Core vocabulary: what is it all about?

by Lori Geist PhD, CCC-SLP January 21, 2019

Core vocabulary: what is it all about?

If you work in or around schools and clinics, you’ve probably heard the term, ‘core vocabulary.’ But what is it? Why is it so popular? Core vocabulary refers to a relatively small set of highly useful words, such as more, go, you, and like, that support versatile communication.

Did you know that approximately 80% of what we say or write every day could be expressed using core words? The flexibility offered by core vocabulary supports students who rely on various forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), including those who are not yet using speech, symbols or signs for a full range of purposes, across topics and partners. Likewise, the flexibility of core offers unlimited opportunities to teach students how to use graphic symbols on their personal AAC systems.


The cool thing about core is that they, along with graphic symbols, can be used in meaningful ways across all academic routines and daily activities that happen throughout the school day.

From the time students arrive at school to the time they head home, there are literally hundreds of opportunities to teach and learn symbolic language using core vocabulary, which provides the intensity of instruction many students need to reach their communication potential. Here’s one example: teachers can demonstrate and encourage use of core vocabulary as they review the schedule and talk with students about the plans for the school day. They can demonstrate how to use words like do, different and go. They can use core as they make comments while reading and interacting around books together, inviting students to use core to talk about different characters with he, she and it or share opinions using like and not.

Teachers can use and promote student access to core vocabulary as they work on math concepts, with words like more, some and all, and as they compare letters and sounds during alphabet and phonological awareness lessons with core words like same and different. Every school day is rich with opportunities to use and teach core vocabulary.

A Place to LEARN

Are you currently looking to learn more about core vocabulary and how to help your students develop their communication potential? Follow this link to Project Core: it’s a FREE, growing collection of resources to support you in helping all your students increase their communication potential: Take a look. Let us know what you think, and thanks!


Boardmaker Maker Movement - 1 

PCS basket image by Maja Ivić.

Boardmaker Maker Movement - 2

PCS chair image by Shari Fronda.

Boardmaker Maker Movement - 3

PCS choice board by Teaching Differently.

Boardmaker Maker Movement - 4

Amy Schwinder is wearing a PCS apron.  

Lori Geist PhD, CCC-SLP
Lori Geist PhD, CCC-SLP

Lori Geist, PhD, CCC-SLP, is a Research Assistant Professor at the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies in the Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Lori has worked in direct service, consultation, and product development related to AAC, language, and literacy intervention for students with complex communication needs. She currently directs Project Core.

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