Did you know that 80% of what we say is communicated via 200 basic words (Baker & Hill, 2000-speech.allisonfors). Core language word examples are I, you, go, stop, eat, etc. Fringe words are the nouns such as cheesecake, waterfall, pumpkin. If you think about conversations you have on the daily, you mainly use core language (i.e.: “I want a pumpkin drink!”). I, want, and drink are all core words. So even if you have a student who does not yet have any words and may not be involved with an AAC device, you should be giving them access to communication. To be truthful, core language words benefit everyone, especially young learners who are not yet reading and have undeveloped receptive language skills. Core language can go along with any activity and routine within the day. So, let’s take a look!
Where can I use core language?
The short answer is: EVERYWHERE! We want to make sure all students always have some way to communicate. Homes, daycares, and classrooms should all have some type of communication access. While we want to always provide as robust of a vocabulary as possible, remember that core language consists of the words we use 80% of the time. Combine that with the fringe (nouns) and you increase that student’s ability to communicate immensely. I always carry a core language board with me when I go into homes even if I haven’t started the family on them yet. Some kids may take a strong interest in the board right away and some may push it out of sight before understanding its purpose. That’s ok! In my previous days as a classroom teacher, I had them everywhere: centers, mealtimes, recess, story time, and even in the bathroom and our diaper changing area. Now putting up a core language board and leaving it there won’t magically make kids start to communicate. You must use lots of modeling and do it as much as possible for it to be learned and generalized! See how to in the next section!
How do I use core language?
My biggest piece of advice is to just jump right in! Many times, I see adults shying away from using core language boards and devices because they are afraid that they won’t know where a word/symbol is! The good news is, no one cares if you cannot find the word within two seconds, you’re providing such important communication feedback and modeling and that’s what matters most. And the more you use it, the better you get at it, you’re creating your own motor planning which is exactly what we want our students to learn. I loved using these extra-large core language boards that we had printed on foam posterboard from Staples. We used them during story time and anchor chart learning. What was magical was when my three-year-old students started using them to talk to each other. If you are reading a story, you can always look through and pick out core words you want to target. On your board, put a little piece of highlighter tape around the edges so both you and your students can find them easier. When we say a word out loud it’s there for about a second then “disappears”. But pair that word with a visual cue and it will last so much longer for a student. What are some ways you can use core language in your classroom?
Creating core language boards
When I create core language boards, I use Boardmaker Online. They have many different subscription options if you don’t already own a license. OR you can find already made core language boards here! I love these boards because they come in a low, mid, and high cell board (meaning the number of pictures increases), and there are options for both male and female. The different background colors of the symbols are important as they represent different grammatical categories: There are two main approaches to doing this, the Modified Fitzgerald Key, and the system developed by Goossens,’ Crain, & Elder (you can find more information about this at here). This wonderful AAC website shares tons of great researched based information that you can use to differentiate based on your student’s needs. We always want to make sure we provide a robust vocabulary system for ALL students however at the minimum I would always have a core language board available in all areas of your room, so everyone has the opportunity to communicate. Happy Communicating!