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For Nonverbal Children Functional Vocabulary Kit
Ages: 4-10   Grades: PreK-5

Establish a 400-word vocabulary in nonverbal children and lay the foundation for communicating with pictures and signs.  Children learn the new vocabulary in a variety of formats so they truly comprehend the words.    


  • Increase functional vocabulary with Picture Communication Symbols and manual signs
  • Prepare nonverbal students to access augmentative communication systems through multi-modalities
  • Expand vocabulary learning through literature, music, and/or hands-on experiences
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The teaching methods are what most nonverbal children need—rote, systematic, and familiar. 

The activities progress in the hierarchy that most verbal children acquire language:

  • learning labels and attaching meaning
  • developing vocabulary and concepts
  • expanding vocabulary knowledge through associations and experience

The vocabulary is divided into five themes: Home, Community, Food, School, and Animals.  Each theme consists of eight units and each unit teaches 10 functional vocabulary words (total of 80 vocabulary words in each theme).

The kit includes:

  • 480 Boardmaker® symbols on perforated cards and on reproducible grids
  • CD-ROM of printable grids in color and black and white and printable vocabulary cards in color
  • 373-page manual with complete lesson plans
  • sign language photos that correlate with Boardmaker® symbols and manual sign descriptions
  • pre/post assessment for each theme
  • progress charts

Step-by-step lessons are sequenced in this hierarchical order:

Identifying Labels—Unit vocabulary is introduced with individual picture vocabulary cards.  Students identify labels by pointing to single pictures.

Learning Gestures & Signs—Photographs and descriptions for sign language are provided for each vocabulary word.

Listening Critically—Students answer questions about the vocabulary words when given two-picture choices.  You have a choice of using simple or complex foils.

Fill-Ins—Students answer fill-in questions using simple or complex two-picture choices.

Answering Yes/No Questions 1 and 2—Use two-picture choices and yes/no icons to teach yes/no responses.

Simple Pointing with a Grid—Students practice pointing to vocabulary items on a grid.

Classifying—Students identify vocabulary by attributes, functions, and categories.

Enrichment and Extension Activities—Use music, literature, and hands-on activities to expand vocabulary.


Copyright © 2008

373-page manual, pre/post assessments, 480 Boardmaker® picture cards on perforated card stock, CD-ROM of picture cards and grids in color and black and white, sturdy box

After two months of using the kit, my student is beginning to use gestures and signs in order to express himself.  The joy of providing a means to communicate is overshadowed by the increase in his social skills and confidence.  This product can be used with all skill levels of nonverbal children.  In working with a population of students that have severe and profound disabilities, the Kit provides the opportunity to present a core vocabulary and a way to communicate with both peers and adults.

Denise Nyborg, SLP
Crab Orchard, KY

  • AAC interventions should always be multimodal; that is, they should utilize "the individual's full communication abilities, including any residual speech or vocalizations, gestures, signs, and aided communication [e.g., picture symbols]" (ASHA, 1991, p. 10.  In Beukelman & Mirenda,1998, p. 3).
  • "Some individuals [who use AAC] may require a large number of trials to learn a basic core of signs or symbols" (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998, p. 345).
  • Aided language stimulation, an approach where the facilitator points to picture symbols and provides language stimulation, is ideal for building an iconic vocabulary for individuals who have limited picture/symbol/icon recognition (Downey et al., 2004).
  • A consistent "Yes/No" response (through eye gaze, direct selection) is an effective AAC communication strategy (Downey et al., 2004).
  • Within the Scope of Practice, the speech-language pathologist shall: 1.) Recognize, assist, and hold paramount the needs and interests of individuals who may benefit from AAC, 2.) Implement a multimodal approach to enhance effective communication, and 3.) Assess, intervene, and evaluate progress and outcomes associated with AAC interventions (ASHA, 2005).

For Nonverbal Children Functional Vocabulary Kit incorporates these principles and is also based on expert professional practice.


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (1991). Report: Augmentative and alternative communication. Asha, 33(Suppl. 5), 9-12.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2005). Roles and responsibilities of speech-language pathologists with respect to augmentative and alternative communication: Position statement [Position Statement]. Available from

Beukelman, D.R., & Mirenda, P. (1998). Augmentative and alternative communication: Management of severe communication disorders in adults and children. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Downey, D., Daugherty, P., Helt, S., & Daugherty, D. (2004, Sept. 21). Integrating AAC into the classroom: Low-tech strategies. The ASHA Leader, 6-7.


Brenda Addington


Brenda Addington, M.A., CCC-SLP has worked with elementary-aged verbal and nonverbal children in private and public schools for the past 20 years.  In addition to being a speech-language pathologist, she has also been a kindergarten teacher and has taught college courses in alternative and augmentative communication and disorders of articulation.  Brenda also provides continuing education seminars for speech-language pathologists in the areas of best practices; collaboration; and school-based, speech and language intervention.  Brenda's therapeutic approach emphasizes literacy-building activities and musical connections that create strong communication foundations for both verbal and nonverbal students.

Brenda resides in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband, Don, where she designs pottery, paints with watercolor, and does amateur photography in her spare time.  This is Brenda's first publication with LinguiSystems.


It is difficult to develop therapy programs that meet the needs of nonverbal students.  Many of these students can point to but do not comprehend pictures.  In addition, nonverbal students typically need activities that are rote, systematic, and familiar.  Routines help children understand what is expected and eliminate negative behaviors associated with unfamiliar activities.  This program targets the nonverbal population in a way that satisfies the need for systematic, rote instruction while building a vocabulary base that will become the foundation for using pictures and signs as communicative tools.

The activities in each unit are hierarchically arranged in the progression that most verbal children acquire language: learning labels and attaching meaning, developing vocabulary and concepts, and expanding vocabulary knowledge through associations and experience.

Use this program to:

  • teach functional vocabulary with Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) and manual signs
  • increase vocabulary knowledge through literature, music, and/or hands-on experiences
  • prepare nonverbal students to access augmentative communication systems


Materials and Activities for Each Unit

1. Vocabulary

  • 10 picture cards and Yes/No icons (on perforated sheets packaged separately from book)
  • simple 20-picture grid with vocabulary and foils
  • complex 20-picture grid with vocabulary and foils

Copy the 20-picture grids and cut them to produce the two-choice picture cards.  You can number the two-picture choices to easily locate them during the therapy session.  The differences between the correct responses and the foils on Simple grids are more obvious (dad/bed).  The correct answers and the foils are more closely related on Complex grids, therefore requiring higher levels of discrimination (dad/mom).  The foils include target vocabulary from other units in the kit and are intended to introduce or review vocabulary.

2. Identifying Labels
Introduce the unit vocabulary and have the student identify labels by pointing to single pictures.  Use the 10 picture cards for this activity.

3. Learning Gestures & Signs
Use the photographs and descriptions within each unit to teach sign language vocabulary.  Also use the 10 picture cards for this activity.  If a sign requires you to finger spell, consult the sign language alphabet.  Yes/No signs are also included.  Unless otherwise indicated by Signed Exact English (SEE), the signs and gestures in this book are from American Sign Language.

4. Listening Critically
Use the Simple or Complex 20-picture grid for vocabulary practice.  Copy and cut apart the 20-picture grid into two-picture choices (vocabulary and foil) for practice in pointing to the correct answer.

5. Fill-Ins (Simple and Complex)
Provide additional simple or complex practice for learning the vocabulary.  Use the same two-picture choices you used for the Listening Critically activity.

6. Answering Yes/No Questions 1
Teach the yes/no answering response.  Use the same two-picture choices used for Listening Critically and Fill-Ins, as well as the Yes/No cards for this activity.

7. Answering Yes/No Questions 2
Provide practice with answering yes/no questions, based on the unit vocabulary and definitions.  Use the Yes/No cards for this activity.

8. Simple Pointing with a Grid
Provide practice for pointing to vocabulary on a grid for students who have difficulty with Classifying.  Modify this activity if the student is unable to handle a large 20-picture grid.

9. Classifying
Teach recognition of vocabulary through descriptive categories (people, furniture), functions (things you sit on, things used to cook food), and attributes (shape, size).  You may need to prompt students if more than one answer is possible.

10. Enrichment and Extension Activities
Expand and enhance vocabulary with children's literature suggestions, musical suggestions, and/or hands-on activities.  You may also choose to introduce a unit using these activities.


Unit Folders

  • Photocopy the unit activities, copy and cut apart (and color, if desired) the picture grids, then laminate all items for durability.  Insert the unit activities into an expanding file folder.  Store the two-picture choices and picture cards in a plastic zipper bag and place the bag inside the expanding file.
  • Leave the expanding file folder with the child's primary service provider over the course of the week or as long as needed for extra practice and exposure.  You can review the unit activities at the next session to determine mastery.


Introducing Vocabulary and Using Progress Grids

  • Depending on the student's needs, focus on introducing one unit each week.  Provide vocabulary instruction during a direct therapy session.
  • Use the progress grids to document data over time.


Picture Cards, Grids, and CD-ROM

  • Use the picture cards to introduce, teach, and practice unit vocabulary.  File the picture cards under their respective theme in the storage tray.
  • Copy and cut apart the picture grids to complete the unit activities.  The grids are designed so the vocabulary and the foil can be cut apart as a pair.
  • Print Simple and Complex 20-picture grids in black and white or color from the CD-ROM.  You may also print vocabulary picture cards in color from the CD-ROM.


What if...

the student is not ready for line drawings/pictures?

  • Use objects or photographs.

the student cannot choose between two pictures to answer questions?

  • Use one picture until both the pointing response and vocabulary are mastered.

the student cannot discriminate among 20 pictures on a grid for the Simple Pointing activity?

  • Cut the grid into five rows (four pictures per row).  The first two directions/questions in the Simple Pointing activity correspond with the pictures in row one.  The next two directions work for row two and so on.

the student has visual impairment?

  • Enlarge and color pictures with yellow background or present them on a black surface (such as black felt board or construction paper) to enhance visual quality.

the child has a hearing impairment?

  • Use sign language to provide instruction as pictures are presented.

the student has physical limitations that will not allow for a pointing response?

  • Enlarge and laminate the materials for students with limited fine motor control.
  • Use visual scanning to determine selection.  Place the pictures far enough apart so that the student can use head or eye movements to make a clear choice.
  • Use a device such as a light pen or attach a small light to a pair of glasses.