Four Quickest Ways to Core Word Mastery (Part II)

In my last post, I described the difference between core words and fringe words, and talked about the benefits of teaching core vocabulary. This is the fastest way to help a child start communicating more effectively. 

If you’re new to the concept of core words then you might be feeling a little overwhelmed and not sure where to get started. 

Rest assured: This post will tell break it down step by step for you. 

1) Download my board

I use this communication board every day in my practice because it's such a great visual support to teach language.

I’ve kept the “Lite” version of the board really simple, with only 10 core words, so it’s a really good place to start, and a great way to encourage communication without needing to purchase an expensive device.

You can grab it for yourself here.

2) Focus on one word

Choose a core word of the week, or of the month. This will make things more manageable.

The words “Eat”, “play” or "go" are all a good place to start, so choose the one that might be the most motivating for your child. Then every couple weeks you can add a new word to the mix. 

I started working with a 4-year-old little boy with autism who is OBSESSED with a toy piggy bank that lights up and makes noises. 

He doesn’t have the dexterity to slide the button to turn the pig on and he was REALLY motivated by this. So that's why we decided to focus on the word "on". For the entire month,  I helped Mom find as many opportunities as she could think of to help him say “on”. 

After the first week Mom reported back that he was able to say “on” to turn the television on. And then the next week he told her that he wanted to turn the lights "on" and the water "on" to take a bath. The following week, he said he wanted to put a hat "on" and told Dad he wanted to sit "on" his lap.

Every week when I came back, Mom would be excited to tell me all of the new situations she discovered.

When you focus on one core word for an entire month it gives children lots of practice with one concept and it also gives parents a very specific and easy to achieve goal. 

3) Get your child to point, not imitate

Some children with autism are master imitators, but they have a hard time creating spontaneous communication. By pointing to a picture instead of telling them what to say, you are helping your child’s brain actively find a word on their own. 

Let me give you an example of how I  might do this at snack time.

You can start by modeling the word "eat" for your child to say (e.g. “Tell me what you want to ‘EAT’”) and  pointing to the word "eat" on the communication board. 

You keep saying "eat" and pointing to the communication board to help them ask for the snack.  

Then after you've done this several times, you pause. If they don't respond then you can point to the icon "eat" without saying anything.  Sometimes the child will point to the board after you and other times they might even say the word "eat".

The key is to reinforce every attempt they make at communication. 

4) Model core words constantly

Core words can be very abstract, so they take lots of exposure and repetition in order for children to start understanding their meanings.

When modeling, be sure to use your voice to emphasize the core word you’re working on: “Oh, do you want to EAT?”.

Focus on modeling core words all day long with the visual support of the communication board and be sure to create lots of opportunities for them to use the words you’re trying to teach. 

Remember my principle: “Inspire, don’t Require.”

Inspire your child to communicate by finding motivating activities but never force them to say a word or point to a picture. With enough practice and a highly motivating activity, children will start responding on their own!

Over to you

After you download my communication board, I’d love to know how it goes!

Does it make it easier for you to work with your child and get started with core words?

Let me know in the comments below.


I send out blogs like this regularly, offering my expertise and useful tips for parents about all things related to child learning, speech and language development and the use of technology to help children’s communication.

Sign up here and get my free parent video series, “Communication Crash Course,” which will help you learn the basics to helping your child start communicating. If you’re a speech-language pathologist click here to download my free communication board. That way you’ll always be updated first when I release new content!


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