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What is Core Vocabulary?

Core words are a small set of simple words that make up 80% of words used in every day communication. They are used across all context, all age levels, and in all parts of speech.



Young children learn these word by hearing them in context and gaining feedback when they use them. A toddler may state “you go”, “more”, “my turn”, or “play with me” – all core words.

Below is a set of 50 core words. Point to two or more pictures to build phrases: “SEE THAT!”, “I GO AGAIN”, “PUT IT AWAY”

Children with delays in language may need additional support to learn to communicate. Words are not really that easy. Many have multiple meanings (turn around, my turn, turn off the lights…) and unusual conjugations (can/could, do/did, make/made). Children may have difficulty with retrieving the right word in contextual situation on demand. Some may struggle with getting all the muscles to coordinate airflow, vocal cords, and moth position to articulate the word. And others may not grasp the social aspect of utilizing words for a designated listener to understand and respond.

A set of core words can simplify communication to help young children with delays start communicating with success. A young child can point to “different” and an adult knows “oh! You want something different!” or “make mad” to express frustrations. When children (and adults) are given the power to communicate, it reduces frustrations and outbursts, and promotes positive social interactions.  

Students will not just start communicating using a board. Adults who interact with the student must model, model, model. Children learn about their world by living it: seeing, moving, hearing, touching, playing…. Children need to see other talking with symbols. Model using the board to build phrases, and they can build phrases using the board just like you.



Placing a simple set of word on a single page offers visual supports to communicate.  Whether a child will be a verbal communicator or use a speech generating device, a single sheet board provides a consistent set of accessible words to construct and deliver their thoughts.

Here are some pros for having a single sheet core board accessible:

  • Students are exposed to a simple set of words daily
  • Less demands on memory
  • Allows for different forms of communication: requesting, commenting, protesting, asking questions, socializing, etc.
  • Considered the most language friendly
  • Less physical effort
  • Symbols do not move: Promotes motor automaticity
  • Repetitive consistent vocabulary
  • Core words are a part of reading/spelling curriculum



  • Model, Model, Model
  • Embed core ALL DAY, EVERYWHERE through MODELING
  • Words should be PERMANENT (Consistent and single sheet design)
  • Don’t model only requesting: model comments, questions, protests….
  • Have Fun! Playing with core words lead to thinking in core and authentic modeling
  • Allow user time to explore and don’t expect sentences right away
  • Accessible boards: Get multiple boards in hands of all students
  • Preplan for other adults working in the classroom

Now... Get talking with core!

Check out these Great Ideas in the Sharing Center with Core Words....


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