Core Communication Board

Core Communication

I use a core communication board in my classroom all day every day. Why? Because, everyone has a right to communicate and everyone has something to say. This includes our students who are non-verbal. Therefore, the way I support students who are non-verbal or have difficulty drawing on oral language when needed, is by teaching these highly versatile words using symbols.

Core Communication Board to download

What is core communication?

Core communication is a method of teaching students to communicate the most frequently used words in oral and written language. In order to do this we use symbols including pictures, words or both. Did you know that almost all of what we wish to say is conveyed using less than 400 words?

The research

In 2013 The Dynamic Learning Map team reviewed the research to that point. They discovered that previous research was based on pre-school children. I have provided a link to the research for you to read further when ready. The team conducted research on what words would be best taught for children at school. The DLM top 40 list was the result See the list here. It therefore makes sense that teaching students to communicate at least these 40 words will make a huge difference. Just 40 words. It makes it doable right!

What core system should I use?

I am a teacher not a speech pathologist. However, I have my own ideas based on my experience of useful words to teach students who are non-verbal. The speech pathologist or augmentative technologist at your school or district, will do an assessment. They are the experts in this field. Rightly so, they will decide an individual core system that best meets the needs of individuals.

Start using a core system from day one

I commence teaching communication using a core word system from the first day of school. The reason I do this is to ensure that no time is wasted. I know how long the process to individualise a system for any given child can take. Therefore, I choose not to wait as communication is too important. A class system of core words will compliment any individual system. As long as we introduce the key strategy to be used with all systems.

Modeling – the key strategy to use

Modeling is pointing to key symbols as you speak. Start where the students are at. Follow this by extending what type of communication (request, comment, demand etc) is used or by how many symbols they are using. So, how do we do that?

Modelling the core word 'finish' on my large class core communication board
Modelling the core word ‘finish’ on my large class core communication board
  • Imagine the student is not yet pointing to a symbol and they reach for the object. We could say ‘I want the ball‘. We would only point to the one symbol, ‘want’.
  • If a student points to a symbol for or says ‘ball’ or ‘want’, our verbal response may be, I want the ball’. The only symbols we point to are ‘I’ and ‘want‘.
  • If the student is pointing to two symbols ‘ I’ ‘want’, we extend their language. Perhaps by asking a question “Do you want the red or blue ball?” or we might ask “Do you want the big or little ball?” Include and model 3 to 4 symbols. This may be ‘do’ ‘you’, ‘want’ ‘colour’ or ‘size’. We may then comment “I like that one too”.

You may have noticed that I haven’t said anything about pointing to the symbol for ball. The reason for this is that we are teaching core communication. The symbols ‘want’ and ‘big’ as an example, can be used in multiple contexts to gain multiple different objects. As opposed to the symbol ball which is very specific to just one object. When you are ready you can read some more about modeling from Amanda Hartmann, head speech pathologist for Assistiveware (who make Proloquo2Go).

Fringe symbols or not

I am very lucky in that the environment I work in has high expectations for all students to communicate. To support staff in this goal they provide everyone working with students, a core communication board. Our school one has fringe strips attached. Although useful, the reality is I rarely use the fringe strip as it contains mostly nouns and I find it gets distracting. Remember the focus is on modeling the core language symbols.

Modelling the core word turn on the school core communication system
Modelling the core word ‘turn’ on the school core and fringe communication board

My school communication board

The school communication boards have been around for some time and are fantastic. However, having used core systems in different settings, I would like to ‘tweak’ a few symbols that are currently available. The golden rule for utilising symbol boards is not to keep changing the position of the symbols as the students are building up concrete memory of the location of each one. Therefore I continue to use the generic issued school core board as it is.

My ideal core communication board

Having said that, I have included a board that contains my preferred core symbols. It is based on the work of many key people in the field including Gail Van Tatenhoven and inspired by my current school board, constructed by the fabulous speech pathology team. It contains 78 symbols including all of the Dynamic Learning Map Teams top 40.

Download a core communication board

If you have students who already have high tech devices click the link here for an article containing some free to download home pages for various systems. Alternatively you can take a photo of any system manually or by screen shot on devices.

You are welcome to download my core board design here. Full Disclosure: please note it does contain ‘toilet’ which is not a core word. However, I have found ‘toilet’ to be an essential symbol if you choose to just have a home board with no fringe. I also added numerals 0-10 to the bottom of the board. Even though they are not in the top list of core words, again, they are very useful to have to extend language and support transitions.

I hope you get some valuable use out of it.



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