Moving Beyond Requesting (Part 5): Describing

Welcome back to the fifth part in this series called Moving Beyond Requesting. If you haven’t checked out parts 1-4, they would be helpful, especially Part 1. In this series, I have talked about how to teach concepts that lead to an increase in spontaneous commenting and protesting (verbally and/or using AAC) to move a student beyond the communicative function of requesting.

In part 1, I showed how I provide direct instruction and prompting using visuals when targeting feature, function, and category concepts. I have received a lot of requests for the visuals I used so they are included in this post as a (free!) download! When I teach describing, I use the same visuals. I typically write an IEP goal that targets having the student describe a pictured item using at least 3 descriptors.


To teach describing, I use picture flash cards as the curriculum. I’ve used picture cards from many sources including games like Hedbanz (Spin Master) and Jeepers Peepers (Super Duper), or other noun/vocabulary photo card sets. I prefer cards that have a single photographed item on the card with a solid background.

I show the student one card at a time and begin by providing 3 symbols from either the feature, function, category, or general adjective boards. The student is expected to choose the symbol that describes the pictured item. I’ve found it is best to frame the task as a question in the beginning (e.g. What does it have? What category is it? What does it do?). While you could say that this makes the task a question-answering task and not a describing task, those types of questions and prompts are exactly what we use to teach typically developing students what kind of details they should include in a description. Over time, I fade the question altogether and simply present symbol choices with the picture card.

I often use the same picture card more than once to have the student identify multiple descriptors (e.g. cat: paw, fur, tail, whisker, claw). This is also a great way to model multiple meaning words like tail to teach that a kite, airplane, and dog all have tails but use only one symbol for tail. If you have a student that uses a high-tech communication device, I typically still use symbols for this activity and then have the student find the correct answer on their device. As the student demonstrates increased accuracy, I increase the amount of symbol choices that I give them. It is awesome when the student finally grabs the whole board and pulls off multiple symbols to describe the pictured item.

I keep these visual boards within arms reach all the time. I use them most as teaching tools to teach receptive and expressive describing but they come in handy more than even I anticipated they would!

When a student becomes successful at using these symbols to describe, I begin to look at high-tech communication devices. At this point, I have found that they have the receptive and expressive vocabulary that includes nouns, verbs, and adjectives. They understand categories which can help navigate a device. Most importantly, they have the vocabulary and knowledge of how to use words to request, comment, protest, and describe. These are critical communication functions that make a communicator most successful in any communication modality.

Click here to download these visuals: Interactive Describing Visuals

Other products mentioned/used to teach describing:

Receptive Describing Task Cards

Feature and Function Task Cards Level 2

Feature and Function Task Cards 

Receptive Category Task Cards




Sadie Bailey M.A. CCC-SLP
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