Getting to the CORE of Communication: Part 2 – Top 5 Activities to Increase Core Vocabulary Use

19 Jun 2018 — SpeakUp Editor

Last month we welcomed Kelly Key to share her guest post entitled, “Getting to the CORE of Communication: Part One – Tips for Rolling Out a Core Vocabulary Initiative,” in which she introduced readers to her school district’s core vocabulary initiative. This month, we welcome her back to discuss some of her favorite activities for teaching core vocabulary.


In our school district, we are always looking for fun ways to motivate our students to use their communication devices. We use these to build confidence and comfort when communicating with AAC. Modeling (i.e., Partner Augmentative Input) is a very effective way to teach our students to use their devices, but sometimes that is not enough. The following are my top 5 favorite activities to increase language and AAC device use.

1- Go on a virtual ride!

One day my family and I went to our local amusement park. As soon as we got off each ride, we could not stop talking about it! We would say things like “I loved that”, “I feel sick” “That was fun!” “Let’s go again” “I liked it!” “I didn’t like it!” Not only was it fun to talk about the ride, but I also realized the phrases we were saying were all core vocabulary! Two days later, I was providing a lesson in one of our high school classes and decided to take them on a virtual roller coaster ride! It was a HUGE success! Here’s how the lesson went;

  1. Go over the steps for the activity. I create and present the activity in Google Slides, an online slide presentation tool which allows me to project the information and visuals on the screen and show one slide at a time.
  1. Share tips with adults in the room (teachers, therapists, and assistants) about how to work with students: I create a slide titled Tips for Teachers. This slide provides tips for the adults in the room. For example, “After you ask a question, count to 15 in your head before asking again or prompting the student” and “Throughout the activity, use the student’s board or device to talk to him or her.”
  1. As a full group, we read words and phrases using the students’ boards or devices, such as “I like it” “I don’t like it” “We went fast” “I liked when it went slow” “I feel good” “It made me feel sick”
  1. Go on the ride! I have the students sit in front of the Smartboard, pretend to put on their seatbelts, put their hands up high (put devices and boards on their lap or next to them) and play the virtual roller coaster (or water slide) via YouTube. (To find a ride of your choice, simply go to YouTube and search virtual roller coaster ride or virtual water slide) Throughout the ride, I model core phrases like “We are going up, up, up and now we are going down!” I would then pause in the middle of the ride and ask the students to tell me what they thought. I would ask, “Do you like it or not?” The students and adults can take turns sharing. I then play the segment again and then ask students how it made them feel. They then take turns sharing how they felt during the ride.
  1. Write a book about their experience. After the ride is over, I ask each student and adult in the room (ie: teachers, therapists, assistants, etc.) to write one to two sentences about the ride. They dictate this to me (using their voice or device) and I type it on the slide. We take pictures throughout so we can include these in the book. After the activity, I print the book and give it to the students to read.

This activity has been such a success at all grade levels! I have been asked by staff and students to come back into classrooms several times and each time we choose a different roller coaster or water slide. We get SO much language and device use from the students!

2- Create an AAC Buddy Program

Students are very motivated to communicate virtually with their peers. I wanted my students to make connections with other AAC users of similar ages so I created our AAC Buddy Program. This allows students within (and outside) our school district to connect on a regular basis via Google Hangout. During the first session, they get to know each other by asking and sharing their names, grades, favorite things to do, etc. After they gain a comfort level with one another, they often ask more personal questions, talk to one another, and connect with one another. For example, they have asked, “Would you rather fly or be invisible and why?”

Students love our Buddy Program and never want to stop talking with one another. It is a great way for students to connect with other students who use AAC, expand language, work on social skills, create novel communication exchanges, and have fun!

3- Have quick activities that take little to no planning

Assistiveware has a website full of resources called the Core Word Classroom. One of my favorite resources is their 5 minute fillers. They take a quick activity (i.e., Kinetic sand) and give you a single sheet with ideas about core words and activities you can do to help increase language, modeling, and AAC use (see reference below). We love finding quick and easy resources that are motivating and fun for all ages and that take little to no planning and promote language. Some other items include: (a) wind-up toys, (b) putting items in a box before the activity and have the student guess what is in there, (c) having an iPad with apps to play and talk about, or (d) playing a YouTube video on something the student likes and then pausing and talking about it throughout.

4-Play games (and adapt them)

Games are a great way to promote social language and engagement with peers. We have adapted games to promote core word use (i.e., Candy Land – instead of going to 2 types of candy, students go to 2 core words); Go Fish – we call it Go get it to target using core vocabulary words. This is a great game to work on asking questions ie: “Do you have a blue fish?” and if the peer does not have it they would say “Go get it” instead of “Go fish). We also love playing memory with core words. When students turn a word over, they have to say the word (verbally or on their device) or to go even further, they may be asked to say that word in a phrase.

We often put a label on the box of our games that has phrases for the staff to model throughout the game. Examples of core words and phrases you can use throughout the games include, “my turn”, “your turn” “go again”. My favorite games to play with staff, students and parents using devices are Headbands and Heads up. One person wears the headband and the rest of the group uses their devices to describe what is on the card. The person wearing the card can ask questions about the item on their card. The goal is to guess what is on the card.

5- Read and Interact with Books

Reading with your students vs. to students is the key to getting the most language out of them. We model comments and talk about the people in the book and how they feel. We talk about the pictures, make comments, ask questions, talk about turning the page, and respond to the student’s comments and questions. We love using wordless books for this! We also find books that go with our Powerful Words for the week i.e., The Pigeon Wants a Puppy for the word “want”.

AAC Language Lab has many books using core vocabulary for all ages. They also have lesson plans that go with books you may already have in your library. A yearly subscription for these resources and more is only $19.95 (see reference below). Tarheel Reader is another of our favorites! Not only are there thousands of books available to read on the computer, they can also be read out loud and they are switch accessible!


Assistiveware Core Word Classroom –

AAC Language Lab –

Tarheel Reader-

Kelly Key is the Assistive Technology Coordinator for the Barrington School District (EC-Transition) in Barrington, Illinois. She has been in her current role for over 14 years. She has also served as an administrator for 13 years as a Special Services Facilitator and Assistant Principal. Prior to becoming an administrator, she taught special education students with multiple needs for 9 years. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education from Northern Illinois University, a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education from Northern Illinois University, and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Leadership from National Louis University. She also has an ATACP (Assistive Technology Applications Certificate) from the University of California- Northridge.

Ms. Key has no relevant financial or nonfinancial relationships to disclose.


Jill E Senner, PhD, CCC-SLP

Thank you for reading this blog post. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of USSAAC members and board members. No endorsement by USSAAC is implied regarding any device, manufacturer, resource or strategy mentioned. We would love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts with a comment below or send a message through our contact page.

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