Assistive Technology Network

Vocabulary Selection

Appropriate vocabulary selection and customization is highly correlated to the successful use of an AAC device. Personalizing the vocabulary for a communicator should be an essential step rather than an optional activity.  The selection of vocabulary varies based on student interests, what they need to communicate, and who they are communicating with.

A robust communication system includes both core and fringe vocabulary. Core Vocabulary refers to the most frequently used words and primarily consists of verbs, pronouns, descriptors, and prepositions, with very few nouns. These words are powerful because they can be used flexibly across environments, topics, and with all communication partners. Fringe Vocabulary refers to vocabulary that is more specific to a topic, environment, or individual and will likely not be used across environments; rather, in a certain activity, setting or with a particular communication partner. The following resources provide more information on vocabulary selection:

  • This 2-minute video entitled Core vs. Fringe Vocabulary provides a brief description and the importance of teaching core words.

  • Project Core provides resources for teachers and classroom professionals to learn about and utilize a core vocabulary approach for communication instruction throughout the school day. It focuses on increasing communication and literacy skills of students with complex communication needs.
  • The blog post 4 Things Every AAC system needs introduces 4 important factors to consider in order to  select a balanced or robust AAC system which will allow the user to communicate for a variety of reasons.
  • Identifying Vocabulary for My AAC System