What are the differences between See and Learn and RLI?

We are often asked to contrast See and Learn and the Reading and Language Intervention (RLI) – and to explain when and how to transition from See and Learn to RLI. Both of these resources offer targeted teaching activities to support language and reading development for children with Down syndrome.

See and Learn

See and Learn offers support for teaching activities across three areas of development: speech (producing sounds and words clearly), language and reading (learning the meanings of words, how words can be combined in phrases and simple sentences, and learning to read first sight words), and numbers (learning number concepts and counting).

The See and Learn Language and Reading pathway is designed to develop children’s spoken language from the very start of learning first words (at around 18 months), then joining two key words together, and then building simple sentences and beginning to learn the rules of grammar. The steps in See and Learn Language and Reading teach early words, phrases and sentences in typical developmental order. Sight words are introduced to help teach combining two key words to communicate different meanings when speaking, as well as to teach a foundational literacy skill.


RLI is a comprehensive reading intervention designed to teach reading and language in school by teaching assistants. It includes two strands. The Reading Strand includes successful book reading, teaching phonics and sight words in a structured daily 20-minute teaching session with the focus from day one on the child understanding what they read and enjoying being a reader. The Language Strand focuses on increasing the children’s vocabulary and language use. This is important for their daily communication, but it is also important as their language knowledge influences their reading progress. The two are linked for all readers.

RLI requires teachers to choose or make reading books at the child’s language comprehension level. This is essential as a child cannot understand what they read unless the words and sentences are ones they understand when spoken. In the Language Strand, children create books about a topic over two weeks and the topic can be linked to the curriculum or one that the child is interested in.

As many children will only be reaching the sentences stage in their language when in school, we have graded the books in See and Learn Language and Reading Sentences 1 using the book grading scheme used in RLI. For some children this will be the stepping stone from See and Learn to RLI. We recommend moving to the RLI model to ensure a balanced approach to reading and to link phonics to the child’s reading from around 6 years of age (Year 1 in the UK school system).

A summary of key differences

See and Learn RLI
Speech skills development • Listening to, discriminating and producing single sounds • Vowel-consonant combinations • Practising 1 or 2-syllable words with common initial consonants No explicit speech sound production activities
Language teaching • First vocabulary – common early words in approximate developmental order • Combining words to make simple phrases and sentences • Early grammar rules • Continuing vocabulary – in themed/topic sets – linked to personal interests and/or curriculum
Reading and literacy development • First sight words – selected from first vocabulary to support teaching (spoken) two keyword phrases • Linked to simple phrases/sentences books • Foundational reading skills • Sight words • Phonics • Linked to finely graded reading books
Age range (approx.) • 6 months (speech) / 18 months (language and reading) to around 6 years • From around 6 years to around 11 years (reading age up to 8 years)
Guidance • Detailed guides with step-by-step instructions for teaching activities • Detailed handbook (online or print) with instructions for planning, personalisation and implementation • Video examples and instruction
Record keeping and progress tracking • Record forms included • Assessment and record forms included with handbook
Teaching materials • Defined picture, word, phrase and sentence cards and books – in apps or printed kits • No pre-prepared resources, beyond examples accompanying handbook (online)
Teaching sessions • Regular 5-10 minute sessions (possibly a few for different activities each day) • Daily, one-to-one teaching sessions (40 minutes)
Designed to be delivered by • Parents and families • Therapists • Preschool and school teachers and assistants • Primary/elementary school teachers and assistants

When to use See and Learn

We recommend that families use See and Learn resources at home from around 6 months of age, starting with the See and Learn Speech pathway. Structured support for vocabulary development can be introduced for many children from around 18 months with the See and Learn Language and Reading pathway.

Many children with Down syndrome may still be developing their early language and reading skills when they start school at around 4-5 years of age. Some will still have quite limited vocabularies as they progress through primary/elementary school.

When to use RLI

We recommend RLI is used in schools with children with Down syndrome aged around 5-6 years.

RLI requires some planning in advance, and time available for continued planning and preparation of materials – in addition to the time set aside for the one-to-one teaching sessions. It is designed (and was evaluated) for teaching assistants to deliver, with the support of the class teacher and school SEN lead.

When See and Learn can be helpful as part of RLI

Within RLI, for children still at the early stages of language and reading development, See and Learn resources may be appropriate for teaching vocabulary and sight words. Guidance is provided in the RLI handbook in the “Teaching beginning readers” section.

The later Phrases steps and See and Learn Sentences 1 are most likely to be of assistance for children learning their first sight words, still developing their early vocabulary, and/or learning to put words together in phrases and simple sentences.