The Number One Way to Teach Core Vocabulary

Core vocabulary is the backbone of communication for individuals with augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) needs, especially for special education teachers. To empower AAC users, it’s crucial to focus on the most effective teaching method – adults modeling core vocabulary. In this blog post, we will delve into the power of adult modeling and explore strategies that can make a significant difference in your teaching approach.

The Power of Modeling

Adult modeling stands out as the number one way to teach core vocabulary. It creates a supportive communication environment that fosters learning. Adults play a pivotal role in shaping the communication skills of AAC users. Modeling involves demonstrating the use of core vocabulary words during interactions, and it has several advantages:

Exposure: Consistent modeling exposes students to core vocabulary words in real-life situations, reinforcing their importance. So often, AAC users are expected to just know how to use their devices.  However, there needs to be modeling and teaching to learn how to use it. Think of a baby- they are exposed thousands of times to words before they ever utter their first word.  This is a similar idea for AAC users, they need to have that example presented to them and shown how to use it effectively.

Contextual Learning: Modeling within context helps students understand when and how to use core words effectively. When modeling, an adult can even talk through their thought process.  If you are looking for a certain word, especially a fringe word, you can verbalize what you are thinking and why you are looking in certain folders.

Natural Reinforcement: It encourages natural and spontaneous communication, which is essential for meaningful interactions.

Modeling Without Expectation

One essential aspect of adult modeling is to do it without expecting an immediate response from the student. The goal isn’t to pressure the student to perform but to provide opportunities for exposure and reinforcement. The benefits include:

Reduced Pressure: Students feel less pressure to respond immediately, reducing anxiety.

Learning by Observation: Students can learn by observing how adults use core vocabulary words in everyday conversations. They will also learn just how their device actually works!

Progress Over Time: Over time, students will become more comfortable with the core words and begin to use them independently.

Modeling One Level Above

To challenge and encourage students, it’s beneficial to model core vocabulary one level above their current language abilities. This means if the student is at the one word level, you would model sentences with two words. This approach involves:

Expanding Vocabulary: Gradually introducing more complex core words as students become more proficient.

Adaptability: Recognizing when students are ready for the next level and adjusting your modeling accordingly.

Modeling Across Various Learning Environments

Consistency is key in teaching core vocabulary. Model core words across various learning environments, including the classroom, home, therapy sessions, and social settings. 

It is very helpful to use a core word of the week approach for this and informing all service providers so they can be on the same page!

This approach has several advantages:

Generalization: Students are more likely to generalize core words when they see them consistently used in different situations.

Functional Communication: It promotes the functional use of core words in daily life.

Supportive Network: Encourage other communication partners, such as peers and parents, to also model core vocabulary.

Adult modeling of core vocabulary is a crucial piece of effective communication for AAC users. By understanding the power of adult modeling, incorporating it without immediate expectations, modeling one level above the current language level, and consistently applying it in various environments, you can significantly enhance your students’ ability to communicate and engage with the world around them. As special education teachers and caregivers, embracing these strategies can make a world of difference in the lives of your students.

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