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Where to Begin

Considering AAC

Visual Environments

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Representing Vocabulary

Visual Environments

Finding Pictures

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Using Devices & Systems

Representing Vocabulary

Myth: Pictures are Easy | Evaluating Pictures | Selecting Symbols | Lesson-Specific Vocabulary | Story Vocabulary | Activity-Based Vocabulary | Theme-Based Vocabulary

Story Vocabulary

Selecting Vocabulary | Include Interactive Vocabulary | Literature-Based Communication Boards

Selecting Vocabulary

Many of us are faced with selecting vocabulary for use during a student's book reading time. If the goal for a student is to read a book out loud using his/her communication system, the following strategies can be used to ensure that all vocabulary from the book are represented.

  1. Post-It Note Approach
  2. Using Database Software
  3. Web based Approach
  4. Prioritizing Vocabulary

Post-It Note Approach

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1. Identify vocabulary in the story. 

a.  Write each unique word from the book on a post-it note. 

b. Make a hash mark or other notation on the post-it for each additional occurrence of the word.

When done, you should have the following word frequency information:

1) Total number of words in the book
2) Total number of unique words
3) Number of times each word appears in the book

c. Use this information to prioritize which vocabulary should be placed on the student's communication board. Also plan to include some messages which allow the student to interact and control the activity. For example: Turn the page, Act it out, Read that again, All done, Let's do something else.


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2. Arrange vocabulary
Arrange the post-it notes to match the display format your student will be using (e.g. communication board, IntelliKeys overlay, ChatBox, Macaw). It is much easier to move them around and change their arrangement when they are in this format before you begin creating boards and overlays on the computer.


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3. Create communication boards &/or IntelliKeys overlays

Planning vocabulary arrangements out on paper prior to beginning the creation of boards and overlays on the computer can be a significant time saver.


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4. Print duplicate board.

5. Place one board in sheet protector.

6. Laminate symbols.

7. Add velcro

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Using Database Software

Another way to gather word frequency information is to use a computer database program.

  1. Set up one field for "Word" and another for "Frequency".

  2. Type in each word from the book as a unique "word" entry. When done, sort alphabetically in descending order.

  3. Count the number of times each word appears and enter that number in the "Frequency" column. Specific instructions for doing this using ClarisWorks are included here. These can be adapted for use with other database programs.

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Web based Approach

  1. Highlight and copy the text you wish to analyze.
  2. Go to the following website:
    Web Frequency Indexer (Georgetown Linguistics)
  3. Paste your text in the box in the box that says "Enter your text here".
  4. Click on "Do It!" for a word frequency list which includes the total number of words in the book as well as the total number of unique words.

Note: This is especially handy for doing word frequency counts on e-text.

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Prioritizing Vocabulary

If the number of words in the book exceeds the number of spaces available on the communication system, you will need to do some prioritizing. 

Considerations include:

  1. Does the story contain a repeated line? If so, you could put that all on one space. 

  2. Give greater weight to the words which occur most frequently.

  3. Compare your word frequency count to published vocabulary lists. These lists show the frequency of word use by individual of different age ranges. An excellent resource for this on the web can be found at: AAC Messaging and Vocabulary. Give greater weight to words used most frequently by the same age peers.

At the Barkley Communication site of the University of Nebraska you will find numerous vocabulary lists including words most frequently used by preschoolers who are non-disabled, school aged children, and children who use AAC systems. There are also lists of conversational phrases, vocabulary for school settings, vocabulary for classroom activities and initial vocabulary recommendations.

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Include Interactive Vocabulary

Interactive vocabulary includes words and phrases which encourage interaction between the augmentative system user and their communication partners and peers. Examples include:

What's that?

That's silly!


Different one

Act it out!

Turn the page

Read it again

All done



When making pages for this BookTalker, the interactive vocabulary listed above was included in the bottom row of each page. Thus the students had a consistent array of comments and questions available on every overlay. This consistency allows the students to learn the vocabulary more quickly and the teachers to have a realistic expectation of what the students can say for every story. For example after reading a page, the teacher would know they could call on this student and ask "What should I do next?" and expect the student could say "Turn the page".

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Literature Based Communication Boards

What are some ways that you can represent the vocabulary of a book for a child.  How about using repetitive phrase storybooks or sequencing the story on a simple voice output system or even creating your own story.  See our handout on Creating Literature Based Communication Boards.


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