Category: Developing Language

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

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!