You might have heard about using Core Words with your AAC users but do you know what they are? Core Words for AAC are words that are in your student’s daily vocabulary that make up most of our communication. These words should help your student express their basic wants and needs. Some examples include; who, more, up, that, in, one, open, not. In contrast, Fringe vocabulary is the 20% of our speech that is specific to people, places, and things. Fringe words are things like people’s names, the name of a favorite character, the places we frequent, or phrases we use all the time. Fringe words are critically important too but we can talk more about them on another day!
The beauty of core words is how they can be used in many different phrases to mean a lot of different things. Early AAC users should use a mix of core words and fringe. Take for example the core word “that”. A student who can say “want that” can ask for their backpack, choose a snack, and pick their favorite Youtube channel. A child who has learned “cracker” can only ask for that specific snack item.
Below, I’m sharing some steps to identify your student’s core words for their Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) board and how to use them.
Introduce new word(s). But where do you start? I love this list from Gail Van Tatenhove (she’s a wealth of information on AAC!) Here is a list of Core Vocabulary Words for AAC. They are sorted by type of word (noun, adjective, negation, verb, etc.) and typical priority (top 20, top 50, etc.). I suggest you identify the student’s top 50 words before you get started on introducing new words. Top 50 words would be individualized based on your student’s favorite things, least favorite things, daily activities, and family.
When I introduce core words to students, I like to find something they love to do and pick a word that would be meaningful. If they love to swing, maybe the first word is “up” so they can ask to get up on their swing every day. If they like music, maybe they need to be able to ask to turn the music “on”. The words you select should be meaningful to the person. Don’t pick words just because they fit your lesson plan or your list of top 20 words. Be student specific.
The amount of words introduced depends on your student’s ability. Typically, when working with preschoolers I have a whole simple core board available to them at all times. I model on this board using lots of words. Then I explicitly work on just one new word at a time in a more instructional manner. Sometimes, I do two when the words are opposites (on/off, up/down) to help reinforce the concept. If you are needing a core board that is already made, this free AAC Core Board uses Smarty Symbols and you can find it here.
Tip: Use a word of the week or building across disciplines and a routine. Here is a link to a word of the week set for a whole month, so it has 4 core words: “go”, “in”, “different”, and “help”. The packet has tools to collect data, give teachers and staff ideas, and notes for parents too. The packet can be adapted for a clinic setting or another service delivery model, but it works perfectly for a classroom setup.
Teach the new word(s) through modeling. Use Aided Language Input (ALI) to introduce Core Words for AAC. Using Aided Language Input during your explicit instructional activities to model. ALI is a research-based technique that helps to build a core vocabulary foundation for AAC use and language learning. During ALI, when communication partners (parents, teachers, therapists, etc.) talk to children who use AAC, the partners also use the same AAC system to communicate. This helps teach AAC through modeling in meaningful, real-life interactions. If you’re not familiar with ALI, watch this short 5 minute video from PrAACtical AAC. Their website is fantastic and SO full of ideas for therapists! This blog and these resources can be shared with parents and teachers so they understand how you break down building core vocabulary. I really like this handout as well from Saltillo.
Tip: Use the same device/board! Using the same device to use ALI to teach new words is the best way to model. Most students will let you, but if you need to, you can use your own.
Elaborate on the new word meanings with engaging practice activities. Just like auditory bombardment, model and expand on the targeted core vocabulary. Continue to use Aided language Input for meaningful and reinforcing opportunities. The Word of the Week bundle found here describes opportunities for your student to use their new core vocabulary in different situations with different activities. The Word of the Week packet includes:
- Parent Intro Letter
- Staff Intro Letter
- Parent Model/Elicitation Explanation Sheet
- The following materials are provided for each core word:
- Weekly External Door Sign
- Weekly Staff/Parent Letter
- Room Signs
- Data Sheet
- Activity Sheet
- Activity Sheets on rings
- Interactive Vocabulary Book
- App Recommendation/Ideas
- My W.O.W. Book cover
- W.O.W. weekly sheet
- Coloring Sheet
Provide repeated exposure to the new word(s) on an ongoing basis. If you work in a school setting, reading this blog post could help you with Implementation of AAC in the Classroom. It has several tips on ways to help coach and encourage teachers to use your student’s AAC device and core vocabulary in the classroom setting.
Check for understanding and re-teach, as necessary. Before you introduce a new word(s), review the word from last week to check for carry-over. Re-teaching words through books is a powerful way to keep core words for AAC fresh. My Winter AAC Core Adapted Book Set can be found here. This AAC Cooking with Core Vocabulary Set 1 can be used with Smarty Symbols for Boardmaker. The following is included with this resource:
- Core board with 18 additional fringe words
- Yes/No questions
- Core word sentence strips
- Like it/don’t like it voting cards
Here are links to other free AAC Resources to help you and your students build on their core words for AAC usage.
How do you select core words and implement them for your students?
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