Using Core Vocabulary
with AAC for Developing
and Supporting Language
in the Classroom with
Learners with Special
Sandra M. Grether, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
• Director of Speech-Language Pathology
Services for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
Medical Center Division of Developmental and
Behavioral Pediatrics
• Associate Professor of Clinical at University of
Cincinnati College of Allied Health Sciences
Communication Sciences and Disorders
• I have no disclosures to report.
Using Core Vocabulary with AAC
for Developing & Supporting
Topics Addressed:
• Definition core language
• Low tech vs. high tech
• Emergent, context dependent &
independent users
• Referential vs. descriptive teaching styles
• Visual supports for learning core
Activity 1:
• Participant groups of 3-4
• Choose academic content area
• Determine core vocabulary and activities for
teaching core for emergent & independent users
• Use 3 communication boards to trial activities
Activity 2:
• Table sharing and report back to large group
• Differences in users
• Effect of increasing number of words per page set
• Differences in vocabulary needs across academic
content areas
C.A.R.E. Framework
(K. Davis, 2013)
• Who?
• Where?
• When?
• Formally - every
3 years
• Informal/Ongoing
throughout the
school year
• Collecting data in
therapy sessions
• Consulting with
other school staff
on tools used in
the classroom
• Collecting work
• Reflection necessary
for educators to learn
and grown (Tagg,
• Collaboration around
data collection:
• Garner administrative
support via the IEP
and scheduling
• Adding in 6 week
consultation meetings
into IEP
• “clinic” meetings with
family to train and talk
about progress
• Co-treatment and/or
consultation with related
service providers
(OT/PT, Learning
Center, ELL, Spec Ed
teacher, vision, AT spec.
Making it meaningful by 22
Consider goals around independence
Start EARLY!
Connect vocabulary with community
Connect your student’s communication and social
goals with community
• Involve peers in the process
• Relationship between Function & Curriculum
C.A.R.E. = Function & Academics
• Who will the student need to talk to?
– Parents, friends, family, home health assistants,
teachers, etc.
• Where will they need to communicate and learn?
– Individual, small group, large group,
• When will they be able to pracice independence?
– Now or later?
• How does this tie in when they graduate?
– Is it meaningful to student/family/special
education team?
Insert subject
Core Language
• A small set of words with the highest
frequency of use both in conversation
and written text.
• Research has found that 80% of
words spoken are core and the
remaining 20% are fringe.
Why Use Core Words and Not Words
Typically Found in Curriculum??
• Children using
SGDs are just
learning to use
• Core is flexible
• Helps with oral
AND written
Core is made of the
following words:
Auxiliary Verbs
Fringe Vocabulary consists of:
Core versus Fringe Vocabulary
- Need a Mix of Both!
• Highly functional and/or common words and
phrases (e.g. me/you, want, stop, more)
• Items related to basic needs or short social
messages (e.g. help, no, hi/bye)
• words are specific to the content of a lesson
or activity or related to a specific topic (e.g.
baseball, book, restaurant)
• may be specific to particular individuals
Core Words Support
Communication Across the
Continuum of Ability
• Emergent Communicator
• Context Dependent Communicator
• Independent Communicator
Emergent Communicator
• Needs simple concrete pictures
• Needs to be very motivating
• Core word examples: more, stop, go, help,
I (me), you, eat, drink
• What sentences can you make?
• I/me
• You
• More
• Stop
• Go
• Help
• Eat
• Drink
Context Dependent
• Spontaneously communicates wants and
• Understands more abstract pictures
• Has some beginning literacy skills
• Core word examples: hot, cold, small, big,
little, he, she, make, this, that
• Combine with: more, stop, go, help, I
(me), you, eat, drink
Building with Words
• This
• That
Independent Communicator
• Same literacy skills as peers
• Can communicate about a variety of
things in a flexible novel way
• Need a variety of core words
• Need ALL grammatical markers
– Plurals
– Possessive
– Tense
– Comparative & Superlative
Organizing a Vocabulary System
Beukelman & Mirenda, 2005
Linguistic organization - Fitzgerald Key
• left to right linguistic order
• arranged in classes according to their typical
position in a sentence
• color coded (may see variations used)
• questions (purple), followed by people
(yellow), action words/verbs (green),
descriptors & prepositions (blue), object
nouns (orange), social/phrases (pink), &
miscellaneous (white)
Examples of
High Tech Core Boards
Gateway on Tobii DynaVox’s SGDs
Unity on Prentke Romich Company’s SGDs
WordPower (available separately on both)
Chat Communication with WordPower on
Nova Chat, ProSlate, and Ipad
Proloquo2go Core on ProSlate or Ipad
Sonoflex on ProSlate and ATIA/Tobii devices
Speak for Yourself on tablets or iPad
Core Boards (developed using TouchChat
with WordPower)
Speak for
Core Boards of 30, 56, & 100 using
TouchChat with WordPower
created by members Hamilton County ESC AT Task Force,
Deborah McGraw, M.S. CCC-SLP, chairperson (
Referential Teaching Method
• Student participates and demonstrates
learning using curriculum content words (e.g.
• Student typically provides 1 word responses
• Content words preprogrammed into student’s
SGD or provided on low tech board/system
• Students answer close-ended questions
• Requires significant amount of staff and
student time
• Access to vocabulary that may not be needed
Descriptive Teaching Method
• Students can focus on language learning –
syntax, morphology, pragmatics
• Can participate regardless of level of
language development
• Students use frequent everyday vocabulary
to respond to open-ended questions
• Encouraged to use common words to
describe (e.g. green things), define (e.g. eat
plants), or predict (e.g. not eat me), explain
(e.g. all dead), and compare (e.g. big
Standards Based IEP
• Goals based on:
 academic content standards
 age-appropriate grade-level benchmarks
& indicators.
• Goals serve as roadmaps, identifying
necessary learning that a child needs to
achieve these grade-level benchmarks &
Standards Based IEP
• What skill does the child require to
master the content of the curriculum?
• What curriculum content does the child
need to master?
Unique Learning System
• Dynamic, standards-based
curriculum for special learners.
• Monthly instructional thematic units
of study (29 lesson plans and
downloadable materials for
classroom learning activities).
• Uses SymbolStix graphics
• 3 levels of differentiated tasks for
diversity of learners with significant
• 6 bands (Preschool thru HS +
Social studies
ULS Participation Levels
• Level 1: Students require maximum
supports. Increasing participation is the main
• Level 2: Students may require picture
support and other direct support in learning
and the demonstration of comprehension.
• Level 3: Students can read text, produce
simple writing, perform basic math
processes, and can independently
demonstrate comprehension of modified
learning information.
Differentiated Tasks
Classroom Goal for all students (Level 3)
• Students will independently read the book.
• Students will respond to simple questions
about the story
Students with CCN using AAC (Level 2)
• Students will state a word or point to a picture
of omitted words during a shared reading
• Students will point to pictures in response to
simple questions related to the story.
Students with severe cognitive using AAC
(Level 1)
• Students will state a sentence from book by
activating a talking switch.
• Weekly symbol-supported news articles and dozens
of worksheets, games, and activities help students
connect with the world
• 4 levels – regular, higher, simplified & advanced
• Printable, speaking, or booklet formats
Weekly Issues Include
Current Events
Interactive PowerPoint
Skill Worksheets
Puzzles / Games
Sports News
Communication Board
Science Experiment
Every Other Week:
Interactive Cartoon
Adapted Storybook
News-2-You Communication Board
and Core Vocabulary Strips
Word Walls
• Add important core words that
student needs to know but are
difficult to learn or sound out
• Use to teach a particular phoneme blend or other
phoneme/letter pattern which student needs to
recognize to become fully literate: e.g. tense markers
(-ed, -ing), plurals (-s), or comparative/superlative
(-er, -est)
• Display core word icon or symbol sequences
Other Word Wall/Chart
Content Words with Core Definitions
Witkowski & Baker (2012)
Core Vocabulary
Description Emergent Language
Core Vocabulary Description –
More Advanced Language
(what is) same
Talk about what is the same
between two things.
(what is) different
Talk about what is different
between two things.
(he/she) writes
The person who writes the story.
Place (for) story
The place where the story
What (story) about
What the story is about.
Person (in story)
The person or people in the story.
ImPAACT Program: Purpose of Targeted Skills
(Kent-Walsh, Binger & colleagues, 2012)
Aided AAC
• To provide functional models of effective
AAC use
Expectant Delay
• To provide communication opportunities,
additional processing time, and an
expectation for communication.
Verbal Prompts
• To prompt higher-level content
• To provide client with direct indication of
what s/he is supposed to do
• To reinforce communicative attempts
and expanded utterances.
Intervention Strategies
• Aided Language Stimulation!!!!
• Light Cueing decreases verbal prompts
• Design overlays so that information is
consistently placed based on language
• Develop vocabulary based upon literacy
system of left to right, top to bottom
• Not all buttons must be programmed
(Consider “hiding” buttons)
Literacy Instruction Curriculum
(Light & McNaughton, 2009)
• Literacy Instruction for Individuals with Autism,
Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome, & other disabilities
• Specially designed for learners who have
difficulty using speech to communicate
• Identifies skills learners need to participate in the
• Targets: language skills; phonological awareness
skills; letter-sound correspondences, decoding skills
and application of decoding, sight word recognition,
reading and understanding simple texts
Partner Training –Teachers,
Support Personnel, Peers &
• Pause and WAIT for student to construct
the message. Be patient!! It might take
awhile. (10 second rule!!)
• Don’t feel you have to keep talking all the
time. Teach a slower rhythm for
exchanging information.
• Give student an opportunity to ask
questions or make comments.
Partner Training
• Interact at eye level if at all possible. Grab
a chair if partner is in a wheelchair. Pay
attention to facial expressions and gestures.
• Be honest. If you don’t understand the
message - admit it. Ask to repeat or
provide more information to clarify.
• If you understand the message, don’t insist
that the student use his/her device or
board. Accept whatever mode is used.
Allow for a combination of modes if needed.
Success in the Classroom
• Juggling many
communication modes (e.g.
speaking, gestures, signing,
pictures, SGD)
• Teaching core words while
supporting activity
specific and school-based
vocabulary, when needed
• Involving peers
• Raising expectations
• Making communication
positively motivating
• Support when needed
TouchChat w/WordPower Core 30
- created by members Hamilton County ESC AT Task Force,
Deborah McGraw, M.S. CCC-SLP, chairperson (
• Cameron has Down syndrome and autism.
• 9 years old when videotaped.
• Communicates using gestures, facial
expressions, vocalizations, limited speech, &
SGD w/ Gateway core & fringe vocabulary
and is beginning to use keyboard for spelling.
• He initially used Picture Exchange
Communication System (PECS) and then
transitioned to low tech communication
boards before moving to an SGD.
Reading Standards for Literature
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
• With prompting and support, compare and
contrast the adventures and experiences of
characters in familiar stories. (eg. More, fast,
going, climbing)
• With prompting and support, describe the
relationship between illustrations and the
story in which they appear (describing a
picture) (eg. Tall, short, happy, sad)
Reading Standards for Literature
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
First Grade
• Use illustrations and details in a story to
describe its characters, setting, or events.
(eg. fat, thin, pretty, beautiful, fun)
• Compare and contrast the adventures and
experiences of characters in stories.
Reading Standards for Literature
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
2nd Grade
• Use information gained from the illustration
and words in a print or digital text to
demonstrate understanding of its characters,
setting or plot.
• Compare and contrast two or more versions of
the same story (eg. Cinderella stories) by
different authors or from different cultures.
(same, different, feelings, how characters look)
Differentiated Tasks K-2
• Students will point to pictures within a
story to identify named characters and
• Students will match similarities or
differences between two characters in a
Reading Standards for Literature
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
Grades 3-5
• Use illustrations and multimedia to describe the
meaning of text.
• Compare themes and topics within the same genre.
• Students will describe characters and events based
on illustrations and other visuals from a story.
• Students will describe similarities and differences
between characters or events of a story from two
different books.
Differentiated Tasks
Grades 3-5
• Students will point to pictures within a
story to identify named characters and
• Students will match similarities or
differences between two characters or a
story or stories.
TouchChat w/WordPower Core 56
- created by members Hamilton County ESC AT Task Force,
Deborah McGraw, M.S. CCC-SLP, chairperson (
• Joe has cerebral palsy.
• He is a teenager and a sports enthusiast and
enjoys sharing news about his favorite team.
• He uses verbal approximations, facial
expressions, and his SGD with WordPower
and keyboard for spelling using touch (grid).
• He attends a teen writer’s group which gives
him opportunities to use his technology to
improve his writing & social communication
Applying Math Standards
for Geometry
Kindergarten – Identify and Describe
• Identify basic shapes by name (square,
circle, triangle, rectangle, etc.) and describe
attributes (number of sides, size, etc.).
• Describe positions of objects and shapes in
the environment with positional vocabulary
(in, on, under, beside, etc.).
Applying Math Standards
for Geometry
Analyze, compare, create, and compose shapes:
Grades 1 & 2 - Reason with shapes and their
• Define two-dimensional shapes as being flat and
three-dimensional shapes as being solid.
• Compare two-dimensional shapes and describe their
similarities and differences (i.e. left, right, inside,
outside, front, middle, back, size)
• Partition circles and rectangles into two or four parts
(i.e. halves, fourths).
Differentiated Tasks K-2
• Students will match like shapes.
• Students will place an object in an
identified spatial location.
• Students will match two or four parts of
the same size within a partitioned shape.
Applying Math Standards for Geometry
Grades 3 to 5 - Reason with shapes and their
attributes. Draw and identify lines and angles, and
classify shapes by properties of their lines and angles.
• Sort and label shapes by multiple defining attributes
(shape, circle, square, triangle, rectangle, cube,
cone, cylinder)
• Classify figures on the basis of angles and parallel
lines (corner, left, right, top, bottom).
• Describe attributes of two-dimensional shapes
(number sides & angles, straight & curved lines)
• Partition shapes into equal parts and express these
parts as fractions.
Differentiated Tasks 3–5
• Students will sort and match shapes on the basis
of multiple attributes.
• Students will identify shapes with similar lines or
curves as part of a real-world scenario.
• Students will divide a shape into two or four equal
• Students will connect points on a coordinate plane
that represent locations
• Students will define related vocabulary
– corner = where + 2 + sides + meet
– graph = picture + that + shows + how much
TouchChat w/WordPower Core 100
- created by members Hamilton County ESC AT Task Force,
Deborah McGraw, M.S. CCC-SLP, chairperson (
• Matthew has childhood apraxia of speech
and possibly mild intellectual disability.
• He was 9 years old when videotaped.
• He communicates using speech,
gestures/signs and his SGD with Unity
core and fringe vocabulary and a
keyboard for spelling.
Social Studies Standards for
Government K-2
• Recognize and demonstrate appropriate
personal accountability choices.
• Work collaboratively to complete a group task.
• Identify authority figures in the home, school
and community.
• Recognize and follow rules specific to a
• Recognize the consequences of failure to follow
rules in specific situations.
Differentiated Tasks
Government - K-2
• Students will identify and follow rules of the
classroom and school.
• Students will match each person who has a
helping role with the location of that person’s
• Students will work collaboratively for a purpose.
• Students will make appropriate choices on the
basis of a given activity or situation.
Social Studies Standards for
Economics - K-2
• Compare amounts to determine more or less.
• Recognize the difference between wants & needs.
• Identify places where people buy or sell goods and
• Distinguish between buying and selling.
• Recognize that people earn money by doing a job
or performing a chore.
• Recognize that people must have money if they
wish to buy products and services.
Differentiated Tasks Economics K-2
• Students will locate a price on an item being sold.
• Students will identify human needs (food, clothes,
shelter, etc.).
• Students will compare two items and choose one of
• Students will match items to a store where the
items can be purchased.
• Students will recognize that money is used to buy
• Students will recognize that completing a job or
chore can result in a reward in the form of a
sticker, money or some other item of value.
Differentiated Tasks
Economics - Grades 3-5
• Students will locate information on a graph or chart.
• Students will compare two items and decide which to
• Students will identify examples of producers and
• Students will match stores & locations in the
community where specific goods or services are
• Students will match goods with the places where
those goods are produced (food on farms, clothing in
factories, etc.).
• Choose standard or set of differentiated
tasks for focus (e.g. Reading, Math,
Government &/or Economics)
• Determine core vocabulary needed at
emergent and independent levels
• Discuss potential activities for learning the
core language
• Use all 3 levels of vocabulary
• Determine level most effective in achieving
your language targets
Table Sharing and
Report Back
Report Back
• Differences in users
• Effect of increasing number of words per
page set
• Differences in vocabulary needs across
academic content areas
Questions ???

AAC in the Educational Setting - Ohio Speech