Why is Teaching Core Vocabulary Important?

What is core vocabulary?

Core vocabulary consists of a small set of commonly used words that make up the majority of our everyday communication. Although we typically talk about them in the context of AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) users, this core vocabulary is the same for all students. 

Core vocabulary words are versatile and can be used across various contexts and situations. It does not matter if they are in art, music, reading, or math the words that are considered core vocabulary are able to be used in all of these settings. They are used with high frequency across all settings.

Some examples are words like “go,” “come,” “want,” “stop,” “more,” “help,” “look,” and “like.” When you teach students words like these, students don’t lose the ability to communicate when they change locations.

Words that are specific to a certain area are known as fringe words. For example, if you are learning about pottery in art class- clay, kiln, glaze, paint, are all fringe vocabulary. Yes, they can be used in a few different environments but you are not going to be using them as often as those core vocabulary words.

If you have a student who already has an AAC system, the first page- the home page is typically a core board that houses the most used words.

It is important to note that core vocabulary is a good strategy for preschool children all the way up to adults!

Why is core vocabulary important?

Communication Foundation

Core vocabulary provides a foundation for effective communication. So often AAC users get stuck in just using their aac device to request things they want. Although this is an important part of expressing yourself, there is so much more to communication than just wants.

These core vocabulary words are the most frequently used words when commenting, adding to conversations, connecting in conversations and more. Students with assistive technology should be encouraged to use their devices for all of these communication pieces, not just requesting. By incorporating core vocabulary you are teaching your students to do just that!

Core vocabulary allows for flexibility in communicating different ideas and in different locations.

Versatility and Frequency

Core words are highly functional and can be used in multiple contexts, making them extremely valuable for learners. Imagine if you focused on fringe vocabulary with your AAC learners. This could look like focusing on teaching them colors. This is a great and necessary skill to focus on colors. However, when they go to lunch and want to talk with their friends- colors is not going to help them get their point across. 

Because they represent a large portion of the words used in daily communication, it is more bang for your buck. With such limited time, you want to be using teaching strategies that are going to support your students as much as possible. The use of core vocabulary does that!


By focusing on core vocabulary can help learners with limited language skills communicate more effectively and efficiently. If you were to focus on those fringe vocabulary words, it may be more challenging for students to remember their meaning. The fringe words are also a relatively small set of words and will only be able to be used in isolated instances.

Additionally, core vocab words are like power words because they support language development and help in building more complex language skills over time.

Why do I, as a Special Ed teacher need to know about core vocabulary?

Supporting Diverse Learners

We both know that our learners often have varied communication needs. Understanding core vocabulary allows you to provide targeted support. And although we have our amazing speech and language therapists, they service so many kids- they can’t be expected to be the sole person responsible for a student’s communication.

We need to break core vocabulary out of the speech therapy room! You can do this by collaborating with your SLP, creating a list of words you want to target. From there you can choose a word a week and focus your efforts on that one word. By targeting the same word across a variety of environments you will see exponential growth with your students and their communication abilities. 

Enhancing Communication

By focusing on core vocabulary, you can help students improve their ability to express themselves, leading to increased independence and social interaction. This is going to  reduce frustration and behavior issues related to communication difficulties.

Young children have behaviors relating to their inability to accurately communicate. This then derails the entire class. However, core vocabulary is a great way to start eliminating some of those behaviors just by allowing the student to communicate easier.

Effective Teaching Strategies

The top teaching strategy for core vocabulary is the use of modeling. This is an entire blog post dedicated to how to do just that. 

The most important tip to keep in mind when modeling core vocabulary is to model without expectations. That means- don’t teach the word “look” and then say “press look.” You should model with your verbal language and by using the student’s device.

If your students do not have speech generating devices, this does not mean you have to skip core vocabulary. This can be done with low tech systems like printed communication boards or a printed communication book.

Where can I learn more about core vocabulary?

Mrs Moes Modifications

Along with this blog, I dive deep into core vocabulary, specifically how to use core as a special education teacher- since we definitely didn’t go to school to be a speech therapist. Go ahead and take a look at other blog posts where you can learn!

Assistiveware Core Word classroom

This amazing resource has some tools that can make life so much easier. They have core word of the week planners, printable boards, and mini lesson plans that are filled with different ideas and ways to use the word according to different functions. They also give videos and resources that can be used to support your students.

Praactical AAC

This website has so much great information. They have an entire video showing how one school implemented core district wide!  They also give suggestions for implementing it in your own classroom. This can even be a resource for family members of your students. 

Project Core  

The project core website has modules that you can view and learn for free! One of my favorite features of the site is the success stories. We don’t hear enough of these, so these are a way to show you the power of core vocabulary! 

Where can I get materials to support my learners with core vocabulary?

Printable Communication Boards

Project Core

This website has so many different versions that you can download for free for your students. They have different image options like Symbol Stix and LessonPix. They also have an option to print various sizes like a poster for your classroom.

Assistive Ware

If your student uses ProloQuo, they have a free downloadable board that will match! Click here to snag that. Print off a single page or several and get started with your core vocabulary today!

Core Vocabulary Word Units

If you need materials to start teaching your students these words, then a core vocabulary unit may be just what you need.

In a core vocabulary unit you get everything you need for an entire week. You will have different activities so your students won’t get bored and you will be able to continue to show them different ways to use their targeted core word.

Inside each core word unit is:

– two editable adapted books. This means you can plug in the exact picture to match your students’ aac app on their communication apps or device. By matching these images, it allows students to grasp the concepts of the words easier and quicker!

-two Boom Card decks. Who doesn’t love a no prep resource? I mean just load and go- what more could you want? These Boom Card decks are replicas of the physical adapted books. This is great for additional practice. Just be sure to use them on a different device and not the same one your student uses to communicate!

-worksheets. Over 30 worksheets per word. This is a great way to expand and generalize using the core word of the week.

The good news, there are 40 different core word units that include all of this so you can have core vocabulary for every single week for the entire school year! Make core vocabulary a part of your daily routines with these units and your student will be communicating with ease!

Similar Posts