Power Core Words in Action!

Last time I talked about a focus shift called Power Core Words.  If you need a refresher of this, check out my last post here!  I love using power core words because it creates a natural action plan for teachers and families, helps with generalization of language in different routines, and expands play and other skills!  One of the key components behind increasing language skills is motivation, especially in our little ones who may not yet have a larger repertoire of skill sets.  You may be thinking that there are not many opportunities to use the power core word strategy but there really is!  Let’s take a look!

Choosing your top 4 power core words

First, think about a core word that is most needed for your student or child.  Do you see a lot of reoccurring behaviors because they need help?  During mealtimes at home or snack time at school do they have trouble expressing “want”, “eat” or “more”? Are they mostly silent during playtime with their trucks and tractors?  Make a list of your top 4 core words (one for each week of the month) that you could focus on.  This doesn’t mean that you won’t use other words and keep modeling language but that’s the beauty of power core words: you focus on just one at a time.  You flood your child/student with opportunities throughout their day and during activities with that word.  This also helps promote generalization.  If I only use the word “open” during snack time when I hand out goldfish cracker bags, I’m not showing that open is also an action when I’m faced with a closed door. 


Choosing power core word activities

Once we figure out what top core words we want to target over the next month, I have families brainstorm all the routines and activities they could infuse this word into.  In the classroom, think about what activities your student enjoys and remember this doesn’t always have to involve a toy or object!  Some kiddos love songs and to jump on the trampoline.  Maybe they love lining up to go outside.  Sometimes the answer isn’t always obvious or what we THINK they prefer.  For example, I for this one student I was targeting the word “open”.  We made a list of some routines and activities that we could use the word open with:

Mealtimes: open the snack bags, juice carton, straw wrapper

Circle time: open the game, open the mystery box up

Play time:  he loves trains so I put small pieces of this train into a Tupperware with a lid so that he would have to open it to get the preferred pieces

Work with teacher: open the glue, paints, marker caps, game

Toileting: open the pull up

Exposure exposure exposure is the goal!

Your next goal is to expose your child/student to the targeted power core word as much as possible using the list you created! The child is not required to say the word or even manipulate the symbol.  While this would be a great result, you are simply flooding the child with opportunities to use that word and to connect its meaning.  You are doing this through motivating activities and routines.  That’s the key! At times, you can withhold an object a few seconds longer to see if there is any verbal sounds or word approximations. I also really like to bring things up to my face to increase joint attention opportunities.  For example, for the train activity, I had previously taken out some of the pieces before it was time to play that way, I could have control over the materials and could put them in one at a time into the Tupperware.  Once the lid was on, I would bring the Tupperware up to my face and shake it around to get the child’s attention.  When he reached for it, I let him have the Tupperware and he had difficulty unscrewing the lid (I chose that container on purpose for this reason).  I would touch the symbol “open” that was Velcro on to the top and said “OPEN”.  I then opened it quickly and let him take the piece.  We repeated this activity a few times and eventually I took the symbol off and showed him how to match it onto the lid as if he was saying “open”.  Check out the quick video clip below!

Finding motivation for communication opportunities


Sometimes it can be hard to find motivating activities that capture the attention of our kiddos!  Finding interests and motivating activities may take a little thinking ahead so that’s where the list you made earlier comes in handy.  Also, sometimes the activities we choose may not go the way we anticipate, and you might have to quickly redirect or go in a different direction.  For example, I thought the car painting activity would surely be a hit because this child loves trucks and paints.  He ended up truly wanting to just dump the paints and not use the cars.  I tried to switch to using Q-tips and that still was not working.  We ended up using paint sticks to complete the activity and still work on the power core word “want”.  It was a quick pivot, but it was essential to keep the activity going.  And sometimes, it just doesn’t work out and that’s ok too! When you have more fun with language and not make it too systematic, your child/student ends up gaining so much more.  So let loose and have some fun! Happy communicating!


  1. This is a great resource! Can you tell me where I can get pictures of those core words or core boards?

    • Hi Jessica!

      I am so glad you found it helpful! This core board was made using Boardmaker symbols but you can use whichever symbol subscription your county purchases!


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