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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Top 3 Ideas for Planning Lessons with Core Words

Core words are the high frequency words that we use repeatedly to generate our messages.  They often have multiple meanings, and can be used different ways for different functions.

I get asked all the time how to plan lessons around core words.  After all, if they are high frequency words we use all the time, how hard can it be to plan on using - and modeling - them in class and intervention settings.

  1. Plan to do descriptive teaching; rather than referential.
  2. Observe what is going on around you - and the student.
  3. Look for ways to adapt simple stories - especially folk and fairy tales that your students are familiar with - for core words.

Descriptive Teaching: Gail Van Tatenhove has, over the years, discussed this a lot. When we use referential teaching - as we most often do - we ask the student to respond to a question with a specific referent, or word.  For example; “Which planet has 2 moons?” is a question that can only be answered by using the planet’s name.

But, if I ask the student to describe or tell me about Mars; then he can use words like: “next to us,” and “small,” and “red,” and “cold.” 
All of those words are already in a robust AAC system, and do not need to be specifically programed into a system - especially when Mars isn’t a typical topic of conversation that this student will need again.  And there is the added benefit of needing to use higher order language skills - for those rigorous CCSS - in order to tell what the student really knows about Mars.

Observing what is happening in the classroom or other environment can also yield opportunities to interact.  “What is he doing?” can be asked about any other student or staff, and the verb for answering a “what doing?” question is most likely in the system.
Other questions can include “How does she feel?” and “How can you tell?” along with “What happened?” and “Look at that! What do you think?”

If you are working on pronouns, questions such as “Who is wearing a green t-shirt?” can be found in abundance, using the others in the room..
If you are working on prepositions, “Where is the pink notebook?” can also be constructed using whatever is in the environment.
You get the idea.

 Who is washing?  He is.

Where is the green one? There it is.

Adapting stories is my favorite way to talk about words.  Trade books (children’s books from the store) offer rich vocabularies and a wide array of topics, characters, and settings.
Stories are our hallway from oral language to literacy. 
I often start with books made at home, or together in intervention, that utilize pictures of the student in various locations or activities.  Co-constructing these and reading them together allows a “connection to me” that makes a big difference for these kids.
And you can start with a single word - or 2 - per page: I jump.  I walk.  I swing.
Those are all simple core word phrases (or just use the verb) that go a long way to fire up some motivation for looking at core word books.
Gradually we expand these books to move from those heaps - collections of words - to more of a cohesive narrative.  This is a multi-step process.
And finally, we move to simple stories and talking about them with our core words (with some fringe words sprinkled in as needed).
Try looking at some of the stories on This can help give your students ideas for stories and what they can look like.
Then look at story books (tradebooks) to find core words.  Rewrite the stories with your students to use more core words.  This can be a lot of fun, as our AAC users hunt through their systems for the words they want to use.

So, there you have it; my top 3 ways to implement core vocabulary.  I’ll be back next week with some more ideas.  In the meantime…………keep on talking.

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

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