How to Use Core Vocabulary in Your Classroom

Who here has non verbal or limited verbal students in their classroom and is overrun with communication boards and completely overwhelmed on where to go next? Well, core vocabulary might just be your answer!
I'm excited to have Krystie from AdaptEd here today to share a guest post on Core Vocabulary. If my students hadn't already come in with their own different communication devices, I would have loved to use core vocabulary for all of them! Seriously, the way Krystie lays it out, you'll be very tempted to give it a try! :)
So you’re ready to explore the wide-open world of core vocabulary! But . . . how do you get started? Chances are, core vocabulary is very different from anything you’ve tried before when it comes to communication.

Changing strategies can seem daunting, but consider these questions:
-How does eliminating the constant need to create icons sound?
-How does forging a sustainable system for classroom-wide language modeling sound?
-How does using one symbol set for EVERY activity throughout the day sound?

If your answer to these questions is something along the lines of “That sounds INCREDIBLE! Yes, yes, yes!!!” (followed by jumping up and down with joy), then we have something in common. And it’s a pretty good sign that you are on the right track with your AAC exploration.

Core vocabulary can be described as a set of the most frequently used words in communication. In fact, these common words make up roughly 80% of what we say. So the theory follows that if students learn even a percentage of those core words they are then able to express themselves in a vast variety of ways. Turns out that a more traditional icon for “cookie” can only take you so far, whereas icons for core words like ‘go,” “eat,” “want,” and “more” can really take you the distance. We’re talking requesting, commenting, asking questions, placing demands, starting and ending conversations and more.

Here are 5 tips to help get you get started with core vocabulary:

1. Choose your symbol set. In the world of AAC there are many icon families to choose from. Boardmaker icons, Unity icons from PRC, Pixons and Symbolstix name a few. Choose a set that works well for you and your students. You may want to keep the future in mind - - - are you choosing a symbol set that will transfer well from a low-tech device to mid or high-tech? To help you get started, check out this low-tech communication board for FREE!

2. Core out your world. There’s no way to understand how important core vocabulary is to communication unless you dive in and try it. Start thinking of the world in terms of core vocabulary and how you can express yourself using it. Those instructions that all of you teachers, SLPs, OTs and classroom aides give all day? CORE. Think about it: “sit down,” “listen,” “wait,” “look,” “stop,” “all done.” 100% core. Those games that you play with your students? OPPORTUNITIES FOR CORE! “Your turn,” “my turn,” “go,” “stop.” Those art projects your students love? OPPORTUNITIES FOR CORE! “Same,” “different,” “look,” “like it.” Challenge yourself to spend a day communicating in core.
3. One icon at a time. Yes, there can be a lot of new icons to learn. No, you don’t have to panic. Keep in mind that in the beginning you are just like many of your students: you’re a new communication device user! Give yourself the time and courtesy that you afford your students. Take it one icon at a time. Perhaps spend an entire day using the icon “go” in as many instances as you can. You might be surprised how many there are! “Go” to the bathroom, take time to “go” eat lunch, indicate it’s another person’s turn by saying “go,” ask for a walk by saying “go,” indicate you want a video to play by saying “go.” The list goes on and on. Pretty soon your hand will by flying to the “go” icon with no hesitancy and you’ll be ready for another icon. Who knew you were going to be such a fluent user?!

4. Get your model on. Too often our immediate and initial focus in AAC is student output. It comes from a sincere place- we want students communicating as soon as possible. But would anyone pick up a typically developing baby and immediately expect it to start talking? Of course not. We put months (about one year to be exact) of time into modeling speech and language for children BEFORE we expect them to demonstrate that output of their first word. So how fair is it expect a beginning AAC user to jump straight to the output phase without giving them that foundation of AAC language modeling first? The answer is it’s not very fair. So don’t be afraid to get your modeling on! In the initial phase worry less about how often your student is touching the communication device and worry more about how much you are touching it. Be the model that they need and deserve. Before you know it those little learners will be following that model.

5. Play follow the leader. A successful core classroom is one where EVERYONE is using core vocabulary, not just the students. So make sure that all the players have access to core, including those incredibly important classroom/student aides. If you are focusing on the icon “go” then empower your team players to use it as well. Think of it as a game of follow the leader. The more models that are provided the more enriching your core classroom experience will be!

So, if you’re ready to get started- Sign Up for the Getting Started with Core Vocabulary Email Course with Krystie and Meg from AdaptEd!
Krystie and Meg will walk you through the all steps they took to go from theory to practice. Who is going to give it a try?!

Halloween Academic Activities for Special Education

I don't know what it is about Halloween, seriously creepy things and spiders are so not up my alley, but all of my students always LOVE Halloween. So, in October, the best way to motivate them to work is to use Halloween activities!

I don't know what it is about a spider on their paper, but they love it! HA. This is also a great time to work on "scaring" and "surprises" and helping students gain a sense of humor.
During our morning meeting, I use a ghost beanie baby to help lead the meeting. My students think this is hilarious! In addition to fun little things like that, I sneak Halloween into our typical academic activities.

Teaching Students to Scare and have a Sense of Humor!
You already know that our job as special educators goes way beyond teaching the normal curriculum. In order to prepare students for Halloween, I think it's important to teach how to scare people in a light-hearted manner. Sounds a little weird? Stick with me here. If someone comes up to one of my students in a ghost costume and says "boo!", they might legitimately freak out.

So, in order to teach them that this can be funny and funny, I let them do the scaring first! We had a fake blow up spider in my room, and I would give it to students during breaks and show them how to go up to other adults (or students who could handle it) and put it on their shoulder or somewhere and let them freak out. When they thought this was funny, I would then do it to them. This gives our students important social skills and also prepares them for the holiday!

Of course, you may also need to teach when it is or isn't appropriate to scare too!

Halloween Life Skill Math:
I use this Halloween life skill math pack (which includes three levels for all of my students), and simply because it is Halloween themed, my students will suddenly become motivated to complete their math activities. Oh the magic of Halloween! ;)

The worksheet shown above is one of the level 3 money worksheets, students have to cut and paste an amount using one or more bills. Level 2 simplifies it by only using one bill and level 1 is matching bill pictures.

Sorting sizes, this one is a level 2 worksheet. (The cut and paste activities in this packet are my favorite!)

Then we have a level 2 counting and more/less worksheet. Shown on this worksheet are a few different strategies that your students can use to help them determine the answer. One of my favorite is writing the number on the objects while they count.

This time worksheet is a level 1 worksheet and focuses on day or night. The sentences describing each time can also be used as a good starting point for Halloween discussions too! Or of course, just adding to the fun! :) Other time worksheets also include an AM/PM concept as well as analog and digital clocks.

Halloween Journal Writing:
I know I say it all of the time, but seriously people, these journals are my FAVORITE. 
They have helped my students gain so much confidence while writing and even allows my non-writers opportunities to express their opinions and work alongside their peers.
I first display the classroom sample of the journal of the time in our journal station. Every student, no matter what their level is, uses the same classroom example, so you can even project the sample on your white board and have all of your students (at different levels) write their journals at the same time,

Level 1 is for my non-writers. They are able to color, trace a word (to the best of their ability), and then choose between two symbols to complete each sentence. If a student is able, I then have them read their paragraph to me (either verbally or using a communication device. They are SO proud of the work that they do on these!

Level 2 is for my beginning writers. It includes a tracing portion for the sentence starter, and then the student has to choose how they want to complete the thought. The options are on the classroom sample, but some of my beginning writers have difficulty tracking and copying from the board, so I have also included the options below each sentence. They can then circle and write their answer to complete each sentence.

Level 3 students are the ones who REALLY need the classroom sample. They will copy the picture, and then copy the sentence starters and complete the thought. Sometimes when students are working on this in the journal station, I will cover up the options and make them come up with their own thoughts if they are ready for that! Speaking of students who are able to complete sentence starters on their own....

Higher Halloween Picture Prompt Journals:
This journal comes from my fall pack. I love projecting these pictures on the whiteboard and just having my students write about whatever comes to mind when they see this picture. Of course, some students aren't able to quite do that on their own yet, so I have supports for them too!
 The first level is sentence starters, possibly what students were used to if they were using my other journals, but now there are no options to choose from, they have to come up with them on their own. These sentence starters are very open ended in order to allow for a wide variety of thoughts. The next level is a bunch of questions to get students thinking about the topics and give them ideas on what to write about. It also gives a basic paragraph format structure, including topic, detail, and closing sentences.

Halloween Cooking Activities:
Okay, so I usually wouldn't call this a "cooking" activity, more of a following directions activity that involves food, but it is fun none-the-less.

I lost all of my pictures :( but we would make Oreo Spiders!
Ingredients Needed: Oreos, Pretzel sticks, M&Ms, frosting.
Directions: Stick legs into the creme of the Oreos, add frosting on the top of the Oreos and secure the M&Ms for eyes.

Now, you can run around and scare people with your spiders or just eat them. ;)

Halloween Social Stories:
So, you've had fun all month with Halloween themed activities, but do your students actually know what to do if they go trick-or-treating? I love this trick-or-treating social story from Autism Adventures!

Carving Pumpkins:
Yes! I've carved pumpkins with my students. And, yes, as in gave them carving tools! We enlisted the help of peer tutors and they had a blast. Read more HERE.

Greeting Cards:
Who can you send Halloween cards to? Classmates? Parents? Friends? Janitors? Yes, yes, and yes! These cards are super fun and your students will love making them! Plus, there is a level for every student from your kids benefiting from symbol support, to your writers or students who need sentence starter support!

And the ideas just keep coming...
Tons more ideas on my Halloween Pinterest board! Check it out below

And I'd love to hear, how else do you prepare your students for Halloween?
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