More Core in Shared Reading for AAC Users. How Can You Do It?

Last week I shared a variety of resources with you for using core vocabulary in shared reading with your AAC users and students with minimal language.  I referred you to a post at as well as a post of mine about using some cute books I have found to teach "No!" and "More!"

Then, I shared with you a little about my shared and guided reading for students with significant disabilities unit for The Little Red Hen, including a sequencing activity, in which students can practice "Not I" - 2 core words used throughout the story.

This week I want to talk about how we use core words in "descriptive teaching" rather than "referential teaching."  To learn more about using core words and "descriptive teaching," check out Gail Van Tatenhove's resource about Extreme Make-Over in the Classroom (you need to contact Gail for her Aided Language Stimulation and the Descriptive Teaching Model handout, it is no longer on her website).

Gail talks about teaching to construct meaning, using a basic set of core words - which are usually already in the AAC system - for students to demonstrate what they've learned by describing, defining, and demonstrating; rather than memorizing and repeating specific vocabulary that will likely never be needed again.  She talks about asking students, "Tell me about," rather than "What is," questions.

I have been working with one student for several years now, and he is in 3rd grade now, in a general education class.  So, I have been adapting the 3rd grade literature to meet his needs.  
They have been reading Owl Moon, The Rough Faced Girl, Verdi, and Stellaluna, among other books. In my adapted materials for this young man I have focused on vocabulary that describes, as well as on sequencing. 

In previous posts, I shared one part of the I need My Monster vocabulary resource that focused on adjectives used to describe the monsters and one from Verdi, also focusing on describing words. 

Adjectives are core words; words that are used frequently and repeatedly in our language. Asking students to describe, rather than name provides them with both the opportunity to use words easily contained and found in their AAC systems and the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding rather than ability to memorize or name.

In my Shared and Guided Reading unit for The Three Billy Goats Gruff, I have an activity that uses comparing adjectives.  This is the perfect story to talk about big and small, bigger and smaller.  In this story the describing adjectives are big, small, mean, and green. The comparing adjectives are bigger, smaller, and greener.
Try this activity - either by sorting the pictures or words, or using the interactive notebook activity - or do them both.

I can still remember the days of programing all of the classroom vocabulary into students' AAC systems for every book, every theme, every unit.  We spent hours programing words into AAC devices that were never going to be used again, so that our students could participate equally in classroom conversations.

As Gail says, we need to do Extreme Make-Overs of our classrooms and intervention sessions.  To some extent, focusing more on the Common Core skills and Standards may push us to do just that.  In the meantime, focus your AAC users on the core, and on using those words to tell about what they've learned.


  1. These are great tips, whether your students are verbal or using AAC to communicate. Thank you!

    1. Absolutely. Most of my literature-based activities started as things I did with my Language Learning Disabled (as they were levels back then) students. They work for all kids who have significant difficulties with language, and can expand to work even in gen ed!

  2. Fantastic post, this makes so much sense, thanks for sharing!

  3. This is such a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing this wonderful information and your great products!

  4. This is really interesting. Thank you for sharing. I find myself considering this and thinking about my ELL students. They have verbal abilities, but struggle with English. Hmmmm.

    1. Using core vocabulary can help. Also think about what their phonological awareness and manipulation is like is English.
      Thanks for reading.