Core Vocabulary for Nonverbal Students - The Gateway School

Core Vocabulary for Nonverbal Students

Core Vocabulary for Nonverbal Students

Everyone has the right to communicate their wants, thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Non-verbal students have a range of methods of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to support their communication, from low-tech approaches like pictures, sign language, and gestures to high-tech approaches like speech-generating devices and iPad apps. While they certainly add to students’ existing ways of communicating, one problem with many of these tools is that they limit the child to a particular set of words (usually nouns) that cannot be used across a variety of situations.

In a blog post on The Autism Helper, speech language pathologist, Sarah Allen, recommends teaching nonverbal students a core vocabulary made up of high frequency words that can be used in a variety of situations and with various communication partners. Core words make up about 75-80% of the words we use every day but are more difficult to visualize because they are often pronouns, helping verbs, prepositions, articles, and common verbs such as I, he/she, like, play, have, on, open, help, more, can, do, and it. While you can create a sentence using only core words, one defining feature of core vocabulary is that you cannot form a sentence without at least one of these words. “I need help” is a sentence composed of three core words.

Because these core words allow the student to more readily communicate his/her wants and needs, it can decrease frustration when the student is trying to get those wants and needs met. For example, if the student finishes drinking a bottle of water, it is easier to say or touch on the device the core word, “more” than it would be to learn the nouns for the different types of drinks and navigate the device to touch the specific type of drink he might want. In this context, the teacher can tell that he wants more water. Being able to communicate quickly reduces the student’s frustration.

To teach core vocabulary, teachers can post a physical core board with the words and picture representations in the classroom, or they can set up an AAC speech generating device to have the core words easily accessible on the communication system. Once students have mastered the core vocabulary, their communication options expand dramatically.

Did you know?

Research conducted by Dr. Dan Sullivan of the University of Minnesota shows that students who use newspapers in class score better on standardized reading tests than those who don’t. The study examined programs in 22 cities across the U.S., and in all cases, students who used newspapers achieved higher standardized reading test scores than those who didn’t have access to newspapers in the classroom. Because news stories display different types of writing, including narrative, persuasive, and expository, students learn to read and comprehend various types of content. In addition, newspapers bridge the gap between the real world and the classroom, helping students to learn life skills, make career decisions, and become lifelong learners. Newspapers in the classroom can give students an essential boost in their ability to read, and News-2-You provides that critical link for students in special education classrooms.

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Since 1980, RKS Associates has been a leader in providing the needs of special education students and helping children grow to their fullest potential. Each of our schools seeks to empower each student with skills for life, work, and recreation; we believe that every individual possesses the dignity and potential to contribute to a better world.

As part of the RKS Associates Network of schools in New Jersey, the goal at the Gateway School is to assist all students in becoming as independent as possible and help them get ready for the future. Located in Carteret, NJ, we serve individuals throughout Central and Northern New Jersey. Contact us at our main office at 732.541.4400 with any questions or schedule a private tour of the Gateway School today.

Chris Hoye, Principal-The Gateway School of Carteret, NJ