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Monday 2 October 2017

Getting Started With Core Words

Hi Everyone!  I hope you all had a great start to the new school year!  I can't believe how fast September flew by!  It's a new year and that means trying new things with my students!  I have used the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) for years in my classroom with success, however, my students always seem to get stuck on making sentences that start with "I want" and struggled with going beyond that.  Last year I attended a teacher led conference where I met a teacher who did a research project on using core vocabulary and core boards in her classroom.  The results of her study blew me away!  She reported higher levels of communication, socialization and reading rates in her students.  When I got back from the conference, I met with my SLP and discussed this approach with her.  As it was close the end of the school year, we decided to start using this new approach this school year.  

Start with Research

As I knew next to nothing about teaching core words to my students, I started this journey by doing some research.  My SLP gave me the Pixon Project Manual which was a great starting point.  This manual helped me to develop an understanding of who to set up the core boards, start teaching and gave me a scope and sequence of words to teach.  I also did my own research and found a few great websites.  This blog post from PrAACtical AAC is a good description of what core vocabulary words are and how to start teaching them.  The AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom is an excellent website with a great handout and video that explain what core words are and how to get started with them in your classroom.

Lesson Planning

After doing some research, it was time to do some lesson planning.  The Pixon Project Manual provides a good sequence of words to teach, but for my students I needed to pick and choose which words to teach them.  Some of the words are too abstract for my students right now and we wanted to focus on some really important ones that they would use frequently throughout the day, every day.  After looking at the materials on the AssistiveWare site, I decided to do a "word of the week" to introduce my students to using core words.  Some of my students are learning to use the core words on core boards while others are using iPads with Prologue 2 Go.  

Core words should be taught across the day and across activities, but I also like to do a whole class lesson to introduce new words.  The AssistiveWare site makes planning these easy!  They have word of the week (WOW) planners which are basically lesson plans on how to teach the target word.  These planners outline the "whys and ways" the core words are used in language, provide a list of ideas for teaching the words, and include a list of books that use the target word repeatedly in the story.  

The site also has information on how to use core words in your classroom across the day and activities such as morning meeting, life skills, and leisure time.  There is also a section called "Five Minute Fillers" which contains ideas of core words to teach during different leisure activities such as card games, playing with toys and songs.

Gather and Prep Teaching Materials 

After reading through the WOW planners, I started to gather materials we would use to teach the core words during our whole class lessons, small group and one-on-one teaching times throughout the day.  Because I am an organizational freak and like to make things easier for my EAs, I set up a storage shelf with bins for each of our core words of the week.  The shelf is centrally located in the classroom and it's easy to grab the bin and use the contents to work on core words any time of the day!

I started gathering materials by going through our classroom library and finding books that contained the targeted core words.  Because the core words are mostly the same as the sight words I teach to my students, I started looking at those ones first.  Then I moved on to our library of storybooks and was able to find a few more, but not as many as I wanted, so I hit the thrift stores and was able to find a lot more for very little money! I also like to have interactive/adapted books to use with my students, so I searched Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) to find those.  Teach Love Autism has a really affordable bundle of simple books, and I also like these ones from Tech 'n Talk SLPs, and these from Jaclyn Watson.   

While I was searching through the TPT site, I found this bundle of ideas and activities from Fun in ESCE which I love!  She has tons of great ideas and printable activities to get your students using core words.  So, I prepped those and into the bins they went!  I then went around my classroom and gathered different toys that I thought we could use for each core word.

Time to Teach!  

The key to teaching your students to use core words is to provide a lot of opportunities throughout the day to use them and to model the use them frequently throughout the day.  Carole Zangari from PrAACtical AAC does a much better job at explaining this than I can:

"simply stated, talk AAC and  keep talking AAC. Highlight key words from your natural speech with the AAC picture symbols.  The more you use ALI, the easier it gets because you learn where all the vocabulary is located, you automatically slow down, you learn what core word vocabulary needs to be added to the communication display. Learners get to see/hear the language that they are expected to use which makes it more likely they will ‘talk’ back in the language that is spoken to them. By using ALI, you are also forming an AAC visual language environment which helps with comprehension and organization of a language system."

Simply put, model, model, model!  This is the most effective teaching strategy for core words.  The more you model and speak to your students using their core boards or Prologue 2 Go, the more they will speak back to you using these AAC systems.  This is why I have core boards posted around my classroom in each and every area.  During every activity of the day, staff have a core board with them that they use to speak to the students and I can already see the benefits of this in my students.

Connecting with Home

Whatever AAC system your students use, they should also be using it at home and in the community.  When we switched to using core boards, my SLP and I met with each of my students' parents and explained the system to them, modelled how to use it and gave them a core board to take home with them.  When working on communication skills, it is so important to have your students' parents on board and working on this as well.  That is why I decided to give my students core word homework this year.  I have tried different styles of homework over the years and have had little success with parents actually completing it.  But, because every single one of my students' parents listed communication as their number one goal for their children, I am hopeful that they will respond positively to this homework system.  

I found these parent handouts from the Pedi Speechie which coordinate perfectly with the core words I am focusing on in the classroom.  I also like that I can check off which level each student is working at: single word, short phrase, or sentence.  They provide some great ideas on how parents can teach these words at home and in the community.  I also found this homework packet from The Language Ladies SLP which I like because it's sort of an accountability check for parents.  I am sending one of these home per week and asking them to be returned on Mondays.  That way I can see how often they are practicing the words with their children and then problem solve with them when we have our monthly meetings.

Do you use core words in your classroom?  I'd love to hear how you teach them!  I am always looking for new ideas and activities!  Thanks for stopping by!

Until next time,


  1. So excited for you and your students as you move through your journey! Looks like you're off to a great start!

  2. Just seeing this post. Thanks for sharing the book from Tech ‘n Talk SLPs. AAC is my new passion.

  3. very well written and informative post.
    Thanks for sharing such and amazing post


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