or you can find your stimulus elsewhere in a real-life situation, video etc. I populated the Totemigo with topics we suggested by the group, with a stimulus of a film clip linked to the topics we had been developing in the group already; signs and symbols to do with socialising in the community. I populated the Totemigo with concepts we were working on, and assigned a part of speech to each section, following the Colourful Semantics themes, i.e.

•    Who (Subject) – Orange.
•    What doing (Verb) – Yellow.
•    What (Object) – Green.
•    Where – Blue.

Oliver, William and Christopher are key members of the group. What I loved about the trial was that each one of them subverted my carefully planned activity and made it their own. Oliver, looking at the photo I had screened as a sentence stimulus, wanted to find a concept I hadn’t managed to include, ‘pub’ (you can now add concepts outside the core vocabulary). Oliver grasped the potential of the Totemigo immediately. He silently scanned and turned the Totemigo sections, seemingly oblivious to prompts.  Only once he’d made his decision about his sentence did he look up and was then happy to speak and sign to explain it. He remained grumpy that not all the concepts he wanted were there and was keen for me to give feedback about that.


In contrast William took the Totemigo, and found it difficult to rotate the sections, so we took it apart and he looked at the pieces individually. He discarded one of the sections and worked hard for a while to put it together. What he came up with was, quite unexpectedly, a rule for his mum about not using your phone in the cinema! He had chosen the symbol of ‘woman’ for ‘mum’ and the format allowed us to compare those two concepts afterwards to remind him of the difference.


Finally, Christopher had a go. He was less intuitive about the meaning of the symbols and it was more challenging for him to manipulate the pieces, so I gave him the sections separately. He had watched the others and picked up the way in which the other two had clicked the sections together and was pleased with those satisfying clunks. He could see that there was meaning in each section and once completed was happy to have a go at reading it back, with some support. I could see that it held his attention, allowed him to identify what he knew already and would be a good way of introducing new concepts to put together.

All three of the testing group used speech when reading back and signed when they had their hands free. They all used more concepts in the sentences they had made, and so were able to communicate in a more sophisticated way. They all reached for the Totemigo immediately and were motivated to use it. Finally, it gave them the time to process, to assimilate the information available and to use it in a way that allowed them to initiate, in their own time.

Well done everyone!

Totemigo is availble to purchase for £59


Helen Hayhoe

16th June 2020

At work

Joy Grimsby - Makaton for NHS Staff

Joy Grimsby - Makaton for NHS Staff

My name is Joy, I am a Makaton Tutor and Higher Level Teaching Assistant in Castle Batch Primary School, which is part of The Priory Learning Trust in Weston-super-Mare.  I just cannot believe the incredible things are happening to me at the moment involving Makaton and the NHS during lockdown!

This journey started 35 years ago when I was 22 years old and driving double decked busses for a living. A little girl with Down syndrome called Donna got onto my bus and gestured something to me. Her mum, an old school friend, said “she’s signing to you she’s learning Makaton at her school”.  That was my first ever Makaton sign. Donna had signed ‘cake’ her mum had just bought a cake from the shop. From that day on I started to pick up the occasional signs from Donna, who was a regular on my bus, teaching me new signs whenever we met. By the late 90’s I had started a family and so changed my job to accommodate my new lifestyle. This job was driving mini-busses for the local council supplying home to school transport for an SEN school. This is the job that changed my life! Having daily contact with children who had a range of difficulties and abilities, children with Down’s syndrome, children with autism, children with physical disabilities and children with global delay all using Makaton in some way. I became passionate about helping in any way I could including supplying respite at a local children’s respite centre.

Moving forward I retrained and was fortunate to get a position in Castle Batch Primary supporting a boy with autism on a 1:1 basis, this led me into the Speech and Language at the same school where I upped my retraining  and became a Higher Level Teaching Assistant. In 2010 I started my official Makaton Training delivered by the Springboard Opportunity Group and with the support of Castle Batch and Springboard completed my Tutor training.

Present day in lockdown at home. My friend, who is The Clinical Director of nursing, has been very busy preparing and recruiting staff for the new Nightingale Hospital Bristol. However she was very concerned about the feedback from other Nightingale Hospitals saying they found it very difficult to communicate with each other whilst wearing PPE so asked me to provide her with a few Makaton signs to help, of course I said yes and jumped at the chance to help. The Nightingale team decided on the words they needed, I put the signs and symbols into a poster and recorded a little video of how to make the signs for them to share during their own training. Little did I know what impact this would have! These few signs have become a local news story, I have been on local radio and local news broadcasts talking about Makaton, the Press association has shown interest and I have received hundreds of acknowledgments on social media! I am doing a webinar about Makaton to the NHS (possibly an audience of 200) which may also lead to more staff being trained up to use Makaton throughout Hospitals and care homes throughout the country.


Joy Grimsby

16th June 2020

At work

Makaton changes lives

Makaton changes lives

Katie and Gracie

Katie and GracieMy beautiful daughter Gracie is four and a half years old, she has complex needs, including global development delay, and is non-verbal. Gracie has a small number of single words and therefore uses Makaton as her main way of communicating.

As an experienced early years practitioner I had heard of Makaton and like many other mums we loved to watch Mr Tumble. I started to pick up some signs and wondered if this was a way forward as Gracie seemed to take notice in the children signing, independently copying the 'friends' sign.

Gracie riding a horseDuring a conversation with Gracie's speech therapist, she suggested that I could attend a Makaton Beginners' Workshop, and in the meantime we introduced 10 signs including 'more', 'eat', 'drink' and 'home'.

I began to follow Makaton videos on YouTube and we stumbled across the inspirational Singing Hands, who we are determined we will see live one day! Gracie has always had a love of music and their songs allowed us to enjoy singing together, while learning a host of new signs to add to our growing Makaton vocabulary.

Gracie has embraced signing and alongside picture cards she uses a total communication approach, enabling her to express her needs and ensuring that we are able to fulfill her requests... biscuit is still the most used sign and one everyone understands!

Amber signing pleaseI have always been passionate about supporting children with additional needs and around the time that I attended the Makaton training I was offered a position as a SEN lead in a local nursery that encouraged me to develop the SENCO role. This is when I met Amber a two year old who had very little expressive language, which was impacting upon her development and causing her huge frustration. With Amber's Mums support and enthusiastic practitioners on board, I began to introduce a handful of signs and Amber instantly began to respond to these, copying them with accuracy and beginning to use them herself to make requests.

Amber had been awaiting a speech and language assessment, which as anyone knows is a long wait, and as the weeks rolled by Amber began to use two and three signs together, often only being shown a sign a couple of times. Amber had been able to acknowledge the birth of her sister by signing 'baby sister Ruby' and the most poignant and longed for 'love you Mummy'.

Amber and RubyAmber's language has literally appeared before our eyes and she is now at the point where she is using 3-5 word sentences, understanding and using positional language and the pronoun "I". To cut a long story short her speech therapy is now on permanent hold!

Amber's story is truly exceptional and will not be a reflection of everyone's journey, it certainly isn't my daughter's. However Makaton has given Gracie her voice, enabling her to build confidence to communicate and her bank of spoken words is expanding.

I have become somewhat of a champion for Makaton as it is used within our setting on a daily basis, and several other parents have signed up to courses as a result, understanding that it is an aid to communication and never a replacement for language. Surely all we want as parents and practitioners is for our children to be understood and their voices heard... being non-verbal certainly doesn't mean you have nothing to say!

Makaton really does change lives and these two incredible girls are proof of that.


Katie S

27th August 2019

At work

43 years of Makaton

43 years of Makaton

Ann Cardinal

43 years of Makaton. Time to reflect...

I had the great fortune of attending the very first Makaton workshop at Botleys Park Hospital in 1976, very shortly after my arrival in the UK from Sweden. This was run by its inspiring creator Margaret Walker (who took the project forward) and  to whom I owe so much. Having struggled to teach some of the Paget Gorman Signs to an adult with a learning disability living in a large hospital outside Norwich it became obvious that Makaton would be the solution to improving his communication as well as that of so many others.

Work opportunities for this client group were seen as essential even in those early days. One deaf lady had a job in the kitchen of a department store. Staff welcomed the opportunity to learn some signs.

After moving to Folkestone a few years later, my first speech and language therapy post involved preverbal communication with children who had profound and complex needs. Basic Makaton was essential. I also worked in an SLT clinic where children with significant language delay benefitted greatly from sign support. However, in those days there was a fair bit of scepticism from some parents (“we want our child to speak, not sign”).

I recall two particular sets of parents of babies with Down’s Syndrome. One couple embraced Makaton, attended evening workshops that I set up and used signs consistently with their son. The other parents rejected signing outright and discharged their son from SLT. Fast forward about 30 years to my retirement years, these two by now young men both attended a Sing and Sign session that I ran, accompanied by my husband at the keyboard. The young man who had been immersed in Makaton was now an articulate and confident person who no longer used signs.  He wanted to be in the group because of the singing and the drum kit! The other young man had very limited understanding and poor speech. (Clearly other factors may have played their part in this difference!)

From my Norwich days I had wanted to return to working with Adults (LD) again. In the early 1980s there was no SLT service in South Kent for these people. I secured some sessions in a local day centre and from there the referrals started coming in from across the district. Having no car I got around on a bike and train for a bit, but I finally bought a car. This opened up opportunities for running evening Makaton workshops across our health district. These were initially “Open House” sessions run on seven evenings with up to 50 people attending.

In 1988 I trained as a Regional Tutor. The team of SLTs working in ALD expanded, as did the number of tutors. It was a dynamic team keen to work on training across services and enhance communication skills amongst health and social services colleagues. One of the last Makaton projects I was involved in before my retirement from SLT was the development of the Makaton Health Communication Pack in collaboration with Makaton, following GP training across East Kent.

So 45 years later...

  • Gone are the days of extensive hand written letters by Margaret Walker.
  • We have a culture where signing is lauded and applauded.
  • It is my time to say goodbye.

Thank you Makaton for enriching my life!


Ann Cardinal

27th August 2019

At work

Communication for all service users

Communication for all service users

Back in April 2017, I attended a conference called positive choices in Hull, with a group of my learning disability nursing students, lecturers and qualified nurses from Edge Hill University. This is a conference that takes place annually and brings together learning disability nursing students from across the U.K.

The aim of the conference is to keep students up to date with the latest happenings in our field of practice, as well as raising the profile of learning disability nursing and celebrating the achievements of the people we support.

It was here that I first met Amanda Glennon, a Makaton Tutor, who taught us some basic Makaton signs that would be useful in practice and she also told us about her daughter Alice.

Alice is a fun, loving, energetic young girl who communicates via Makaton. Alice has had numerous medical appointments with various healthcare professionals over the years, and Amanda informed us that not one healthcare professional had been able to communicate with Alice through signing.

It was this story, along with the #GetTheNationSigning and #HelloMyNameIs campaigns that inspired myself and my colleague,  Eve Hesketh, to make a change. We wanted to teach student nurses from other fields of practice the importance of adapting your communication skills when communicating with a person with a learning disability and how we should always include them in conversations regarding their health and wellbeing.

The two of us making 300 sets of 8 symbols. It took weeks!!

We started this project by providing the September 2017 cohort of student nurses at Edge Hill University with a communication workshop. This cohort includes student nurses from all four fields of nursing. 

This workshop involved explaining why adapting our communication skills as professionals is so important as well as demonstrating how to introduce yourself in Makaton by signing ‘hello my name is...’.

At the end of the workshop we provided each student with a communication aid that included a set of 8 cards with a Makaton symbol on one side and the corresponding Makaton sign on the other.

The students were able to take these communication aids on their first nursing placements and when we conducted an evaluation with the cohort about the project we received positive feedback. The students gave examples of when they had used the aids in practice and how they had enhanced the service user’s experiences.

Comments we received from the students included:

  • "..used them in placement at a hospital when it was tea time and I used the eat and drink sign. The patient also communicated when they needed the toilet" Student nurse (child)
  • "the patient I used them with had Huntington’s disease and was unable to communicate verbally" Student nurse (adult)

These comments highlight that Makaton can be used with a variety of service users, with varying needs.

This project has been expanded and recreated with student paramedics, as well as being implemented in the first year of the nursing curriculum at Edge Hill University. Our aim is to expand this project further and deliver it to other student health professionals as well as introducing them in local NHS trusts.

It is important that awareness of adapting communication skills in order to meet the individual needs of people you work with is increased within the health service and how much of an impact this can make to people lives.

Not just settling for teaching as many healthcare professionals to sign #hellomynameis as possible, we recently had the chance to meet Holly and Phil from This Morning. After explaining the reasoning behind the project they were both more than willing to take part...

We are on a mission to help spread the word. Watch this space!

The Makaton Healthcare Cards are available as a free download from the Makaton Library.


UPDATE 1st May 2019
Eve, Emily and their colleague Alice Waddington have won the award for Student Innovation in Practice in the Student Nursing Times Awards 2019.

“We are over the moon to have won this award and want to thank Makaton, Amanda, Alice and everyone at Edge Hill University for all their support. By winning this award we are hoping that we have gained a bigger platform to enable greater communication for all, across the NHS. We are extremely proud that this has already begun, with Alice’s paediatrician pledging to learn some signs for her next appointment.”


Emily Kavanagh

26th June 2018

At work