Sunday, October 8, 2017

Let’s Talk About Vocabulary

One of the things we’ve discovered with students who need to build their language - especially vocabulary - skills is that they need more repetition and more opportunities to interact with new words than typically-developing students.

One hurdle in speech-language therapy and special education is getting sufficient repetition for the students to truly master the concept.  
While general education students can usually learn from an experience or activity that relates to a skill and don’t need a lot of practice to learn what they need to know about a topic;  students with special needs need quite a lot of repetition to practice the skills they need and to understand and talk about the topic.

In addition, we often face the problem of getting students started with basic core words, and then not knowing where to go from there.
SLPs with little experience working with AAC users will often work up to the 2-3 word phrase level with students, but then don’t know what to do next.

I’m fond of reminding SLPs that language therapy is language therapy.  That we don’t need a lot of fancy equipment or materials to teach AAC users specifically.  They can be involved in any intervention activity you have planned for your other students; just the mode of response is different.

However, in reality, this can be more difficult than it sounds.  Many of our AAC users are also students who don’t experience the same life experiences as their typical peers.  They don’t go to as many places in public.  Their motor issues keep them from playing games and sports, or knowing how it feels to throw a ball or sled down a hill.

One of the ways to bridge this gap is to provide role playing activities that are “mock-ups” as it were of real life experiences.  I’ve done a lot of this with my Activities and Games to Teach Core Words and Teach Me Core Words resources.
In these resources, I’ve combined a variety of role playing situations that allow structured practice of what to say and what words to use; such as communicating at a birthday party, or a trip to an ice cream shop, or just playing with toy cars and a flat road map.

Another way to bring more core practice into intervention with a little bit of fun are adaptations of games that now use core words.

One game has students take turn picking cards, locating the item in the AAC system, naming an appropriate verb to go with the item, giving clues to peers so they can guess the item, or having peers ask questions (20-Questions style) about category, size, shape, function, etc. to guess the item.

The next game is a dice roll game.  It includes printed, adapted, and hand-sized custom dice - or there are directions for regular dice, too.
The words are grouped by parts of speech, so that rolling them provides greater opportunities for constructing phrases and sentences.

The 3rd game is a build-a-sentence game.  Years ago when I was doing therapy with severely language impaired students, I had a game called “Scrabbble, Jr.” that they liked to play.  It was easier than Scrabble, in that they did not need to know how to spell words to play.  Instead, tiles were words and players built sentences rather than single words.

Using core word tiles, students in this game need to build phrases and sentences to play.  You determine how long or complex those need to be when you set the ground rules.

If you’d like to save yourself the time and trouble that it takes to make all of these materials you can buy them individually, or in a set of all 3 here.

Have fun, and……..keep on talking!

If you're going to the ASHA Conference in LA next month, stop by and say "Hello."


  1. These games look like fun! The cards are student-friendly; I'm sure it gets kids talking!

    1. I always try to get a little fun into my sessions. Thanks for reading.

  2. Thanks for great advice for interventions that gen ed as well as special ed teachers can put into use for kids who need them!

    1. Exactly. You don't need fancy materials to work with students using AAC, and I know there are many in gen ed classes!

  3. This looks like so much fun for the students. I am sure they learn from and enjoy the activities.

  4. Games are one of my FAVORITE modes of learning, and because they're engaging, kids are more likely to tolerate the repetition.

    1. Yes! Sometimes motivation is the biggest stumbling block to engagement. I try to make it a bit fun. Thanks for reading.

  5. These games look fun and engaging! Thank you for sharing these interventions!