Symbols for All - Core Word Kit

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Core Word Kit

The CALL Core Word Kit has been created to help school staff get started with and develop their use of symbols across the curriculum by creating communication opportunities based on the principles of Core Words.

The kit is available for schools (in Scotland) to borrow from our CALL Scotland loan bank for staff to learn the principles of teaching with Core Words and embed communication across the school day. The kit has everything you will need, from simple communication devices (and batteries!), printed symbol boards in a variety of formats, to digital resources and more.

Are any of these familiar scenarios?

We know that even the most well intentioned and dedicated members of staff can get worn down by the sheer logistics of pulling resources together. The kit is designed to remove all the practical barriers so you can concentrate on starting to teach with Core Words. Click here to see a list of the equipment and resources: CALL Core Word Kit Equipment List.

What are Core Words?

Core Words are the building blocks of language and make up around 80% of what we say. When we create teaching and learning experiences using the principles of Core Words, the evidence suggests that using them will enable learners who use symbols for communication to communicate more effectively and flexibly.

Core Words can be used across the curriculum with a small number of words used again and again to communicate in a variety of topics and contexts. By augmenting Core Words with a small number of more specific topic words, learners can experience and use these Core Words all day every day.

For example, the Core Word 'go' can be used in multiple teaching contexts:

For more information about Core Words, we suggest you explore the 'Project Core' website.

The Two Commandments of Teaching with Core Words

The research suggests that there are two key principles to adopt when using a Core Word approach:

Create Communication Opportunities – all day, every day.

Janice Light said that:

Communication should not be viewed as an end goal; rather, it is a tool to attain a wide range of educational, vocational and personal goals. We need to think, plan and engineer our teaching activities so that the creation of communication opportunities underpins everything we do throughout the school day. The more practice a learner has at communicating in a range of contexts, the more their communication skills improve. So practically speaking, our learners need access to a means of communicating wherever they are.

For example, the kit contains several laminated printed symbol boards, and we encourage you to have them available in the classroom by attaching them to walls, cupboards, etc. We've also attached symbol boards to the topic books included in the kit. These symbol boards on the back pages can be folded out so that the symbol vocabulary is available as you read through the book, making it easy to reinforce Core Words by modelling.

Model Use of Core Words

The research shows that learners need to see other people using Core Words around them, all day, in a range of situations and interactions. To do this, we must augment our teaching by pointing to Core Words as we are speaking them. This is called 'modelling', and it also helps us to think about our communication; slowing down what we are saying, simplifying sentences so we can point to Core Words as we use them.

The Two Commandments of Teaching with Core Words

The Core Word Kit has been designed to use with learners who have Complex Needs who are learning to use speech, signs and symbols to communicate. There are a variety of activities in the kit, created so they are accessible to a range of learners; from those learning to use a single message 'talking button' style device, to those learning to join two or three symbols together to communicate a message or create a simple sentence.

Next Steps

If you would like to borrow the CALL Core Word Kit, we strongly recommend that everyone involved in supporting their learners to use Core Words, undertake some Professional Learning in this area. This will ensure that everyone understands Core Words, the rationale for them, and how to begin implementing them in your setting. These are our two (free) suggestions:

If you have a basic or limited knowledge of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and its use in education, we suggest you begin by completing the CALL Scotland Online Learning Modules, Series 1: Introduction to AAC and Series 2: AAC in Education. The Introduction to AAC module is for those without any previous knowledge or experience of using AAC. The AAC in Education modules have been written specifically for staff supporting learners with ASN in Scottish schools and gives a comprehensive overview of theory, principles, and best practice.

CALL Scotland Online Learning Modules.

The Centre for Literacy and Disability Studies in North Carolina has created a set of modules around the principles and practice of using Core Words. We strongly recommend setting aside time as a staff team to go through these modules together, they will give everyone a solid foundation as you begin using Core Words in your teaching and learning.

How to borrow the CALL Core Word Kit

The kit is available to borrow from the CALL Scotland loan bank for up to two school terms. You can either collect it from the CALL Scotland office by prior arrangement (please note due to COVID-19 protocols this is subject to change) or it can be delivered to your school. If you would like to borrow it or discuss anything further, please contact in the first instance.