Thursday, April 20, 2017

Where Do I Find the Words for THAT?! Talk About Earth Day with AAC Users

As I continue to assure you that you can, indeed, include your AAC users in speech therapy and classroom activities that the rest of your (verbal) students are doing, I'm going to talk about an Earth Day activity today.
Earth Day is this weekend, which is Why I'm posting next week's post a few days early - so you can give this a try.
But no vocabulary teaching is limited to a specific day or week.  We can build our AAC users' vocabulary any day as they continue to add words to their "stash."

I have an Earth Day sorting activity that I use with students, which requires only that students be able to sort items into their recycling categories (paper, plastic,  metal) or non recycle activities (laundry for clothing, etc.).  I usually use this as a jumping off point for talking about not just recycling and Earth Day and being "green" every day; but also about describing the items - specifically about what they are made from.

What are all the things your students can think of that are made out of paper?  Workbooks, text books, bulletins and notices, newspapers, magazines.... you get the idea.
For your speaking students, you may need to provide some scaffolding for word retrieval problems or other language issues that make listing items in a category difficult.

But what about your AAC users?  What do they need to do to retrieve the words they need for this activity?  Well, where will they find those items in their AAC system?  It might be in a folder of "School Things," or a page of "Leisure Activities." Help them figure out where to look to find the words they need to participate in the discussion.

What about plastic things?  These can be found in many different groups of items, so help your AAC users to think bout where some of those might be in their systems.  Plastic utensils?  Probably found in the Food & Drink -> Kitchen Utensils pages.
Aluminum cans? Probably found in the Food & Drink -> Drinks page.  And many of your students are bound to know where to find those soda cans even if they aren't usually allowed to drink soda.

Point out places in your classroom or on campus that encourage recycling of these items.  Many rooms have black trash cans for trash and blue ones for recycling paper at the least.  One high school campus I'm on has specially marked trash containers around the campus for students to place cans and bottles in.  One of the special education classes bags these up and takes them to the recycle center, where they exchange bottles and cans for cash they can use for outings in the community.

Any activity you can talk about or within with your speaking students can include your AAC users.  Just make sure they have a robust system with sufficient vocabulary to participate.  In a pinch, make a core-word based communication board for the activity - while you're waiting for that robust system to arrive!

Have fun, keep recycling, and.... keep on talking!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Did You Know About This?

I recently got an email from the zoo telling me about the activities they have planned for World Penguin Day.  I had no idea there was such a thing, but these days it seems like there is a day or week or month for almost everything. 
I once did a search for various "celebration days" to see if I could come up with an idea for an activity for everyone of them.  As you might expect, I gave up - at least for the moment.

But I do have activities for Earth Day, for Fire Prevention Week, for Dental Care month and Vision Awareness Month, and probably a few I'm forgetting.

Now, I love penguins. The penguins at our local zoo, here where it is warm, are African penguins, who live off the Cape where it is warm.  Included in the celebration is a bubble blowing machine.  Evidently penguins love to chase bubbles.  Who knew?
My daughter actually visited South Africa last year and went down to the Cape to see the penguins.  She held out her hand to one, and it bit her.  I put a bounty on his head. (Just kidding!)

When we lived in Boston we would go to the aquarium there and watch the penguins a lot.  Here, we get to Sea World only occasionally now that the kids are grown.  But when we do I love to watch them.

There are many different kinds of penguins.  We all tend to equate penguins and the Arctic, but there are several who live in warm waters off of Equator (in the Galapagos Islands) and those off the coast of South Africa.

To celebrate World Penguin Day, I'm going to have students I work with use my interactive books about penguins.  The resource includes books to interact with, books to make, penguin comprehension questions, a book to write and some penguin-inspired phonological awareness tasks.

I'm also giving you something to celebrate about - a free file folder matching activity, which you can find here.

Enjoy the penguins, and...keep on talking.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

More Thoughts on Word Relationships and AAC Use

Last week I wrote about classifying words and how the need to organize and find words within AAC systems can put a strain on the metalinguistic skills of our AAC users.
And, since I often talk about how your AAC users can do the same activities in intervention sessions as your other students working on related skills, I thought I’d demonstrate by using a basic receptive/expressive language game today.

Given that Spring is finally here - and not a minute too soon for some of you - I’m going to talk about a resource I’ve made dubiously named “Bunny Hop Through Spring.”  it is, otherwise, just called a game for expressive and receptive language.

If you want a no-commitment look at it, there is a free sample in my store here.  You can take a look at it and follow along without even having to make a purchase.  How cool is that?

Anyway, there is a fairly standard game board and even little bunny game pieces.  If you are going to use these with students who have some motor difficulties, I suggest taping the bottom strip of the bunnies around a glue stick to help make them easier to grasp and more solid to hold onto.

I am, of course, going to expect that your AAC user has a robust communication system.  That way, you can build word knowledge along with knowledge of where those words are in the system itself.

So, taking a look at the first page of cards, you can see that students are asked to name opposite adjectives.  Adjectives are among the important core words we want to teach our AAC users.  And most AAC systems have a special folder for pages of descriptive words.  Working on that task is fairly straightforward.

Look at the next page of game cards, there are 6 cards from the categorizing skill set, where the student needs to name members of a specified category.  
“Name 3 animals with stripes,” is one task.  Ok, so, where are the animal words in the system?  Often the user navigates to “groups” then to “animals” and then may have folders of pets, wild animals, farm animals, sea animals.  So, what are 3 animals with stripes and where are they in here?

In the “wild animals” page I can find zebra and tiger.  What else has stripes? A skunk?  That is probably in wild animals, too - unless there is a forest animal page.  Some cats have stripes (but not all - so be careful).  If I am talking about one of my cats, then, yes, he does have stripes.  But the other one doesn’t, so it does not hold that all cats have stripes.

There are any number of wild animals have stripes, but they are probably too obscure (unless you live on the plains of Africa).  Some snakes also have stripes.  Ringtails, as their name suggests, also have stripes.  They are the state animal in Arizona.  Our fringe vocabularies, or the frequency of use of them, varies by our experiences, our environment, and our level of knowledge.

In talking about how to ask questions of AAC users that encourages core word use and descriptive thinking, Gail Vantatenhove has warned us about only asking referential questions whose answers are nouns that may, or may not, be in our users’ AAC systems.
So, think carefully about what you are trying to teach your student.  If you are building vocabulary for topics that are necessary, or teaching how to navigate the AAC system, many language games are on equal footing in intervention.
If, however, you are helping students build on their use of core words to demonstrate knowledge of a topic then concentrate on more descriptive vocabulary (see last week’s post).

Whatever you’re working on, keep on talking.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

How Many Ways are Words Related?

I often find myself explaining to teachers, SLPs, and parents who are beginning to implement AAC with their student or child how sadly ironic it is that the students who have the hardest time learning to use language are the individuals who have to do the most thinking about how to use language - their “meta” skills - in order to say anything.

When we speak, we rarely - if ever - think abut how to access the words we want to use.  I spend a lot of time talking about - and to - my cats.  I don’t have to think about where to find the word cat; the trip into categories -> animals ->  pets -> is beneath the level of consciousness.

But for individuals who use AAC - especially those with complex and significant language needs - that is exactly the conscious path they need to learn to take.  If they want an apple, they need to think about how to navigate to categories -> to food -> to fruit -> to apple.

While our implementation of AAC is highly contextualized, we can, and should, also spend time teaching specific language skills to make the task of communicating more fluid.  One of the ways we have addressed the skills needed is to teach categorization skills at many levels.

We teach students that cats are animals, that they are more specifically pets, that animals are nouns, or things.  We also need to teach that they belong to the categories of furry things and soft things and living things.

An activity I use with many of my students - even with those students who are verbal but need help with their categorizing of vocabulary skills builds groups by attributes.  This helps to promote flexibility when thinking about words.  A cat is a member of the animals group, of the subcategory of animals that are pets, but also the category of furry things, of things with 4 legs, and - in most cases - the group of lazy things.

I’ve created a variety of activities for categorizing over the years.  Small fancy erasers come in a wide variety of objects, as do refrigerator magnets.  Try the dollar store for tubes or bags of small plastic animals, household objects, play foods, and more.

And, if you are moving from objects to decontextualized practice, here is a paper activity that kids seem to enjoy.  Everyone gets a flower center, and then chooses petals one at a time from a pile in the center that is turned face down.
If the petal you chose doesn’t belong to your category, put it back in the pile. Then the next student takes a turn.  
An alternative play is to have student keep petals they’ve picked in order to trade with others later.

Have fun, and……keep on talking!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Core Words Are Everywhere

It is fantastic that use of core words in teaching and using AAC has gotten to be more commonplace and programming of predetermined phrases and sentences is taking a backseat.
That's not to say they don't have their place; they absolutely do.  In contexts where the message needs to be quick, or it's a message that is repeated/used often, it makes sense to program those buttons.

But, when we're talking about emergent communicators who are just beginning to learn language, 1-2 words is where we start, and in context use is crucial.  We learn new words by being taught the new word, hearing it in context, and trying it out - sometimes everywhere.
You know how little kids will repeat a new word even when it's not appropriate because they've just learned it and want to feel it out everywhere?
Well, that's what our AAC users need to do, too.  I cringe when I hear someone say a student is "just playing" with a device.  Yes, he or she is playing with their vocabulary set, trying out words, looking around for what words and where.

AAC users need many many many opportunities to use new words in order to "have" them and be comfortable with them.  I spend a lot of time helping teachers and parents to think about what words are important in any given activity or situation, and how to use and model key words, which are usually a set of core words - usually verbs, adjectives, pronouns - along with whatever fringe words are appropriate for the activity.
Me, I use 'bubbles' a LOT!  But recently I saw a girl in a high school and, if I had not been able to work with her in the context of the classroom lesson, I'd have painted her nails or done her hair.

But for as much as we try to infuse those core words into our practice with AAC users, they often need additional practice.
I use a combination of interactive books that illustrate a variety of contexts in which target words can be used, and real-life simulations with props and games.

If you are interested in seeing how I've constructed these, head on over to my TpT store and check out the AAC resources there.  I've recently updated my Core Words Books sets, and I've created a variety of materials for teaching core words in context and role-playing.
My Activities and Games to Learn Core Words has 2 sets; I used the words from's word lists in 6 month portions.
My 10 Weeks to 40 Core Words is loosely based on the DLM list from Karen Erickson; although I have changed 1 or 2 words based on my experiences with the AAC users I've supported.
Pick up some of my free informational handouts while you're there.

I hope my blog continues to provide you with ideas, tips, and information for working with your AAC users.
Until next time; keep on talking!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

AAC 101: So How Do I Do This?

Over the past 2 months I’ve been talking a lot about beginning with augmentative communication; including what it is and who needs it.  The next question I most often get from parents, teachers and SLPs is about what kinds of materials are needed for intervention (and “where the heck do I find them”)?

We all know that genuine communication interactions in context are the best for teaching any communication skill.  Too often in AAC implementation we “test” more than teach.  We ask students to identify symbols at random, or find target words outside of any social engagement or genuine interaction.

Since many of our students require additional specific, structured practice beyond the opportunities throughout their school day, I encourage role playing and simulations.  There are a lot of ways to do this; such as including using props, dress-up, role playing, and using books and apps.

We also know that our students need to have a robust communication system; either no/light tech or high tech systems.  Again, there are dedicated devices that use core words as well as categories of fringe words, AAC apps that are similarly robust with sufficient vocabulary to meet all of their communication needs, and dynamic communication books that have robust vocabulary to meet a variety of communication functions.

Systems that are either totally core word based (with available fringe words) or are function/pragmatically based but include the same high frequency words, are robust enough to meet many needs.

Much research has been done on language development in general, and on the acquisition and use of early words; especially those words we know of as “core words.” But, somehow, we often seem to get stuck with those first 15, 25, or 32 core words.  Sometimes even SLPs forget about 2-word combinations when teaching AAC users.  But isn’t that the natural next place to go?
I love it when I hear SLPs or teachers exclaim, “Look! He’s putting two words together.”
Two word combinations are necessary to convey meaning when one of those words is a noun.  “Apple.”  Well, what about an apple?  Do you want an apple?  Did your apple fall on the floor?  Did someone take your apple?  Are you tired of apples?
But think of the magic of communication when combining two core words.  All of the  multiple meanings of both words create powerful combinations.  “Want apple.”  “Not apple.”  “Give apple.”  “Bad apple.”  Good apple.”  “More apple.”   I’ve made meaning intelligible, and I’ve covered - how many functions?

I have made a great many resources available in my TPT store for AAC implementation.  One that I particularly enjoy is my AAC Starter Kit, because it provides a robust picture communication book that employs basic core and adds a variety of fringe topics and concepts.
When the book is assembled, it shows the easy to access to core words, as well as the variety of fringe words available.

The kit also includes my 10 Weeks to 40 Core Words.  The activities for teaching use of core words in this resource are similar to my other Activities and Games for a Year of Core and Teach Me Core Words resources.  I have attempted to provide both suggestions for using core words in every day routines and activities, as well as activities to simulate other real-life activities that you may not have access to within your intervention setting or classroom.

There are 4 target core words per week, planned out over 10 weeks.  You may need a different pace for your students, and that is certainly fine.  Move at a pace that works for the students you are working with; making sure to always presume competence, provide maximum opportunities for genuine communicating, and use the least intrusive cues and prompts possible. Consistent partner use of Aided Language Stimulation is crucial.

For each of those 4 word groups, there is a different lesson plan/activity suggestion/contextual idea(s) for each day of the week.  The words are provided on large cards (approximately 4.5 X 3) for use in the classroom, as well as on a complete 40-location communication board.  Each week you will get a small book to read with the student(s) on Day 2 that uses those words.  When possible, act out the statements in the book in real time, giving a context with real objects and people.

The books can be interactive;  having students place the appropriate symbol on each page of each book.
Simulation activities for each week include activities such as an Animal Escape game, making a volcano, blowing bubbles, playing a familiar game, building a pizza, doing a group puzzle, and more.  3X5 sized cards for use on a classroom board come in white background as well as red & yellow for students with cortical vision issues.

Also in the starter kit is my Teach Me 6 Core Words resource and Teach Me More Core Words resource; each of which has a variety of simulation activities.  Order a pizza, order animals back to the barn, get dressed for the weather, go to the store are some of the activities.

And my 3 Games for AAC practice are also in this set.  The first game involves students picking a card from a pile and finding the words in their AAC system.  The second game uses dice to provide a single core word and asks students to create a phrase using that word.  The third game is a bit like Scrabble, but uses core words tiles rather than single letter tiles, and has students build phrases and sentences using the words they’ve picked.

There are more than 500 pages in this resource, with enough activities to keep your AAC users learning to use language throughout the year - and beyond!

However you choose to do it, keep your AAC users “talking!”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

For Your Viewing Pleasure: AAC Resource Montage

Ok, I admit it. I didn't get my blog post written for today. I thought I had. But, nope, I was wrong. Imagine my surprise when I opened the blog this morning only to find last week's post still there.

So, given that I've been sick, I was just going to dazzle you today with a video I made last year that is a slide deck of various resources I have for implementing AAC practice.

But, technology gods just weren't on my side today. I promise more "meat" next week.
In the mean time, keep on talking!