AAC Core Words

AAC Core Vocabulary Words

Core vocabulary can be described as:

A set of the most frequently used words in communication- words used over and over with flexibility in a variety of settings and conversations.

Yup. That’s kind of it in a nutshell. ☝️

And turns out the most frequently used words are typically pronouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions and the like. 🤔

NOT the typical words you see on most picture icons. 👈

That’s because, chances are, you are familiar with icons representing the other type of vocabulary: fringe Vocabulary.

In comparison to core vocabulary, fringe words only make up about 20-25% of what we say. 🤯

These words are largely nouns and are specific to a person, a topic, or a setting.

For instance, the word “spatula” is a fringe word.

It is a noun and is very specific to the kitchen setting.

It doesn’t have flexible usage in a variety of conversations.


Consider the following conversation that could take place in the kitchen:

Mom: "What do you need?"

Child: "I need to turn it."

Mom holds up two options.

Mom: "Do you want a fork or a spatula?"

Child: "I want that one." (pointing)

There are 21 words in this conversation. 19 of the words are core words (what, do, need, I, turn, that . . . ).

The other 2 are fringe words (fork, spatula).

The child was able to communicate with 100% core vocabulary.

Instead of using the specific noun “spatula,” he was able to use other words that will come in useful in a variety of future conversations: “need to,” “turn it,” “that one.”

Picture a traditional fringe icon for “cookie.” 🍪

A student can present this icon to request a cookie. 🍪 That’s about it (give or take some creativity).

Now picture icons for core words such as “like” “don’t” “eat,” “want,” and “more.”

Now THESE words can really take you the distance. 🙌

Roughly 80% of What We Say Consists of Just 300 Words. 

When you teach your students CORE vocabulary, you're giving them so much more than just a few words.  

You're giving them the words they need to start a conversation, to comment to a friend, or to ask for something they want, or interject into a conversation.

Simply put, you're giving them the words they need to communicate.

We are passionate about communication for all.  In the special education world we, collectively as parents or professionals, are great at recognizing communication that comes in all different forms: Verbal speech, gestures, vocalizations, body language, echolalia, sign language, or use of visual symbols.

Having a voice is crucial to every living being.  When a person doesn’t have verbal speech, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a voice.  They still have wants, needs, opinions, feelings, thoughts and complaints that need to be heard.  Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) paired with the use of core vocabulary words is one important way that we help to give our children and students a voice.

Using a set of the most commonly used words in language (across languages and cultures!) gives ALL of our students a robust experience with language--- regardless of communication skills.  Core vocabulary words allow us to engage in real-time, meaningful communication regardless of where we are or who we are with.  

At AdaptEd, our AAC core vocabulary materials are focused on ease of use and enjoyment for both the communication facilitator and the student or child.  Individual materials focus on a target core vocabulary word or phrase.  Students gain exposure and practice with the word(s) through fun, specific activities that are built to engage them.  Communication should be useful.  It also helps if it’s fun ;)  AdaptEd offers a variety of core vocabulary AAC materials including Core Vocabulary adaptations of  Fairytales and Nursery Rhymes, core vocabulary task bins, and formulated packets to introduce a variety of new words and phrases.

We believe in play.  We believe in big laughs.  We believe in modeling the heck out of AAC.  We believe in gains both large and small.