AAC is a journey. Each and every day we can make positive steps. Together we build language and meaningful communication.
We must keep moving forward in this journey. We do not wish to get stuck or stalled at any step in the process. AAC users learn when they are given many opportunities to see and hear language on their AAC.
This article provides a wide bank of ideas that can be used to build language and communication. Many of these ideas may spark interest and keep all of the team inspired to support the AAC user in new and different ways.
For these ideas to work, we should:
- Make AAC always available,
- Get the team on board,
- Remember to model, and
- Most of all, engage and interact with the AAC user.
All of these ideas can been seen as opportunities to:
Remember to show respect for the age of AAC users. Always choose activities, games and books that are in line with what other people their age would do and enjoy.
Using books to build language
Books can be fun and interactive. We can read the words, or tell stories from the pictures. Shared reading experiences can be a fabulous way to build language, especially when we talk about what we are seeing in the book, not only read the words. Books also provide an ideal opportunity to find and model core words. Add fringe vocabulary and some alphabet work to this, for even more language and learning.
Core words when sharing books:
We can model many core words when reading books. For example, core words such as: look, what?, where?, think, do, more, different, good, bad, etc.
We can also look at the words, pictures and concepts in the book and think about what additional words could be modeled.
For example, if we are reading the funny book: “Piranhas don’t eat bananas” by Aaron Babley, there are many things we can model.
- Core words: eat, not eat, bad, that bad, we eat, what eat, like, not like, want eat, eat different, think good, think bad, etc.
- Then add fringe words from the foods, fruits and body parts folders.
- We might not have the word “piranha” in the AAC system, so this is a good chance to model spelling a new word on the keyboard.
Here is a list of additional ideas for using books to build language, with a little literacy on the side!
- Retell stories: Retell stories using pictures from the book. Use alternative pencils to re-write parts or all of the story.
- Story Props: Use story props (large pictures, puppets or real objects) to retell the story.
- Sequencing: Make cards of the major events in the story. Put cards into the correct order and retell story.
- Text innovation: Retell the story but change details such as characters, settings.
- Different ending: Tell the story again but give it a different ending.
- Lift the flaps: Read books with flaps to lift. If the book doesn’t have any, make your own with post-it-notes.
- Get in the book: Retell the story, but put yourself in the story. Stick your photo over pictures in the book.
- Cartoon and speech bubbles: Turn the book into a cartoon. Draw speech bubbles on post-it notes and think of what characters can say.
- Share the book: Visit a friend, family member or another class room to share the book. You can also design and write a flyer/invitation to tell friends or others about your book reading session.
- Make silly mistakes: Make silly mistakes when reading the book. Discuss. Then write sentences with mistakes. You can also practice editing skills when correcting the mistakes.
- Rhyming words: Find words that rhyme in the book. Say them and try to think of more words that rhyme. Write lists of rhyming word families found in the book.
- First sounds/letters: Focus on finding words that start with a particular sound/letter in the book. Write lists of words that start with a particular sound.
- Opinions: Discuss what you thought of the book. Write a book review of the book, also giving it a star rating.
- Favorite page: Find your favorite page in the book. Why do you like it? Rewrite the text for your favorite page.
- Syllable beats: Find long and short words in the book and clap and count the beats (syllables) in each word. Try spelling long words syllable by syllable.
- Character feelings: Discuss how characters are feeling during different parts of the story.
- Character descriptions: Describe different characters in the book. Write descriptions of characters. Can you read the descriptions and match to the characters?
- Word kinds: Hunt for different kids of words in the book, e.g. verbs, vs nouns, vs adjectives. Write lists of different kinds of words from the book.
- Synonyms: Find words in the book, and think of synonyms for those words. How many different words can you think of that mean the same thing? Rewrite the sentence using synonyms. Write a list of synonyms.
- Antonyms: Find words in the book, and think of antonyms for those words. How many different words can you think of, that mean the opposite thing? Rewrite the sentence using antonym. Write a list of synonym and antonym (opposites) pairs.
- Make your own books: Use photos and videos to make your own books. Print these books and add them to the shelf so they can be read often.
Also think about how we can use different printed book materials for activities:
- Junk Mail/catalogues: Read junk mail/catalogues. Write a wish list or gift list or shopping list.
- Magazines: Read different magazines. Write a list of places to visit, people you’d like to meet, things you want to see/buy.
- Travel Brochures: Share travel brochures and find amazing places to go and things to see. Write lists of places to travel to and activities to try.
- Cook books: Read different cook books. Write ingredient lists. Write procedural text to explain how to make something.
- Nonfiction books: Read nonfiction books on different topics. Research topics of interest. Brainstorm a word web of things you learnt about the topic.
- Instruction manuals: Look at manuals to figure out how things work. Re-write instructions so they are easier. Take photos of favorite mechanical objects or appliances and write your own instructional manual to explain how it works.
- Newspapers: Read about news, weather and sport in newspapers. Write daily weather reports. Write lists of best sporting teams and games being played. Find and discuss good news stories. Find ways to share and discuss the not-so-good news.
- Electronic books: Make use of awesome websites such as Tar Heel Reader, for more books in a different format. Convert your Tar Heel Reader books into Pictello, where they can be read aloud, edited and shared even more easily.
For some example Core Word Planners around books, visit the Literacy and Language section of the AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom.
Using toys/games to build language
People of all ages like to play! We all have favorite toys and games. Find toys and games that are engaging and create opportunities to model language during play.
Repeated play gives us the chance to model language regularly and reliably. We should also look at trying new things and new ideas during each interaction in play. For example, bubbles may be a favorite activity. Mix up the activity, by trying different bubble blowers and wands, going to different places to blow bubbles, or catching the bubbles with different things (e.g. not just hands, but fly swats, gloves, etc.). Be creative so that new concepts can be modeled within the same or similar activities. Dr Caroline Musselwhite would call it “repetition with variety”.
Remember to show respect for the age of AAC users. Always choose toys and games that are in-line with what other people their age would do and enjoy.
Core words in play:
We can model many core words when playing. For example, core words such as: more, finished, want, like, different, play, do, go, on, off, in, mine, me, you, yours, etc.
We can also look closely at the toy or game and think about what additional words could be modeled.
For example, if we are playing Mr Potato Head, there are many things we can model.
- Core words: put, on, off, more, get, what, who, where, good, bad, like, where, etc.
- Then add fringe words of body parts, clothing and colors.
- When Mr Potato Head dresses up as a “mermaid”, we might not have that word in the AAC system, so this is a good chance to model spelling a new word on the keyboard.
The list of toys and games is endless. Do you have favorite games and toys you use with your AAC users? Here is a quick list of some toys and games that could be used to build language.
- Building and construction toys: lego, duplo, wooden blocks, hammer, screws, nails
- Ball toys: soft balls, bouncy balls, basketball, soccer, tennis, balloons
- Home corner play: kitchen, baby dolls, bedtime, shopping, tea parties
- Cars and vehicle play: cars, trucks, planes, ramps, roads, mail tubes as tunnels
- Outdoor play: hide and seek, obstacle courses, skipping, hula hoops, swings, slides, scooter boards
- Tabletop games: puzzles, play dough, kinetic sand, threading
- Boardgames: Jenga, Twister, Guess who, Snakes and Ladders, Pie face, Bingo
- Favorites: bubbles, Mr Potato head
- Sensory toys: swinging, hammocks, bean bags, body socks, fidget toys, squishy and squeezy toys, lights, light tubes, lava lamps.
There are many awesome play-based apps, that can be played on iPads. Fun and interactive, they can be a great way to engage and model language. To find the best apps, check out these app developers:
- Toca Boca
- Lego Systems
- Mini Sago
- Dr Panda
- PlayHome software
There are many more! Do you have favorite play-based apps?
Any play activity can incorporate literacy, with a bit of creativity. Try some of these ideas:
- Make your own books: Use photos and videos for toys, games and during play to make your own books. Print these books and add them to the shelf so they can be read often.
- Lists: Write lists of favorite toys and games. Use the list to vote for what game to play next. Write a wish list of toys or games from a store catalogue. Write a list of the things you could make, (e.g. make a tower, castle, fence, etc.)
- First sounds/letters: While playing, try finding words that start with a particular sound/letter in the game. Write lists of words that start with a particular sound.
- Rhyming words: While playing, try finding words that rhyme in the game. Say them and try to think of more words that rhyme. Write lists of rhyming word families found in the game.
For some example Core Word Planners around toys and games, visit the Leisure Time section of the AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom. Also, the Core Word 5 Minute Fillers have some quick and fun activity ideas, with some great starting points for modeling core words.
Using music to build language
Music is a powerful way to engage AAC users. Music is motivating, and it’s use of rhythm and repetition can be great for finding opportunities to build language.
Core words in music:
We can model many core words when doing music activities. For example, core words such as: more, finished, want, like, different, play, on, off, up, down, good, bad, etc.
We can also look closely at the music activity and think about what additional words could be modeled.
For example, if we are choosing a “Song of the day”, there are many things we can model.
- Core words: what, like, think, good, bad, up, down, on, off, who, etc.
- Then add fringe words from the music & sound adjectives/describing words folders.
- When choosing a new song, we might not have that word in the AAC system, so this is a good chance to model spelling a new word on the keyboard.
Here are a few more ideas to use music to build language.
- Choosing music: Make choices about songs or artists to listen to, or to sing along to. Choose musical instruments.
- Song of the day: Every day one song is chosen, and it can be played throughout the day. Every one can take a turn to pick a song. And everyone gets to give their opinion of chosen songs. Make sure you make song selections from various genres: opera, country, not just modern music. Also choose catchy, yet annoying songs every now and then (e.g. Macarena, Gangham Style, The Nutbush, Achy Break Heart, etc.)
- Song innovations: Change the words to familiar songs to mix things up. For example, Baa Baa Black Sheep - could be changed to “Baa Baa Green Sheep”. There are lots of fun online websites that can allow you to change song lyrics to popular songs - in the style of Mad libs! A great activity for building vocabulary and language.
- Lyric writers: Write your own song from scratch, based on ideas and areas of interest. Songs can be lists, favorite words, or poems. Then you use the iPhone app Songify to change these words into music! Such a fun way to change an AAC users voice from their device into a song.
- Raps: Write words, lists or poems and turn them into to raps! The app AutoRap will change any words (even those spoken by an AAC device) into a rap.
- Puppet concerts: Pick your favorite song and some puppet characters and make a concert. For example, perhaps the monkey puppet sings “Katy Perry” on the beach. You can create high-tech concerts by using the app Puppet Pals.
- Party music: Plan the music you want to play for a party. Write lists. Vote for songs.
- Artist of the week: Choose an artist and listen to different songs from them for the week. Share thoughts and opinions about the artist, the songs and their style of music.
- The Voice: Hold auditions for “The Voice”, just like the TV show. Have judges on spinning chairs. Give opinions about performance and let people know if they are in or out!
- Make your own musical instruments: Make DIY musical instruments out of boxes and containers.
You can find a general Core Word Planner around music in the AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom.
Build language in conversations
Conversations can be referred to as those talks between two or more people where news, ideas, and feelings are shared. These chats happen everyday and are often fast moving about a variety of topics. Sometimes we talk about about the activity in front of us, but invariably speakers will chat more about their life, their interests and their plans. AAC users are often not given the chance to participate in conversations. Does an AAC user have a balanced AAC system that gives them the words and language needed to join a conversation? How then can we give them every opportunity to socially engage with the people around them? We need to model. AAC users need to be given many chances to see and hear conversations. This will help them to learn how they can find the right words to take up their turn in a conversation. Modeling news telling, asking questions, changing topics will all help an AAC user.
When we have conversations, it can be difficult to predict exactly what words we might need. We could talk about anything! Fortunately core words can be combined in many different ways to say many different things. And conversations can be a great way to model typing new words that we need into our keyboard, if we cannot find them in our AAC system.
We can often find incidental opportunities to start conversations within an activity we do. For example, while you are doing a farm puzzle, the AAC user may remember the story about a time they went to a farm. Use this side conversation to model about the farm trip (e.g. We went to a farm, Farm was fun, I liked the chickens, We fed the pigs, etc.). If a different or related topic of conversation comes up, go with it and see what extra words and interaction happens.
Lastly, one of the most important things we can do for an AAC user in conversations is to give them time. Pause and wait during conversations to give them the time they need to offer something into the conversation. Without pause and wait time, conversations can move on quickly without the AAC user having a chance to say anything.
Here are some example areas of conversations that we can work on:
- Tell news: Model telling news and then support an AAC user to find the words to describe things that have happened. Use photos of past events to help remember what happened to talk about it.
- Ask questions: Show how you can ask questions during conversations. Remember that open-ended questions will allow more language practice, and let the AAC user take more control of the conversation.
- Start a conversation: Teach how you can start a conversation by telling news or asking questions. Can some good conversation starters be saved onto the AAC system to be used quickly and easily?
- Changing topic: It is very useful to be able to change the topic of conversation. Model what words you can use to change the topic. You may save quick phrases onto an AAC user’s system.
- Keep a conversation going: There are many social interjections we use during conversations to keep the conversation going. They can be statements like: Wow!; Really?; What!; That’s great!; No way! Whatever!, etc. Model how these can be used when you are chatting. If you are using Proloquo2Go, you can find these kinds of words in the Chat > Expressions folder.
- Tell jokes: Telling jokes can be a great way to break the ice and start some fun social interaction. Can you combine core and fringe words to tell jokes? Perhaps some favorite jokes can be saved into the AAC system to be used at any time.
- Give compliments: Giving someone a compliment can be a great way to start a conversation. Give compliments to the AAC user. Model the words you need to say nice things to the people around you.
- Give your opinion: Say what you think! When someone shares news or ideas, the people around them will often say what they think. Give AAC user a chance to give positive or negative comments to show what they think.
Build language in everyday routines
Day in and day out, we stick to some common routines. How can we build AAC into these? Every chance we have to model on the AAC system, the more opportunities we can build language for an AAC user.
If things might get wet (eg. in the bath/shower), think about using light-tech or paper-based versions of your AAC system.
Core words in everyday routines:
We can model many core words when doing common routines. For example, core words such as: more, finished, do, put, take, give, go, different, on, off, here, there, good, bad, etc.
We can also look closely at the routine activity and think about what additional words could be modeled.
For example, if we are folding and putting away the washing, there are many things we can model.
- Core words: help, do, put, give, take, go, here, there, in, out, like, think, good, bad, where, who, now, etc.
- Then add fringe words of clothing, people and where words.
- When we are folding the washing, we might find a new t-shirt with a slogan on the front. We might not have those words in the AAC system, so this is a good chance to model spelling a new word on the keyboard.
Look at your everyday routines and find ways to model more and build language. Here are some examples:
- Cooking: Talk about what you have to do, the ingredients, the taste, what you like or dislike about it, etc.
- Watching TV & movies: Talk about what happened, who’s your favourite character, which part do you like most, how it made you feel (eg. scared/excited).
- Looking at photos: Talk about the pictures, the people, what happened, what you like, what you see, etc.
- Tidying up: Talk about what you have to do. Eg. folding and putting laundry away, discuss where socks and other clothing goes. Or putting away the groceries and talk about what goes in the fridge and what in the cupboard.
- Massage: During regular massage session, model language. Talk about body parts.
- Everyday routines: Talk about what you are doing during everyday routines like brushing hair, bath time, getting dressed, bedtime, etc.
- Going out: Plan what you need to take when you go out. Talk about where and when you are going and who we might see.
Blog post on creating language opportunities at home.
Go to the AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom for many more ideas and planners around common routines that will help you to teach core words and build language.
Using creativity and exploration to build language
Get creative with AAC users of any age! Making and creating and exploring can be engaging platforms to build lots of language from.
If things might get messy, think about using light-tech or paper-based versions of your AAC system.
Core words in Creative activities:
We can model many core words when doing creative activities. For example, core words such as: more, finished, want, make, put, help, there, here, all, some, different good, bad, etc.
We can also look closely at the creative activity and think about what additional words could be modeled.
For example, if we are doing card-making, there are many things we can model.
- Core words: who, give, put on, like that, want more, different, for you, etc.
- Then add fringe words of colors, shapes, art supplies and chat words.
- When making the cards, we need write who we want to send the card to. We might not have that person’s name in the AAC system, so this is a good chance to model spelling names on the keyboard.
Let’s look at a few more ideas on how to get creative and build language:
- Card making: Make cards for friends and families. Discuss designs and colors. Cards can be for birthdays, thank you cards, Christmas and Get Well cards. Write lists of names to send cards to. Plan and write special messages and greetings to put inside each card.
- Scrapbooking: Use photos and paper and paint to make scrapbooks. Write stories about each photo. Decorate a little or a lot.
- Painting: There are so many ways to get creative with painting. From the materials, to the tools, there are many choices and options. Create painting inspired by other artists. Explore adding different textures and using different tools to paint. Take photos of finished paintings and use them to make your own books. Print these books and add them to the shelf so they can be read often.
- Costume Design: Plan costume parties and design special outfits. Get creative making special hats, or different features for the costume.
- Diorama: Create mini worlds by making dioramas. A quick search of Pinterest will give you plenty of ideas.
- Sensory boxes and bins: Fill bins, trays and boxes with goodies design for sensory play and exploration. Sand, gravel, rocks, pasta, rice can all make good starting textures in boxes. Then hide objects, plastic letters, anything to find and explore. A quick search of Pinterest will give you plenty of ideas.
- Play-dough creations: Make interesting and fun creations with play-dough. Decorate with sequins, feathers, shells, rocks and leaves. Take photos of your creations and use them to tell a story and make your own book. Print these books and add them to the shelf so they can be read often.
- Party decorations: Plan a party. Then have lots of fun choosing a theme and making different party decorations. Choose colors, recycled objects and pictures to add to the party theme.
- Art show: Use artwork created to host an art show. Write invitations to invite friends and family to attend the show. Write lists and stories about each painting. Display this written work alongside the art.
Start building language
In the AAC journey, it is important to get started, build momentum and keep building language and communication for our AAC users. This list is just the beginning. What ideas do you have? Let us know!
This article, filled with practical ideas for language, is just one in the Learn AAC series about “Building Language and Communication”.
Follow the links below for more strategies to build language and communication:
- Learn about core word teaching strategies
- Teach grammar
- Integrating comprehensive literacy instruction
Go to the AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom for many more ideas and planners that will help you to teach core words and build language.
Links & References
- Blog post on engaging activity ideas to build language.
- Blog post on creating language opportunities at home.
- Blog post on building language while playing games.
- Great video to see the power of communication for conversations.
- Access a large bank of free books at Tar Heel Reader.
- Convert Tar Heel Reader books into Pictello.
- Ideas on reading materials that aren’t books.
- Reading for Communication video, from the Angelman Syndrome Foundation.
- Explore Pinterest for endless creative craft ideas.
- Repetition with variety, by Dr Caroline Musselwhite.