Core Words and AAC

By Kendal McMahon

Recently, the speech language pathology team at the Little Light House has begun creating and implementing a speech curriculum that coincides with our school’s Bible Based Curriculum ( In creating this curriculum, four main speech and language categories were targeted. These four categories are the focus of language groups held weekly in each classroom.  The concept, articulation, task, and core words are all combined to create a speech and language rich environment, while continuing to teach the Word of God.


This is an example of our Christmas speech and language curriculum:

Christmas, God is the God of Giving “Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:11 Concept Articulation Task Core Words
Week 1 CHRISTMAS Turn-taking /b/ “Race to the Bethlehem”: Hold babies/animals and be caretaker; emotions My turn, your turn, ride, follow, slow, fast, go, swim


By focusing on these four diverse areas, all of our students’ individual goals are touched on. Each area is important for developing well-rounded speech and language. For this blog post, an emphasis will be placed on core words.

Did you know that preschool aged children use core words 96.3% of the time? Adults use core vocabulary 80% of the time! Core words are the most frequently used words spoken and are consistent across clinical populations, activities, places, topics and demographic groups. About 350 words make up core vocabulary.

Core vocabulary is an important part of growing developmentally. You learned to walk after you learned to stand. You learned to ride a bike after you learned to ride a tricycle. In the same way, children learn to communicate clearly with full sentences after they learn the correct use of core words.

In the chart below there are 6 verbs and 6 adpreps. By pairing a verb with an adprep, you can make over 30 different two-word phrase combinations that have multiple meanings. When used in the correct context, these simple two-word phrases are used to mean many different things. For instance, by using “look up” the speaker could be asking the conversation partner to look up at the sky or to look up something online. Either way, core words have been used to communicate the speaker’s desires.

Verbs Adpreps
Go Out
Get Up
Turn Down
Put On
Look Off
Take Over


These two-word phrases are perfect to use with daily play objects. With a toy car, focus on saying “turn on” or “go out” rather than making car noises or simply labeling the object “car” over and over again. With a balloon, focus on saying “go up” and “go down” as the balloon is bounced up and down. These two-word phrases may be repeated many times during play and are easy to carry over into other tasks. “Turn on” is great for playing with the toy car, but also for talking about light switches and faucets.

See in this video how we used core words in the Christmas language group while combining the other areas of the speech curriculum with the Bible Based Curriculum as well as with augmentative and alternative communication.

Our hope is that all of the words our students use, verbally or augmentatively, are pleasing to our Lord! “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and redeemer.” Psalm 19:14




Some ideas adapted from: Baker, Bruce R., AM, LHD, Debbie Witkowski, MA, CCC-SLP, and Darlette Navrotski, MA, CCC-SLP. “Picturing Language: A “How-to” Workshop.” Pittsburgh AAC Language Seminar. Semantic Compaction Systems, Pittsburgh. 3 Nov. 2015. Lecture.

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