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.

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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.

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