Core and Fringe Vocabulary: What It Is & How to Use It - The Autism Helper

Core and Fringe Vocabulary: What It Is & How to Use It

Level 1: Receptive Language

Fringe words are often easier to teach because you can picture the item in your mind; however, core words are going to be more flexible to use across environments and communication partners. Since we don’t just speak using fringe vocabulary, it is imperative that we focus on teaching the core words even though it can be more challenging.

Core Vocabulary

  • High frequency words that can be used in a variety of situations and with various communication partners
  • Make up about 75-80% of the words we use everyday
  • You cannot form a sentence without using core words
  • You can create a sentence using only core words
  • Often more difficult to visualize
  • Usually includes pronouns, helping verbs, prepositions, articles, and common verbs
  • Examples include – I, he/she, like, play, have, on, open, help, more, can, do, it
  • Sentences using only core vocabulary – “I like to play”, “I need help”, “you can do it”

Fringe Vocabulary

  • Words more specific to a situation – mostly nouns
  • Cannot be used across a variety of situations
  • Cannot form a sentence with only fridge words
  • Can visualize the fringe vocabulary words
  • Examples include “pig”, “school”, “teacher”, “pizza”, “TV”, “dinosaurs”

Why should I teach core vocabulary?

It is import to teach these core words because it allows the student to more readily communicate his/her wants/ needs which will decrease frustration. It is easier for the student to touch the icon or say “more” to request the desired item then learning each noun or trying to navigate a device through various categories to find that specific desired item. For example, if a student points/says “more” or “want it” I usually can understand the student within the given text which reduces those communication frustrations for the student. In this situation the student would not have to learn the new vocabulary term if he/she did not know it or would not have to navigate through a communication system to find what he/she wants.

What is AAC?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) includes all forms of communication; (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas. There are different types of AAC systems. There are unaided and aided systems. Unaided communication systems – rely on the person’s body to convey messages. Examples include gestures, body language, and/or sign language. Aided communication systems – require the use of tools or equipment in addition to the person’s body. Aided communication methods can range from paper and pencil to communication books or boards to devices that produce voice output (speech generating devices or SGD’s) and/or written output. Electronic communication aids allow the user to use picture symbols, letters, and/or words and phrases to create messages. (ASHA webstie)

How to teach core vocabulary when using AAC?

When using aided Augmentative and Alternative Communication systems (AAC); core vocabulary should be the main focus because it allows for more flexibility. It is important to have the most frequently used vocabulary or core words easily accessible so it can be utilized efficiently. Most AAC systems now include core vocabulary as the main component and fringe vocabulary as a side component of the communication system. Fringe vocabulary are not used as often so they can be placed to the side or top of core boards and programmed deeper into the AAC device. Another benefit of having the core words easily accessible and in the same place on the communication system is it allows the students to learn the motor planning patterns on the system which allows the student to also communicate quicker.

Here are some samples of Core Vocabulary Boards.


There are several different AAC devices that use core vocabulary. Here are examples of some AAC devices but it is important to gather more research and information when looking for a communication system to meet the needs of your student. You can use the company’s website to gather more information on a specific device and how the vocabulary is arranged on the device.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 8.57.54 AM

How can I teach core vocabulary?

  • Post a core board in the room. You can use the core board during small group instruction or throughout the day to help teach those core words and concepts.IMG_2132
  • Post core words around your room instead of just the noun.
    • Post “open” and “close” and touch those words on the door as you do the action. It is rare that we just say the word “door” as we open/close the door but we often do say “open”, “open it”, “close”, or “close it”.
    • Post “drink” on the water fountain and touch the icon “drink” before the student takes a drink.
  • Book Activity –Touch different core words on the core vocabulary board or AAC device as you read a book.
    • Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See. Touch the words “WHAT DO YOU SEE” on the core board or AAC device for each page as you read the words.
  • Craft Activity – Touch different core words on the core vocabulary board or AAC device as you complete a craft.
    • Heart Craft – Glue different pieces of red, pink, and white construction paper on a large cut out heart. Core words you could use during the craft include “more on”, “need more”, I want it”, “want more”, “help”, etc.
  • Cause/Effect Toys – Touch different core words on the core vocabulary board or AAC device as you engage in structured play activities
    • Wind up cars. Use the core words “go”, “stop”, “more go”, “I want go”, and “help” during the activity.
    • Fisher Price Piggy Bank – Use the core words “my turn”, “in”, “more in”, “out”, “take out”, “help”, etc.


Teaching core vocabulary words is very important because it allows for flexibility across settings and communication partners. It provides the student the opportunity to communicate for a variety of functions and does not limit him/her to specific topics.

Sarah The Speech Helper


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest