Place visuals for core words and phrases students can use around the classroom. They serve as prompts for what to say. Students who are non-speaking can point or hand over the sentence to request or comment.
Do you have a student who uses an AAC device? Print a large version of their homepage so everyone can access it. I’m lucky enough to have a poster printer at school but you could also have this done at a local print shop.
Talk about different ways people communicate
Read books and discuss! Here are a few favorites!
Sesame street has some great videos about communicating in different ways
Have a student that uses an AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) device? If you can, get another device with the same communication system that can be used by a buddy!
We often use the buddy device to model language for the student. I can sit next to the student with the device and model language. There is no pressure for them to copy what I said. They can just look and listen or they can try it too! It’s so important that children feel ownership over their own device and it is respected as their words – no one else’s. Getting a buddy device means that I don’t have to borrow theirs to model langauge. I know this is definitely easier said than done. You can also print out the home screen of the device (take a screenshot or a photo) and use that to model.
Peers can use the buddy device too! Depending on age and familiarity with the device, they may also use it to model. In our preschool classroom, we allow other students to explore the device. Why keep it a secret! All students can use it to communicate (again, the student with the dedicated device never needs to share) It also makes them a natural part of the classroom.
MODEL, MODEL, MODEL
Honor all attempts at communication
One of my biggest pet peeves is when a student communicates by pointing to something they want or approximating a word and we say, “Tell me on your device” or “say ____”. That student expressed their needs and we’re asking them to do it again even though we know what they want. I have most definitely been guilty of this but I cringe every time I think of it! How exhausting to have to repeat yourself again and again. Allow students to communicate through gestures, pointing, bringing you to somethings, approximating words, using sounds, using visuals, and on and on. Honor their communication and model, model, model. When a student points to their cup, you could instead say, “You want the cup.” “want cup”
Teach peers to also look for and honor other kinds of communication. “I see Connor pointing at that block. It looks like he’d like to play with it.” Kids will often jump in and bring over the blocks so everyone can play. A fun circle time game is practicing communication in other ways.
Visuals for the Adults in the Room
We can all use daily reminders to use core words in the classroom. Sometimes it works to remind us to jump in with modeling and other times it gives ideas of what to say! For new staff members and visitors it can be easy to fall into questions mode….What color is it? How many do you have? or focus on the fringe words instead of core. Having visuals of phrases to use takes the guess work out of it. The more our staff practices using core words and phrases, the more it will become a natural part of the classroom language. Lots of times we have family visitors and substitutes in our classrooms too. It is a learning tool for them too!