Using Core Words Every Day: How You Can Do It

Let's talk about using core words effortlessly.  No fuss, no special materials, no prep time.  Just the AAC system - whatever it is, as long as it has the core words you target - and the communication partners (the student and you/staff/family)

I’m going to start with the core word list for January from  (Carole Zangari’s terrific blog for all things AAC) :  again, all done/gone, more, mine, different, help, not/don’t, stop, that, want, what, you.

While many of the students I work with are at the very beginning of their AAC journey, and my focus is on getting them started, I do get to follow some students as they grow their language and more beyond single word requests, protests, and comments.

One pattern I work on with students - and have their teachers and caregivers follow-up with - is:
“What do you want?”    “I want that.”

While I push very hard to get beyond requesting, students do spend a good deal of time making requests, and as long as they are going to do so, I want them to move beyond simple “Want.”  or even “Want __.”

I want communication partners to be modeling 3 word phrases, and then recasting or reinforcing using 3 words, too.

At the beginning of any activity there is an opportunity for engineering the environment so that students need to make a request for the items they need to complete the task, or the items they want for reinforcement, or what they want to eat or drink.  It’s really easy to utilize these opportunities, by asking, “What (do) you want?” and reinforcing their response, “You want that.”

At any time you’re not sure what they want, ask for clarification, “(Do) you want that?”

And of course, for each of these opportunities, there is the opportunity to ask, “(Are) you all done?” or “(Do) you want more?”

Think about how often during these activities the student might need help accessing the items needed or desired.  Do they need help with reaching, opening, finding?  Again, don’t forget to model, “(Do) you want/need help?” “(Can) I get that?”

I watched a young man at home one afternoon, who was looking all over the family room for something.  Here was the perfect opportunity:

What do you want?” I asked. “Do you need help?”   Then I had to back up, since he didn’t have his iPad out.  To save time, we used mine, with the same AAC app and the pages I knew he used. 

“Do you want…?” I turned to the toys and games page and raised my eyebrows (that "expectant" look).  He pointed to “puzzle.”  I found a stack of puzzles in the corner. “Do you want that?” I asked.  He found the one he wanted. “You want that,” I confirmed. He pointed to “puzzle” again, so I modeled “want puzzle” for him, and he repeated the phrase for me.
“Ok,” I said, “Let’s do the puzzle.” 
Every time he picked up a piece and seemed to have trouble finding a spot for it, I asked, “Do you need help?”  I know he’s capable of using the phrase, “I need help,” or “I want help,”  so I waited for him to ask, using my best “expectant pause” look, eyebrows high and shoulders shrugged.  He got the message, and asked “I want help.” multiple times.

When he was finished, I looked at him again, with that “look.” “All done,” he said.  “Yes,” I said, “you’re all done.”
"A different one?"  
"All done," he repeated.  OK, we were done.


  1. Great post. So helpful for speech delayed students.

  2. Thank you, Deann. I try to keep my posts helpful!

  3. It is amazing sometimes how powerful that expectant pause can be! I love stories about kids communicating!

    1. We're often too quick to rush in and fill the silence!