Core Vocabulary - AssistiveTechAIU

Understanding, Implementing
and Communicating with
Core Vocabulary
Materials compiled & adapted by
Dori Anderson
Kendra Bittner
Allegheny Intermediate Unit
Assistive Technology Coordinators
August 2013
• This compilation of information was gathered from
the work of multiple researchers and professionals
from the fields of assistive technology and speech &
• Please read the notes section of each slide as
resources are listed as well as, in some cases,
additional information about the slide content.
Resources are also listed within the reference
section at the end of the power point.
• If you are going to use any portion of this power
point, please include the notes section with the
slides as well as reference slides to ensure that the
information is properly cited.
“The ‘art’ of building communicative competence
has to do with the faith, the hope, the belief,
and the commitment to the right of every individual
to seek his or her full potential.”
~Janice Light, 1996
Communication &
Vocabulary Selection
Why Do We Communicate?
• Reject what we don’t
• Ask for what we do want
• Comment on what we
• Tell stories
• Complain
• Ask questions
• Answer questions
• More…
Goals of
Communication Supports
• To meet the student’s basic needs
• To teach the power of communication
• To provide the student with access to the
• To provide the student with life-long language
I want
Pop Tart
Students in need of
communication supports
are often provided with
insufficient vocabulary
Limitations of Activity Based Displays
• The opportunity to speak ends with the
activity due to limited vocabulary
• More activities where I can “say things”
(label) is not the same as “I want to talk
about/describe the things”
• Activities change
• Communication partners change
Why is vocabulary
sometimes insufficient?
• Task is given to staff who have limited experience
with language and vocabulary selection
• Communication displays are activity based and
comprised of noun or label based vocabulary
• Creation of activity based displays for each activity
is time consuming by constant customizing &
• Lack of language organization
First Steps: Vocabulary Selection
• Plan for immediate needs
• Plan for recurring activities
• Provide novel events
• Consider use of accessible vocabulary across
activities and environments
First Steps: Think again about…
Why Do We Communicate?
• Reject what we don’t
• Ask for what we do want
• Comment on what we
• Tell stories
• Complain
• Ask questions
• Answer questions
• More…
So--What is Core Vocabulary?
• Small number of words
• Planned set of high frequency, re-usable, and
generative vocabulary
• Applicable to all environments and all topics
• Include a variety of parts of speech
What is Core Vocabulary?
• Research shows that 80% of what we say is
communicated with only the 200 most basic words
in our language
• Tends to be pronouns, verbs, and demonstratives
because they represent words that don’t change
• Core words are widely used in writing textbooks and
training manuals in order to be readable by a
broader audience
So--What is Fringe Vocabulary?
In contrast to Core Vocabulary, Fringe vocabulary is:
o Very large number of words
o Low frequency of use
o Applicable to limited environments and topics
o Includes mostly proper names and other nouns
The most frequently
occurring words (core
words) = 80% of the
actual words spoken.
Example: Core vs. Fringe
1st person: “What would you like to do?”
2nd person: “I don’t know.”
1st person: “Why don’t you come over and we
can watch a movie.”
Total number of words = 22
Total number of core words = 21
Total number of fringe words = 1(movie)
Core Vocabulary is the Same
Across Environments
“Everyday speech is made up of core vocabulary and
grammatical morphemes yet these are not the focus of
vocabulary development in augmentative communication.
Instead we focus on the "power words" in each environment. We
think of fringe vocabulary as powerful words because simply by
mentioning one, it is possible for a conversational partner to fill in
the blanks. However, when we allow the conversational partner
to fill in the blanks, what we are doing is allow him or her to guide
the conversation, direct its contents, and many other things
typically developed speakers would never allow.”
~ Bruce Baker
Next with Core:
Vocabulary Selection
• Use a combination of core and fringe
• Keep in mind that core vocabulary contains all
parts of speech which serves as a great medium for
teaching language
• Don’t overload on the fringe words because the
lack of the core words limits the user’s creation of
spontaneous utterances which leads the
communication partner to “fill in the blanks” and
guide the conversation
Next with Core:
Vocabulary Selection
• Vocabulary lists are a “starting point” based on
AAC (Augmentative and Alternative
Communication)vocabulary research and clinical
• There are many lists that provide an array of words
across development
• Choosing words that span many environments and
meet many functions of language include the use
of core words
Core Vocabulary Lists
• Clinical Application of Core Vocabulary
• Toddlers’ Vocabulary - Arranged by Frequency
• Natural Language Board-300+ Words
Natural Language Board-300+ Words
Core Vocabulary Lists
• Comparison of Core Vocabulary Hybrid List to Dolch List
• Core Word Comparison for Language Building with AAC
Communication & Language:
Vocabulary Selection
• AAC users and/or students in need of
communication supports hear core words daily
• Teachers use the core words and may not realize it
as they know them as:
o Dolch words
o Sight words
o Word wall words
• Make learning these words fun as well as functional
by helping to build the user’s power and control to
become an independent communicator
Communication & Language:
Vocabulary Selection
• Use typical language development as a guide in
building phrases and sentences with core words to
create novel, spontaneous utterances
• In order for all students – AAC users, students in
need of communication supports, and typically
developing – to reach their potential with language
proficiency, provide the same language learning
Select Vocabulary Based on…
of Use
Normal Language Development
• Words used to express a full range of these
pragmatic functions or “reasons to talk”
• “Early” words that children use:
“My vs. Mine”
• Word endings or morphological markers:
“+ing”, “+s”
Core Vocabulary & Language
• Normal language development is the
foundation of building generative language
with students who are AAC users and/or are in
need of communication supports for:
Pragmatics - The reasons for communicating
Discourse - Conversations
Semantics - Meanings of words
Morphology - Building words
Syntax - Building sentences
Frequency of Use
• Better investment in “real estate” on AAC system
o Keep the words in a centralized location and order
o This makes modeling the language more natural when you
use words repeatedly
• Generic and understandable based on context of
“Let me do it” vs. “Let me stir the brownie mix”
• “Binder” words that hold together the substantive
“some of that”, “do for me”, “go with you”
Frequency of Use
• Children use words that they hear repeatedly
• Opportunities to play with language allows
children to learn how words go together to
make novel messages
• “By learning which words can precipitate
action, children begin to understand and group
like words together.” (Shah, 2008)
“Descriptive Talking” Needs
• Descriptive talking uses core vocabulary to stand
for the referents or objects used in the activity, e.g.
Activity: flower, vase, stem
Core: this, that, it
• Core Vocabulary emphasizes multiple language
forms and provides a means to generative
• Usually means there are more adjectives, adverbs,
prepositions, generic nouns and verbs
Core Vocabulary
Organizing Core: Layout
• A robust core vocabulary will NEVER fit on a
single overlay or display on a device
•Core vocabulary is always organized into
grammatical and/or semantic groups (verbs,
adjectives, nouns –food –fruits)
•Users need to be given the BIG PICTURE for how
words are organized in their systems
Organizing Core: Layout
• Keeping the organization of vocabulary static
helps to make the modeling of language more
natural as you use the words repeatedly
• AAC users learn to retrieve words via motor
planning along with understanding the
architecture of an AAC system (or
communication support)
Organizing Core:
Color Coding
Fitzgerald Key:
Goossens’, Crain, Elder
Why use color coding?
• Color-coding black and white line drawings (e.g.,
Mayer Johnson picture communication symbols)
allows the user and facilitator to locate symbols
more easily.
• If color-coding is organized according to
grammatical categories, the user has an added
feature to assist in learning how to sequence
symbols, and in turn, to support the development of
sentence-building or syntax skills.
• Because shape is a salient clue, color-code the
background, not the figure, so that the shape of the
symbol will be more visible to the student. (AAC
Intervention, 2004)
…and what about the symbol
Consider the following:
• Visual abilities of the user*
• Number and range of symbols within the system
• Access to grammatical elements and abstract words
• Symbols/system already known by the user
Choosing a Symbol System
Consider if the user is able to:
• Determine the function of objects
• Match objects to their pictures
• Understand and utilize more iconic symbol
representations—language and words
Therefore, need to consider:
• Literacy status
• Degree of communicative or interactive behavior
• Understanding of symbol/concept relationship
Choosing a Symbol System
• Will the initial symbol system change as the student
demonstrates more complex symbolic abilities?
• Will the symbol system effectively promote the
student’s skills and abilities to combine symbols for
unique messages?
• What is the most appropriate size for the symbols?
• How many symbols can be displayed at once?
• How many symbols will be introduced at first?
• Can the student access multiple categories of
Core Vocabulary
Implementing Core Vocabulary
• Interest is the most powerful tool when
fostering meaningful communication.
Students need context for
communication to spark interest and
message selection process
Having something to say- interest
Having words to talk about it – core vocabulary
Implementing Core Vocabulary:
The Baker* Equation
• “If the motivation to communicate a message is
greater than the physical effort, cognitive effort,
and time required to produce it, then
communication will occur. If not, no message will
be generated.”~Bruce Baker
o Motivation: How much the individual wants to
communicate messages with available words to do so
o Physical: Amount of effort required to produce the
o Cognitive effort: remembering where a message is located
or how it is coded
o Time: How long it takes to produce the message
Implementation Strategies
• Make communication opportunities throughout the
day and across activities
• Model communication strategies—”Aided
Language Stimulation”
• Scaffold and Prompt
• Incorporate “Wait time” during interactions
Implementation Strategies
• Use Visual Supports
• Develop IEP Goals for which core vocabulary can
assist achievement
• Utilize core words within daily lessons to support
language development
Implementation Strategies:
Aided Language Stimulation
Aided language stimulation (ALS) is a
communication strategy, where a
communication partner teaches symbol
meaning and models language by combining
his or her own verbal input with selection of
vocabulary on the communication system
• This is done by simultaneously selecting
vocabulary on the AAC system and speaking.
Aided Language Stimulation
• Assumes that all children learn language the same
way through natural interaction in a language
immersion environment
• Assumes that communication systems will have
enough generative language to be able to say
what you want to say, when you want to say it
o Language is modeled in natural contexts—ALL THE TIME
o Language is NOT an activity
o Language is NOT just performing a script
Aided Language Stimulation
Model pointing to symbols according to the individual’s
pace. Provide enough time for the user to understand
the word, word order and sentence structure
o is more than “this symbol means this”
o shows how symbols can be used to say real things in
real situations
o provides ideas of what to say
o uses a variety of parts of speech
Implementation Strategies:
Communication Prompt Hierarchy
• STATE: Make a very general statement about the
o “I have a big bag of stuff. You don’t know WHAT it is” (model
WHAT on communication system) Keep eye contact & wait up to
10 secs
• SUGGEST: Be a little more direct, but still general
o “You can ask me WHAT I have (again model WHAT) Watch & wait
• SAY: Tell the person specifically what to say
o “Say the word WHAT to find out WHAT I brought” (again model
WHAT) Watch & wait
• ASSIST: Physically assist the person
o “Let me help you say WHAT so you can see WHAT is in the bag”
Implementation Strategies
• Understand the communication requirements of
everyday activities
• Examine various social contexts in which interaction
might occur:
o Structure of social interactions
o How interactions are initiated, maintained, terminated;
and what vocabulary is needed to do this
o What communication functions are used within
interactions and what vocabulary is needed to meet
those functions (beyond requesting)
Implementation Strategies
• Use static, core displays to stop “endless” programming
• Target the first 50 words with the thought that the AAC
system should grow keeping with normal language
development principles
• Begin with similar displays within a classroom and shift to
personal, customized core displays
• Bring core vocabulary into activity-based instruction by
teaching the student by “doing” the activity, not
through direct instruction on a specific skill
Implementation Strategies
• Use strategies that promote “multi-word” talking
• Encourage active participation of the student for
each step of an activity
• Engineer environments with core vocabulary to
expose students to more words beyond those on
the core word displays (ECT)
• Provide opportunities through daily routines with
“scripts” for repeated use of core vocabulary (ECT)
Implementation Strategies: ECT
• Environmental Communication Teaching (ECT)
approach assists classroom teams to deliver
communication intervention within the context of
existing natural environments—educational,
vocational, community
• Elements include engineering the environment and
“scripting” of communication interactions
Implementation Strategies: ECT
• Basics of Environmental Communication Teaching:
Arranging the environment
Selecting communication targets
Responding to the student’s initiations
Reinforcing the student’s communicative attempts
• Utilizes 3 major intervention components or tools:
o Use of structural analysis and modification
o Use of facilitative cues, prompts, feedback
o Use of AAC techniques and approaches
ECT and Core Vocabulary
• Arrange the environments and create opportunities
to communicate for students with complex
communication needs
• Use a structure/teaching script for implementation
of activity objectives
• Take advantage of modeling and coaching
ECT and Core Vocabulary
• Provide vocabulary to move messages beyond
“wants and needs”
• Use prompting and “wait time” strategies and learn
to fade
• Implement aspects of AAC and communication
interactions—vocabulary, symbol, message
selection, layout, access, etc.
Summary: Implementation
Regardless of “no, low or high” tech system:
Model expected communication behaviors
Presume competence
Follow prompt hierarchy
Teach language functions—directing, commenting,
requesting assistance, etc.
• Wait (10-20 seconds) before re-prompting
• Provide core words—nouns and actions, descriptors
Summary: Implementation
Regardless of “no, low or high” tech system:
Color code parts of speech
Keep icon placement constant
Allow user time to explore and learn system
Make AAC available at all times
Provide Aided Language input
Ask open-ended questions
Core Vocabulary
“…design an integrated, flexible, and responsive
continuum of communication supports
for language learning and academic success.”
~Barbara Cannon & Grace Edmond
Spotsylvania County Schools
Advice: Core Vocabulary
in Activities
• Think through/Plan the Activity
o What’s the activity?
o How are you going to organize what you do to
• Opportunities to use core?
o How are you going to manage the materials of
the activity?
o What core words will you target?
o Have “flexible structure” – don’t be too rigid
• Practice in using core becomes an automatic part
of your teaching routine
• Plan for transition to new classes/schools
Format of Activities
1. Small group: Scripting and Role Playing
2. Small group: Applying the Model to Meet State
Standards with Core Vocabulary
3. Lesson Planning
Common Classroom Activities
o Requesting/choice making
o Visual Schedules/Supports
o Information Transfer
o Social Closeness
o Lessons/curriculum
o Emerging Literacy
Classroom Activities:
Requesting/Choice Making
• Use objects that are of high interest to the student to
increase meaningful communication
• Identify your target language by including core words
o I, you, that, this, it, give, get, go, have, do, not, more, again
o How may different ways can you ask for something using core
words besides, “I want”?
• Create a situation to engage in a communicative
o Sabotage by leaving out something that is necessary
o Temptation situations
Requesting/Choice Making
• Game play –
o Go Fish: I, you, it, that, give, have, not
o UNO – What core words can you use?
o See Playing Around: Using Games to Facilitate Language
Development of People Who Use AAC
• Cooking
o Pour = Put it in
o Mix = go around
o Beat = What core words can you use?
• Doing Errands
o Delivering mail = Here, I give
o Picking up laundry = What core words can you use?
• Completing classroom chores
o Line leader= Go there/here, You go here
o Calendar helper = What words can you use?
Classroom Activities:
Visual Schedules…
• Aid with understanding the structure and the
parameters of the day
• Assist with directions to an activity
• Support teaching multiple concepts
o Process – beginning, middle, end
o Visual spatial – top, middle, bottom; left, center,
o Time – first, next, last; first, then; now, finished
Visual Schedules
• Lay out orientation
Vertical – Lists, schedules
Horizontal - Directions
Circular – An alternate way to show a schedule
Ring – Shows one activity at a time
Visual Schedules
• Review the items as
you go using time order
words or phrases to
indicate the activity
has ceased:
o “First math, next spelling,
last break time.”
o “Math is finished, now
spelling, next break
o “Math is finished, spelling
is finished, now break
Visual Schedules
• Cessation
o Pull off & put into a pocket, envelope, or on the back
o If returning to a book, keep it in the same location
each time by making a base page with the symbols
so you can match same to same
o Check list (paper or erasable marker)
o Include a “finished” symbol on the back of the
symbol card
Visual Schedules
• Cessation (con’t)
o Differentiate between completing a step within the
activity, “All done,” and ceasing the activity entirely,
• Symbols may be the same to represent both
concepts. Choose an alternate symbol for one of
the concepts.
• American Sign Language signs for both concepts
are the same. Emphasize “finish” more than “all
Visual Supports
• Smart Charts
o A visual map that shows the AAC
user how to navigate to new or
targeted word
• Word Walls or
Communication Word
o A collection of words/symbols
that are displayed in the
environment to help learn new
• Adapted books with
• Mini environmental script
o Symbols are used to provide
directions on how to do or use
Classroom Activities:
Information Transfer
• Early communicators often talk about people,
objects and events as a way to transfer
• Events:
Consist of human interactions
Can be talked about using a variety of words
Allow the AAC user to reflect internally
Help distinguish the learner from other people
Increase interaction and language when the
events are meaningful and related to the person
Information Transfer
• Core words aid the communication exchange
by allowing them to be used to describe events
with a communication partner thus producing
novel, generative language
o Begin at the user’s level of understand
o Include multi- core word utterances (word
combinations, pivot schemas)
o Provide opportunities to talk about and describe
activities using core words
Information Transfer
• Create a Remnant Book, Bits Books, Experience
Book, Me Book
o Make a book from a three ring binder and plastic sheet
protectors or use a small photo album
o Gather bits from the event such as a movie ticket stub or a
napkin with the name of the restaurant
o Place them in a book
o Use this information to engage the student into a
conversation about the item using core words:
“What’s that?”
“Where did {do} you go?”
“What did {do} you do?”
“What did {do} you have?”
“That’s good.” (commenting)
Information Transfer
• Create a Home News and a School News page on
the AAC device to share information to and from
home and school.
o If the AAC system allows it, save the message from the
message window to a button
o Ask, “What do you tell ___ about school today?”
o Save the message to the button to be used to relay the
information to a care giver, peer or adult
o Print the message to be used as a journal entry
o Class journal topics can be used as information to be
shared from school to home
o Allow time for the AAC user to compose the message
• You can write down some things that occurred during the day
and use a topic list
“Communication allows me
to express my humanity.”
~Rick Creech
Classroom Activities:
Social Closeness
• A reason to communicate so that we establish,
maintain, and develop relationships
• Interact with another person to aid in developing a
sense of belonging with others
• Use partner focused questions
o Questions that can aid with initiation, maintenance,
commenting, and cessation of the communicative
o Carrier phrases using core words: “What are you doing
Social Closeness
• Consider the following factors:
o Age
o Background
o Type of exchange (formal or informal) are factors to
o For example, I talk to my friends differently than I talk with
my mother.
• Comments that can be used to add to the
conversation as well as ones that indicate what is
trying to be said is on available
• Interactions need to be taught
o Obligatory – obligated to partake
o Non-obligatory – invited to partake
Classroom Activities:
• Authentic activities that provide the acquisition and
learning of the skill using core words and grade
level content that is aligned to the PA Academic
Standards Activities.
• Lessons should have:
o A clear beginning, middle, and end
o Relevance to the user’s life evidenced by interest and
motivation as well as being aligned to the PA Academic
o Target words or multi-word combinations that can be
practiced several times through out the day in multiple
• Go, give, make, not, like, let’s, sing, play
Vocabulary demands for students with complex
communication needs:
• Access to adequate vocabulary to express new
knowledge and increasingly complex ideas.
• The ability to express a variety of communicative
• Adjust to the communication demands of different
• Use of the alphabet for reading and spelling.
• Vocabulary that allows expansion of the semantic
and syntactic complexity of expressive language.
Instructional Language - Search grade by grade to
• What specific vocabulary is clearly called out?
o Question words, shapes, personal and possessive pronouns
o Combine core words with vocabulary word
• Agree = think same
• Disagree = not think same
• Conflict = not think or do same
• What word classes are clearly called out?
o Pronouns, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs
Instructional language:
Use core words to answer by describing to solidify the concepts
and communication:
• Character, Who
o e.g., man in book; big, mad woman; sick animal
• Setting, Where
o e.g., hot dry there ; down by water; at home
• Subtraction, What you do
o e.g., take from
• Addition, What you do
o e.g., put together
Classroom Activities:
Emerging Literacy
• Combine core words with Dolch List words to create
a word wall that can be used for communication as
well as literacy.
o Core words and Dolch List words overlap
• Identify words:
o Choose words from the text and core words to target for
• Predictable books
• Repetitive line books (see resource in notes)
o Review daily routines and lessons where the words can be
presented and communicated
Zangari & Paiva, 2012
Emerging Literacy
• Shared Reading
Explicitly model reading with the student
Model using the AAC
Choral responding to practice finding words on AAC
Reading conventions
• Vocabulary selection – choose words that can be used in
both reading and communicating
o Core words – you, it, can, do, what
o Specific vocabulary – Mr. Brown
• Example of using core words - Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can
You? By Dr. Seuss;
There is a repetitive line, “Mr. Brown can do it.”
Note the focus is on the core words used for communication and
can be modeled during a shared reading.
Emerging Literacy
• Identify characters, setting, plot, conclusion
o Use of core words to ask and/or identify
• Practice reading along with the targeted core
words on the AAC helps with motor planning and
how we put words together
o Extends beyond reading
• Discuss the book
• Use visual supports to accompany the book
Emerging Literacy
• Model using the words all day, every day, by
• Use the words in a variety of ways:
Circle time
Center time
• See Jane Farrell’s Blog: 101 Ideas for…Literacy &
Emerging Literacy
• Use of AAC to participate in the writing process
o Pre-write– brain storm
o Draft – get your thoughts down without worrying about
grammar and mechanics
o Revise – move your thoughts around
o Edit – attend to grammar, spelling, mechanics
o Publish
Remnant books
Graphic organizers
Predictable books with rhyme and rhythm
Edit existing books
Publish your own book
“Not being able to speak
is not the same as
not having anything to say.”
~Rosemary Crossley
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