Moving Beyond Requesting (Part 3): Teaching Negation

“Don’t do that.” “That’s not nice.” “You shouldn’t be doing that.” “That isn’t a nice thing to say.” “Won’t you stop?” “We can’t go yet.”  You will hear these and other similar sentences in any hall or classroom and any school. These sentiments are often unavoidable when working in a school, or with children in general. Even when using positive language (telling a student what TO DO instead of what not to do) as much as possible, negation is a common grammatical concept in our daily language. This is the third part in a series called “Moving Beyond Requesting”.  This segment easily stands alone, but if you’re interested, check out Part 1 and Part 2 on teaching feature, function, and category vocabulary/concepts in different levels of complexity. You might be thinking, what does negation have to do with moving beyond requesting? For students who are using symbolic communication modalities (e.g. picture exchange, core vocabulary boards, general communication boards, etc.), I often see a goal like, “Student will request, comment, and/or protest” using their personal form of symbolic communication. The communicative act of protesting almost always involves negation. If our students do not comprehend negation, how can we expect them to use negation in novel ways independently, especially during high-stakes/emotional situations where they need/want to protest? Negation can be a difficult concept to teach but when learned, leads to more functional receptive (and often expressive) language use. In my experience, so many of my learners have required direct instruction to comprehend negation in its’ many forms.

What Doesn’t Belong?   

I introduce negation using “What Doesn’t Belong” task cards.  The Autism Helper has an awesome set here (shown to the right), but there are many sellers that have similar materials.  I like to use decks from TAH and other sellers in combination to promote generalization and avoid possible memorization of a specific set of materials. I start with direct modeling and teaching. For example, with the card pictured on the left, I would say, “glue, glue stick, and tape are alllll sticky. The flag does not belong because it is not sticky.” I have used these materials with non-verbal communicators. They are able to answer “What doesn’t belong?” by pointing. To add an expressive language component, I pair a “not” symbol with feature/function/category symbols so they can say, “not an animal” or “not for cleaning” (for example) to explain why.

Non-Example Task Cards

As students start to get the hang of “What doesn’t belong?”, I introduce Non-Example Task Cards. These cards are awesome. They target many of the same feature, function, and category vocabulary that my students previously mastered. This ensures that I am only teaching one new skill- negation. Some cards have more simple concepts like color and shape, which is a great place to start when introducing this task. To add an expressive component to this task, I have the student describe what the identified item is/does have. For example, on the third card to the left, I would say, “You’re right, the bubbles are not furniture.  What are they?” to promote describing and reinforce the feature, function, category vocabulary.

I typically target negation in an IEP goal for one year. With weekly repetition and varied instruction, most of my students master negation fairly quickly! To ensure their comprehension and mastery, I use more complex negation tasks. Stay tuned for those activities and strategies next month!   

If you want to read more about using non-examples, check out this great post from Sarah: Non-Example Task Cards!

Sadie Bailey M.A. CCC-SLP
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