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Core Vocabulary Speech Therapy: Get Started Guide for SLPs

Are you wondering how to use core vocabulary in speech therapy? Are you not quite sure what core vocabulary is, and why you might want to consider addressing it in your speech and language therapy sessions? In this blog post, I’m sharing a “get started” guide for SLPs interested in using core vocabulary in speech and language therapy. I’m also sharing a few of my favorite speech therapy resources for modeling core vocabulary.

What is Core Vocabulary?

The definition of core vocabulary

Core vocabulary basically means “the most frequently used words in conversation”. These are words like “more”, “go”, “stop”, “turn”, “on”, “off”, “that” and “want”, to name just a few. Core vocabulary includes adjectives, prepositions, verbs, and pronouns. Core vocabulary does not include nouns- nouns are considered “fringe vocabulary”. Fringe vocabulary can be very important as well. However, in this blog post, I want to specifically address core vocabulary.

How to Model Core Vocabulary in Speech Therapy Sessions

The wonderful thing about core vocabulary is that you really don’t need to plan any special activities for your speech therapy session. And that can be a great thing, especially because child-led therapy sessions can be the best! I’m going to provide a few examples of using core vocabulary during specific activities in this section to hopefully get your creative SLP juices flowing!

Reading a Book

You can model core vocabulary in speech therapy sessions while reading a book to your student. This doesn’t need to be complicated. If you’re turning a page, use the word “turn”. Describe what you’re seeing in the book. Words like “look” and “that” are perfect for this. Use basic prepositions, like “in” or “on”, to describe the location of objects you see in pictures.

Use Core Vocabulary While Using a Sensory Bin in Speech Therapy

Sensory bins are SO much fun, and they can be a wonderful way to model core vocabulary during your speech therapy sessions. You can hide your hands “in” the rice, sand, or whatever filler you’re using. You can “look” for and “find” objects, small toys, or picture cards that you have hidden in the bin. While you’re doing this, you can model the question word, “Where?”

Use Core Vocabulary During Movement-Based Speech Therapy Activities

It’s easy to use words like “go” and “stop” when paired with a trampoline- or try riding a bike! You can also use words like “fast” and “slow” to describe the speed of the action being performed.

Use Core Vocabulary While Playing with Toys

It’s easy to model words like “go”, “stop”, “turn”, “open”, “in”, and “out” while playing with toys! We put pieces “on” the potato toy, shapes “in” the shape sorter, and make a tower of blocks fall “down”.


Need more ideas for your speech therapy sessions?

A while back, I blogged about modeling language using a toaster toy.

I wrote a blog post for ASHA about how to incorporate core vocabulary and AAC in the classroom setting, and you might want to read that article if you’re just getting started! I also created these core vocabulary handouts that are perfect to give to teachers and parents.

To sum up this article, though, core vocabulary is wonderful because it can be used with any activity. Model the word “turn” when turning a page in a book, or turning on a light.

Target the word “go” while making toy cars go. You could also talk about where puzzle pieces “go”, or where the shapes “go” into a shape sorter toy. You just want to make sure you’re talking about everything that’s happening, and modeling the vocabulary on the board or device as you go (or via whatever communication system or method the child is using)!

Core Vocabulary and Communicative Functions

Core vocabulary can be used to express a variety of communicative functions. In order words, core vocabulary can be used to request, request recurrence, comment, ask questions, answer questions, describe, label, protest, and more.

Easy Ways to Incorporate Core Vocabulary into Speech Therapy Sessions

SLPs who have students using a multimodal approach to communication will likely want to target core vocabulary, whether using signs, words or word approximations, or high-tech or low-tech AAC. There are a variety of AAC options available.

There are many “chaotic” times during the school day. Sometimes, students have many activities and worksheets on their desks. That’s why I created a low-tech communication option called “AAC on my Desk“. This is a very unique low tech AAC option, and is a perfect “backup” for high-tech AAC. This board was designed with core vocabulary that can be placed around other activities or worksheets on a student’s desk.

This “communication board” allows for motor planning, as the location of the core vocabulary targets never change. This is similar to the idea of typing on a keyboard- the placement of the keys never change. Additionally, there are fringe vocabulary (nouns) strips to assist the student with school-specific activities throughout the day.

This core vocabulary communication board makes AAC quick and practical- just place it on desks, and if you’d like, secure it with contact paper. This is a quick, easy way to ensure the students have access to core vocabulary in the classroom or in speech therapy sessions.

Core Vocabulary in Carrier Phrases

If you’re wanting to target expanding utterances in speech therapy, you can do this with a focus on core vocabulary. Earlier in this post, I mentioned just a few examples of core vocabulary (“more”, “go”, “stop”, “turn”, “on”, “off”, “that” and “want”).

Perhaps your student is moving beyond single words. You could create simple phrases and sentences using core vocabulary to expand utterance length using those vocabulary targets. Here are some examples:

  • “Want that” (a child could use this along with pointing gesture to request an item or activity)
  • “Want more” (a child could use this to request more of an item or activity)
  • “Turn on” or “Turn that on” (you could model this while turning on lights or music)
  • “Turn that” (you could use this while turning a dial or a toy)

You can build utterance length using the communication method or system already in place for your student. I also created this core vocabulary carrier phrases and sentences resource. These are picture sentence strip visuals that focus specifically on core vocabulary.


Core Vocabulary for Speech Therapy Summary

In conclusion, core vocabulary can be very beneficial to target in your speech therapy sessions.

You can get started by purchasing the AAC on my Desk communication board, or these carrier phrase sentence strips. Oh, and one more thing! If you’re looking to get parents involved, don’t forget to grab these handouts.

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