Supporting Communication Partners During Virtual Learning with AAC

This week we have been focused on helping teachers at my school provide aided language stimulation during their virtual lessons. It’s been tough! When we had our first meeting, many of our teachers indicated they weren’t providing aided language for the AAC users in their classes during virtual instruction. 🙁 That is obviously not ideal, so we came up with some strategies and resources for teachers to use!

  1. Use a screenshot of the student’s homepage on their system.
    • Unity/LAMP manual boards can be downloaded from the AAC Language Lab (see image above)
    • TouchChat WordPower manual boards can be downloaded from Saltillo.
    • Here’s a Proloquo2Go Crescendo manual board.
    • Speak for Yourself’s manual board can be downloaded from the Smarty Symbols website.
    • The Core 112 board can be downloaded from Cough Drop.
  2. Use mirroring software to provide virtual models.
    1. PASS Software for PRC devices
    2. Chat Editor for Saltillo devices
    3. Mirror the iPad on your desktop. (see image below)
  3. Make a cheat sheet ahead of time! Choose four to eight words to target during your lesson. Make sure you know how to find those words on your students’ devices.
    • You can model the sequence on the manual board.
    • You can tell caregivers what the icon sequence is so that they can help model for their child.

We’ve posted cheat sheets for Gail van Tatehove’s list of core vocabulary for students with intellectual disabilities for Unity 28, 45, 60, and 84 and LAMP. They’re listed for free on TPT. We’ve provided this to our teachers and paraprofessionals so that they can either model icon sequences or tell caregivers how to model for their child.

How are you providing aided language during virtual lessons? We’d love to hear ideas that others have!

Let’s Talk AAC and Vocabulary

We started AAC Awareness Month by posting about core vocabulary. If you missed the post, check it out here. There’s often conversation about core vs. fringe on Facebook groups and amongst teachers, SLPs, parents, and other AAC stakeholders. We think it’s really important to think about ALL the vocabulary that is important to our students’ language development and not think about vocabulary selection in terms of core OR fringe.

While our main focus in speech-language therapy often revolves around core vocabulary, we frequently target nouns that are either important to our students or that are commonly occurring. We tend to split vocabulary into three categories – core vocabulary, personal vocabulary, and fringe vocabulary.

Core Vocabulary – approximately 200-400 high frequency words that make up about 80% of all words we use to communicate.

Personal Vocabulary – family, teacher, and friend names, favorite foods/ tv shows/ songs/ etc., common places, etc.

Fringe Vocabulary – low frequency vocabulary, mostly nouns

We spend most of our time (about 75%) on vocabulary instruction related to core vocabulary and personal vocabulary. But we also pepper in some fringe! Especially fringe vocabulary that may be used more frequently (e.g. furniture, utensils, rooms, toys, transportation, some foods, etc.).

Check out some slides below that we use to describe the differences in vocabulary.

Earlier today, I texted my roommate and analyzed the conversation to take a look at our core to fringe ratio.

Of the 47 words used, 44 were core and 3 were fringe. There were a couple of key take-aways I took from this language sample. There was a wide variety of core vocabulary used in this sample: 10 pronouns, 6 interjections, 11 verbs, 5 adverbs, 4 prepositions, 2 adjectives, 1 question word, 3 determiners, and 2 nouns. When I look at the fringe vocabulary we used “mail” and “package” I noted that these are words we use almost daily when debating who is going to get the mail from downstairs!

Of course this doesn’t include our conversations about Criminal Minds, Shemar Moore :), Marvel, Harry Potter, the school we work at, our friends, our favorite brunch places, etc. It’s so important to think about what fringe vocabulary is really important and meaningful for our students! Get to know them and make sure you’re customizing their devices to include their personal vocabulary 🙂

So when you’re thinking about vocabulary to teach your students, don’t choose core OR fringe. Choose both and plan a healthy balance. 🙂

*Clip Art from Illumismart* https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Illumismart

What is Core Vocabulary?

By now, if you’re immersed in the word of AAC, you’ve probably heard the words “core vocabulary” used a lot! But, for those of you who are new to AAC, let’s talk about Core Vocabulary!

Core words are a small set of words that represent a large part of daily speech. A set of about 200-400 high frequency words make up about 75-80% of the words we use every day and can be used flexibly, across contexts.

ClipArt from Illumismart

Core words often include pronouns, verbs, prepositions, articles, adjectives, etc. It’s important to emphasize teaching core words to our students because without them, it’s difficult to develop language.

When starting the AAC journey, I often talk to caregivers about the importance of language development when selecting vocabulary. While we certainly want to make sure the AAC system has words that are important and relevant to the child (e.g. baby doll, dada, cereal, etc.); it is also important to have core words. If we only have nouns on the device, it is not possible to combine words into phrases for a variety of reasons or work towards spontaneous novel utterance generation (SNUG). We need to add in those core words so that we can foster language growth!

Looking for lists of the most common core vocabulary words? Here’s a few that we like to reference.

The AAC Language Lab has some great lists from Gail Van Tatenhove. I have found her Core Vocabulary List for Students with Intellectual Disabilities list to be really helpful in making sure my students have a good variety of core words. I also like her Core Vocabulary Classroom Checklist as a general guide for which words to prioritize introducing. Check the lists out here.

The Center for Literacy and Disability Studies is another great starting place if you’re looking for more information on core vocabulary. Their research when working with the Dynamic Learning Maps produced a list of universal core vocabulary. You can also download core word resources including manual communication boards for various access methods from their latest project – Project Core.

*Clip Art from Illumismart* https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Illumismart

It’s AAC Awareness Month!

Are you new to AAC? Do you need a resource to share with others who are new to AAC? Let’s talk basics today.

What is AAC?

AAC is an acronym for Alternative Augmentative Communication. It is a set of tools that individuals can use to communicate. It’s Alternative in that it’s an alternative to verbal speech. And it’s Augmentative in that it helps and supports communication when verbal speech is limited.

Using your own body to support communication is considered unaided AAC. These systems include gestures, body language, facial expressions, sign language, etc.

Aided AAC systems use some sort of tool or device. They range from no tech (paper based) to high tech (tablet based).

Who can benefit from AAC?

Anyone can use AAC!  There are no prerequisites and we should consider introducing it as early as possible.

AAC has been shown to support verbal speech development and will NOT stop children from talking.

If there is a discrepancy between an individual’s communication abilities and their communication needs, then they are candidates for AAC. 

What’s our goal when using AAC?

AAC provides individuals with the ability to communicate for a variety of reasons (beyond wants and needs) and to participate fully in communication interactions. The main goal of AAC is to help individuals communicate with others.

Looking for more information?

Check out ASHA’s Key Issues – AAC page.

Check out ISAAC’s AAC Awareness Month page.

Check out PrAACticalAAC.

Clip Art Credits – SillyODesign; Illumismart

Core Word Practice: Verbs

I don’t know about you, but I have so many students that are working on either adding vocabulary to their expressive repertoire or using a variety of phrase types. With that in mind, I made four sets of Boom cards that target common verbs that can be used in a variety of phrase types.

Over the past year, I’ve been working really hard to make sure I target a variety of phrase types in my activities. I went to a presentation by Dr. Binger and Dr. Kent Walsh at ATIA in 2019 about their Word by Word Language Intervention and it made a big impact on how I do therapy. I highly recommend reading their article, which can be found on ASHA. My main takeaway from their presentation was that we have AAC users who receptively understand a variety of phrase types, but can’t expressively use them. Why? It’s often because we’re NOT targeting them! Though I have never been a fan of and rarely have used carrier phrases, I definitely did activities that targeted the same phrase type over and over and over. Sound familiar? I now try to target 3-4 phrase types throughout a session and it has made a HUGE difference in student gains.

These Boom Cards don’t perfectly target 3-4 phrase types in each set, but they do have variety. You’ll primarily find subject + verb, verb + object, and verb + locative phrases. I’ve used these cards at the one word, two word, and three word level with many of my students. Each card has one gif depicting a specific action and a sound clip to play. (The sound clips have been a big hit!) Students can choose the correct verb from a field of 5 and practice saying the word or phrase on their AAC system. I’ve had some students really surprise me by expanding the phrase on their own or using a different relevant phrase!

Check out the freebie here. Or check out our discounted bundle here.

Let’s Talk About Verbs + ING with AAC

Do you have students who are working on syntax and morphology? Us too! We’re working on a line of resources to help our students become better communicators!

Are you not sure if your student should begin working on syntax and morphology? If your student is beginning to combine words, it’s time to start! As an SLP who works almost exclusively with students who use AAC, I’ve noticed that I tend to spend a lot of time focusing on vocabulary development and using simple two word phrases. But this can be really limiting for many of my students!

Check out the QUAD Profile to help you analyze your students’ current language abilities and to develop appropriate goals. Check out our post on the QUAD Profile here. Since I started using it, I feel that I have been much more purposeful in helping my students grow their language. I’m also seeing big language gains for many of my students by modeling and targeting different sentence structures and morphological endings.

Check out the first product in our line of virtual activities to help students learn to use appropriate syntax and morphology – Let’s Talk About ING with AAC. Many of our students use the Unity language system so we currently have the icon sequences for Unity 84 Sequenced embedded in the activity.

This product has three versions.

1. Read simple sentences with ING. (e.g. The girl is reading.).

2. Create simple noun +verbING phrases using a bank of icons. (e.g. girl reading)

3. Create simple noun + is verbING phrases using a bank of icons. (e.g. girl is reading)

Head to our Teachers Pay Teachers store to check it out! You can see a video preview of the product and how I use it with my students!

Are you using the QUAD Profile? You should be!!

Have you heard of the Quick AAC Developmental Profile or QUAD Profile before? If you haven’t, it’s a total game changer for AAC assessment.

I love to use the Communication Matrix for my initial AAC evaluations and for ongoing assessment for emergent communicators. But, once my students/ clients are at the language level on the Matrix (e.g. using two or more words), I need to look at other assessment tools to help develop appropriate goals. This is where I turn to the AAC Profile and the QUAD Profile.

The QUAD Profile looks at vocabulary, morphology, syntax, and function. It is a tool that allows you to analyze language samples and compare them to checklists. I try to keep my QUAD Profile near me for several sessions and I use the checklists to identify when I hear my students using certain vocabulary, sentence structures, grammar markers, or communication functions. I also write down the phrase or sentence used in the margins or on the notes page.

The vocabulary checklist has a list of high frequency words. To be honest, some of them are ones I don’t always remember to target so this is a nice reminder.

The morphology checklist is the one that always gets me! It looks at Brown’s morphemes such as plural and possessive s, present progressive, third person singular, common prepositions, etc. As I have begun targeting these with my AAC users, they’re language is growing so much!

The sentence types checklist looks at basic sentence structures and provides a nice reminder that there are many different phrase types at each two, three, four, etc. word level.

And last, the language functions checklist is similar to the Communication Matrix in that it looks at the function of the utterance.

Head over to the Speech Dudes to download the QUAD Profile. We can’t recommend it enough!

Virtual Taste Test with Core Vocabulary

Do you love to have taste or smell tests with your students/ children/ clients? We do! It’s one of our favorite in-person language activities to work on commenting! Over the past couple of months we’ve worked on finding a way to make this fun activity appropriate for virtual therapy sessions! Our students and their families have loved this activity so we’re making it available with a new product!

Many of our students use the Unity® symbols on an Accent device or with the LAMP application, so those are included in our product. I often use the PASS software from PRC to model on my computer during Zoom sessions. I’ve also modeled on my iPad for my students with the LAMP app or I’ve modeled using a PDF low tech version of Unity from the AAC Language Lab.

Here’s how our 30 minute sessions look when we use this product:

  1. Model and practice target core vocabulary words.
    • SLP, Teacher, or Caregiver models the target core vocabulary word.
    • Student practices the core vocabulary word on their AAC system or verbally!
    • Watch a GIF that illustrates the core vocabulary word! (SLP, Teacher, or Caregiver may model using the target core word in a simple phrase based on the GIF.
  2. After modeling and practicing the target core vocabulary, watch a YouTube taste test video. You’ll find links for silly taste test songs and videos of children trying different foods. Pause during the videos to practice making comments!
  3. The student may participate in a taste or smell test at home and practice commenting. OR you may play a game that directly relates to the video watched.

Check it out here on Teachers Pay Teachers!

And don’t forget to check out our doggie taste test on YouTube!

Letter of the Day Instruction and CVI

As we launch a series of products to support Enhanced Alphabet Knowledge (EAK) instruction for our students with complex communication needs, we’re eager to support our students with Cortical Vision Impairment (CVI)!

Last year I discovered that one of my students has CVI and at 16 had never received that diagnosis before. Once I began to collaborate with a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), I realized that the likely reason she had never made progress in learning to read despite years of targeted IEP goals, was that we were not providing the right accommodations. We began to talk about the salient features of letters and use bubble words to emphasize that when letters are strung together, they form distinct words. I provided daily instruction for months while we were in person and twice weekly since we moved to virtual instruction. She is now reading some sight words, segmenting and blending to read CVC words, and reading simple sentences. The change has been incredible!

With her in mind, we have been working hard to customize instruction for all of our students with CVI with regards to Enhanced Alphabet Instruction (EAK) and reading. Our first step was to make sure we are using consistent language to describe the salient features of letters across the school. We created a list of salient features based on language used in Handwriting Without Tears since we also use that program at school.

We’ve uploaded a new resource to Teachers Pay Teachers for free that comes with a salient feature description chart for upper and lower case letters. We also put all of the uppercase letters in one document! You can copy and paste these letters into your own resources or print and use with a lightbox! Check out our favorite low cost lightbox here!

Letter of the Day Instructional Resources

We’re launching a series of products to support Enhanced Alphabet Knowledge (EAK) instruction for our students with complex communication needs. EAK and letter of the day instruction emphasizes identifying the letter name and sound, recognizing the letter in text, and producing the letter form.

As described in Jones et al., 2012 and Comprehensive Literacy for All, our materials move away from letter of the week instruction to focus on letter of the day instruction. There are several reasons to do this; though we think the most important for our population of students is the need for repetition and practice! If we only target one letter per week, it will take 26 weeks or until March in a typical school year before we can circle back to letters that were not acquired!

Many of our students have Cortical Vision Impairment (CVI) and/ or use Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC). With this in mind, we’ve included resources such as salient feature letter descriptions, tips for using AAC and alternative pencils, and tips for teaching inner voice.

We work with many Spanish speaking students and their families. While teaching virtually, we have been trying to find ways to make our teaching more inclusive so that these parents know what we’re doing in the lesson and how they can help their children. With that in mind, we’ll have an update to our lesson plan next week that includes instructions in Spanish for you to share with families.

We’ll continue to upload resources to support EAK instruction both virtually and in person!

This resource includes:

a sequence for instruction for each of the six cycles

salient feature description for each upper and lower case

articulation tips for letter sound production

writing tips for using alternative pencils

tips for teaching inner voice

tips for providing feedback

data sheets

an instructional script

a daily guide for each letter that includes basic keywords and customizable keywords for remembering letters and a visual form of the mouth for articulation of the letter sound

We’ve loved seeing some of our students start to get excited about learning the letter of the day! Last week, a parent reported that her daughter has been looking for the letter of the day long after the lesson is over. To mom’s surprise she has started phonetically spelling words to see if they have the letter of the day in them. Mom said she has never seen her daughter segment and blend words to phonetically spell them!