Sunday, 1 February 2009

I can... find the words

Choosing vocabulary for an individual’s communication display can be challenging. There are so many words to choose from – which ones do you add? What do you do if the word that you want isn’t on your display? A student’s communication display needs to be personal and as unique as the individual who uses it. Here are some things to think about when developing a display.

 Some vocabulary suggestions for an introductory core display:

I, (name)
look / see
you / your
do / does / did
all gone
not / don’t
all done/finished

Core Vocabulary

Caregivers, educators and therapists frequently spend lots of time creating topic-specific communication boards for students, to encourage active participation. The cooking board is brought out when we bake (“stir”, “taste”, “yummy!”), the music board presented for singing (“louder”, “again”, “cymbals”) and the reading board made available at library (“book”, “check-out”, “change”). Use of communication boards that change with each activity limits opportunities for students to learn and locate words. While these boards meet a specific need at a specific time, they may not allow for communication outside of those activities.
Individuals also need a personal AAC system that includes a core vocabulary. The idea behind core vocabulary is to focus on a small number of common, high frequency, re-usable words that are organized so that the student can access them as easily as possible. These words can be used for many reasons: to greet, request, reject, direct, etc. The students need to be taught the location and meaning of the words, and how to use them.

More information about this approach can be found on the Gail VanTatenhove website: 
“The Core Vocabulary Classroom: Doing More with Less”

Of course there will be times when extended vocabulary (often referred to as “fringe vocabulary”) will be needed. This can be included with the main display, for example using flip sheets. “Flip 'n Talk” is one convenient way to display core and fringe vocabulary. Check it out at

The same principles should be considered when using vocabulary for adapted writing activities (e.g. on-screen keyboards).  If you would like further information around core vocabulary for a child who is currently on the TVCC-ACS caseload, please do not hesitate to contact your ACS clinician(s).

No-Tech Ideas

  • When adding symbol labels within the classroom or home, think about using words that encourage kids not just to label items (“door”, “coat”, “arts ‘n crafts”), but also to talk about them (“Go out”, “Put it up”, “I make pictures”).
  • Make a large wall-mounted copy of a person’s low-tech board so that others can become familiar with the word locations (helpful when modeling use of vocab.).

Light Tech Ideas

Add a message that allows an individual to request their low-tech communication book / display. “I need my communication binder. Please place it on my tray.”

High Tech Ideas

Most higher-tech Speech Generating Devices with customizable vocabularies are shipped with a vocabulary index that lists the words and their locations on the device. This helps to avoid programming a word into a second location, which can be confusing for the person using the device and the facilitator. Put the index in a convenient location for easy reference. Check the manufacturer’s website to see what’s available. One example can be found for the Tango at

Libraries for All 
Did you know that a variety of communication boards are available at all London Libraries? Request the use of a board at any library help desk. More info at
On-line Resources: Check out these websites for great ideas…

Narrative Development through Story Re-Telling: Story telling is a great activity to practice using core vocabulary.

Aided Language Stimulation and the Descriptive Teaching Model describes strategies for teaching individuals to use AAC.

V6 Boardmaker Plus upgrade (for Mac or Windows) is currently available at a cost of $162 to anyone who has previously purchased Boardmaker (any version). Boardmaker Plus allows the creation of interactive, dynamic activities on the computer. Contact Bridges for further info.