I am a speech language pathologist (SLP) in the Edmonds School District. I work at Maplewood Parent Coop.

This blog is intended as a resource for parents and teachers of the students I serve. Take a look around!


Our CORE word this week in Teacher Norma’s classroom is the word “NO”.

You may wonder why we are teaching students to say “no.” Isn’t that word something we wish students would say less often? Why should we encourage students to use a negative word?

There are many reasons to teach the word “no.” One of the big reasons is because every person, including students who have significant disabilities, or who are using AAC, have the right to say “no” to actions, objects, or activities which they do not want. In the Communication Bill of Rights, developed by the National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities in 2016, the right to say “no” is the third item on the list of rights. It is a basic human right.


Another reason to teach students how to say “no” is because when students do not know how to say “no”, they will use behavior to tell us “no” in other ways. Tantrums, aggression, throwing, biting, hitting, meltdowns, passive resistance, and crying are only some of the ways that students will tell us “no” without words. Students deserve to be taught socially appropriate ways to say “no” using words, so that they do not need to use anti-social behavior to communicate their rejection.


How do you teach students to say “no”? “No” often does not make sense without the option to say “yes” as well. One of my most-used apps is the Yes/No app by I Can Do Apps. It is a very simple app with only one screen – a large “yes” button, and a large “no” button. The app has voice-output, so it says “yes” or “no” when each button is touched. The app is FREE.


One of the easiest questions to start with for yes/no is the question “Do you want _______?”. Asking students about their personal preferences is more concrete than other kinds of yes/no questions, and gives them the ability to make a choice, and to reject things they don’t want. Start with one thing you know your child likes (food items, toys, etc), and one thing you know they do not want (undesirable foods, toys). Offer one, and then the other. If your child pushes away the thing they don’t want, you can model using their communication mode to reject. You could say “Oh! It looks like you mean “no” [touch the AAC, use the “no” sign, say the word]”. If it is appropriate, help your child to indicate “no” by touching/signing/saying “no”, and then immediately remove the thing they don’t like. When you offer the thing they do want, repeat the same prompts for the word “yes.”

Another way to teach the word “no” is using books! There are several which are particularly good.


The book “Where’s Spot?” is a classic lift-the-flap book, where a mother dog looks for her puppy. Is Spot under the rug? No! Is Spot inside the clock? No! Is Spot in the basket? Yes!

“No, David!” is another classic, written by David Shannon as an autobiographical children’s book. In the book, David does naughty thing after naughty thing, and every page he is told “NO, David!”. By the end of the book David is in tears, but his mother reassures him that yes, she still loves him. I love this book for the many opportunities to practice saying “no”!

One more book that gives many chances to use “no” is the book “Is Your Mama a Llama?” On each page, Lloyd the Llama asks one of his friends if their mama is a llama. Every page until the last one, his friends say “no”. So many chances to practice!


The word MORE is very, very important! Students who are emerging communicators are often working on requesting, and teaching “more” is a high-value way to do it! The word “more” can be used to request either quantity or continuation.


Students can request “more” of any thing – fish crackers, Legos, juice, balls, pizza, bubbles, lunch… any object that they may want to have more of. To practice “more” with food items, give your child a small amount of something they like to eat or drink. When they finish it, wait for them to ask for “more” (or help them ask for “more” if this is a new skill) before you give them another small portion. Using smaller portions allows your child to have more chances to practice the word “more”, without ruining their appetite for supper.


Students can also request “more” of any action – tickling, bouncing, running, swimming, playing, watching YouTube, playing with iPads… any action that they want to continue! To practice “more” with actions, begin a game or activity that your child enjoys. At a natural pausing point, stop the game and wait for them to ask for “more.” If this is a new skill, you will need to help them ask for “more” (using picture symbols, signs, an iPad app, or verbal words) until they learn how to request “more” independently. If this word is a familiar word for your child, then perhaps give them one reminder, and then wait patiently. Playing with another adult who can show how to ask for “more” is also a good strategy.


If you are using an iPad and know how to use the guided access setting, a great way to practice “more” is to set the guided access timer to limit the number of minutes the iPad will work before the screen locks. That is a fantastic opportunity for your child to request “more” iPad, and for you to oblige by turning it on again!

“more” in American Sign Language

“More” is a very common “baby sign” – manual signs taught to infants before they can talk. This is because it is a developmentally early cognitive concept, that many babies and children with intellectual disabilities benefit from learning. Instead of needing to know the name of whatever they just had, they can simply ask for “more” and get it! “More” is a multipurpose word, which are the best kind of words for students who have difficulty learning many new words all at once.


Our book this week is “Just One More” by Jennifer Hansen Rolli. In it, a little girl named Ruby always wants “just one more” of everything! One more minute in bed, one more hairy thingy, or one more push on the swing! She asks for “just one more” scoop of ice cream, but that turns out badly, so at the end of the book she decides that sometimes, just one is plenty.

We will continue learning MORE core words next week!


Our word of the week is LIKE! “Like” is a particularly wonderful word. “Like” is a word we can use to comment about what we think. “Like” and “not like” are powerful ways to comment.

Students with complex communication needs are almost always taught to request; “I want _____.” While “I want _______” is an important phrase, it is very limiting if we *only* teach students to request things. Communication involves more than getting what you want! We tell each other what we think (commenting), we say what we don’t want (protesting), we identify what we are experiencing (labeling). The word “like” is an entry into commenting, which is one of the pillars of language use.


Our book this week is a newer book, and deeper than most of the books I use. Every page has the sentence “I like _________” or “I don’t like ____________”. The last word of the sentence is something that western children often play with or enjoy – shoes, cars, bricks – and the spread on each page features a privileged child playing with the item on one side, and an underprivileged child performing child labor with the item on the other side. It is a thought-provoking look at childhood in different situations, and a reminder that every child has the right to play, to receive an education, and to have a life of dignity. The last pages of the book have information about poverty and child labor, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“like” in American Sign Language

At home, model the word “like” any time you experience something pleasant! You can use any modality to model “like” (picture symbols, manual sign, words).

  • Foods: I like cereal. I like coffee. I like eggnog. I like cookies. I like ice cream. I like carrots (really!).
  • Toys: I like legos. I like my teddy bear. I like my iPad.
  • Activities: I like jumping. I like watching movies. I like swimming. I like reading.
  • Places: I like my house. I like the park. I like the gym. I like school. I like Starbucks.
  • People: I like grandma. I like my dog. I like my teacher. I like my friend. I like you!

What do you like?


K is for KICK! And yup, this is another word that is not actually a CORE word. “Kick” is a fringe vocabulary word, but one that lots of students need to know. Kicking is an action that lots of students enjoy, and (unfortunately), sometimes students will kick at inappropriate times. We need the word so that we can talk with students about when they can kick, and when they cannot kick.

Just like JUMP last week, kicking is a fun and important gross motor activity! Our students should be moving their bodies all day long!

Students can kick leaves!


Students can kick a ball!


Students can kick in the pool!


Here is the ASL sign for “kick”:


ASL – “kick”

I didn’t find any good books focusing on “kick” for this week, so I ended up making my own on Boardmaker Online. If you have a subscription, you can view/read/play it here.

I can kick screenshot

How will you practice kicking this week?

J is for JUMP!


“Jump” is a fringe word, but a very fun and engaging fringe word. Students in school may be told to jump during PE, or it may be something that is fun for them to do, and to tell others to do. Teacher Norma has a trampoline in her classroom, because many students need to jump as a sensory activity.


“jump” in American Sign Language

There were TWO books featuring “jump” that I found this week. They are both awesome!


The book “Jump, Frog, Jump” by Robert Kalan has the recurring phrase “Jump, Frog, Jump!” on every other page. It is a fun story about a frog escaping capture by a multitude of other animals, and then eluding children as well. So fun!


The second book “Jump!” by Scott Fischer also featured a frog, who is startled and JUMPS because of a cat, who JUMPS because of a dog, who JUMPS because of a crocodile… you know how this one goes. It is another fun book, with many repetitions of the target word to give lots of practice.

On YouTube, there are many kids songs that involve jumping, such as the classic “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.”

Or this one, if you want to go crazy with it stuck in your head.

And for my ’90s friends… you knew this was coming.


ASL sign for “in”

The word IN is a very important preposition. It is one of the basic concept words I often work on with students, and a word I have written about before. It is one of my top-10 CORE words, because it is so functional, and combines with so many other words.


Where is the boy? IN bed!

IN is a CORE word because it is multi-functional. At home, you can model IN by talking about what is IN a box, IN your fridge, IN your purse, or IN a backpack. Students can get IN a car, IN the bathtub, or IN bed. Food goes IN your tummy, and clothes belong IN the closet. Use whatever communication your student uses to practice the word IN all over the house!


My main book this week is “Better Move On, Frog!”, which is an oldie-but-goodie by Ron Maris. In the book, the frog wants to go IN a hole. He goes around the yard, but finds out that all the holes already have animals IN them! He finally finds a pond where he can go IN and live, so the story has a happy ending.


A new favorite for me is the book “IN” by Nikki McClure. Her illustrations are fascinating, and the entire book is talking about things IN other things on every page. It is a bit busy for students who are easily visually distracted, but I just love it.

How will you practice IN this week?


HELP in American Sign Language

HELP is another CORE word that is highly functional and important. We are focusing on HELP this week in Teacher Norma’s classroom.

There are many ways to practice “help” in everyday life. Students may need help during their normal routines – help getting dressed, help eating, help opening, help getting something out of reach – the possibilities are almost endless. Our students will need help for lots of activities. When they need help, we need to HELP them to learn to ask for it by having their AAC available (on the table, in our hands, on the floor next to them). We need to know where the HELP symbol is located, so we can quickly model it. If our students are using signs, we need to model the sign “help” right at the moment when they need the help.


But students aren’t always the ones who need help. Kids can participate in family life by helping their parents or siblings with chores or activities around the house. If adults learn to ask “help me”, they can model how to ask for help for themselves, and allow their children to learn how to participate and feel proud of their contributions to the family. Kids could help:

  • Preparing meals
  • Setting the table
  • Cleaning up toys
  • Feeding the pet
  • Putting dishes in the dishwasher
  • Putting away clothes
  • Carrying groceries to/from the car
  • And much more!

The book “I Can Help” by David Hyde Costello has many opportunities for students to see/use the word HELP. Every page has an animal in trouble, and another animal helping them out.

For slightly older students, the book “The Berenstain Bears Lend a Helping Hand” is a nice read-along book. It talks about helping, and how to participate in a family. You can watch it on YouTube here:

This week is parent/teacher conference week, so we have half-days all week. But that does not stop the CORE alphabet in Teacher Norma’s room. This week, G is for GO!


“go” in American Sign Language

The word “go” is a CORE word that has many different uses. It can be used to talk about going places – we go to school, go home, go to lunch, go to recess. During play it can be used to talk about anything that moves – balls, children, trucks, cars, dogs… So many people and things can GO!


This is one of my new favorite books. The big, green monster slowly appears as you turn the pages to reveal new body parts. Once he is all there, you tell each body part to “go away!” and he slowly disappears again.

I made a Boardmaker Online talking book, using the phrase “Let’s Go to the _________” on every page. If you are a Boardmaker Online subscriber, you can access the book here.

CORE alphabet GO

Go learn some CORE words! Go, go, go!


Okay, “fun” is not a CORE word. But it is an important fringe word, and something that students may want to request! It is also a “category” word, signifying a group of things (toys, activities) that are all “fun”. Learning categories is important, and this category is super relevant for everyone!


“Fun” in American Sign Language

What activities are fun for your student? It’s good to think intentionally about how to include fun in our routines, both as adults and for our students. We all need breaks, and time to relax and recharge. Having a list of quick, easy, fun activities for breaks is essential both at home and at school. Your student may have “traditional” fun activities, or they may enjoy more atypical toys and activities.

  • Toy fun: toy cars, baby dolls, Shopkins, legos, spinner fidgets, playdoh
  • Gross motor fun: swimming, running, swinging, trampoline, outdoor play
  • Screen time fun: YouTube, iPad apps
  • Fine motor fun: sensory bins, bubble wrap popping, craft activities
  • Quiet time fun: quiet music, reading a book, snuggles with stuffed toys


Also think about what times of day you could build in some fun time. Before dinner? After dinner? Before or after a hard task or chore? As a reward for following a routine? If you use a visual schedule, having a “fun” icon can be used to indicate a free choice time, when a student gets to chose their own fun activity. It helps students to know that something enjoyable is coming up, to keep them on track and engaged in activities that may be harder for them.

Lastly, our book this week is “Is Everyone Ready For Fun?” by Jan Thomas. It has lots of fun verbs to act out, and the word “fun” is prominently featured. Let’s jump! Let’s dance! Let’s wiggle! Let’s have fun!

The CORE Alphabet word this week is EAT!


“EAT” in American Sign Language

Actually, “eat” is not a CORE word. It is a fringe vocabulary word, because it is not in the most frequent words that we use in our everyday conversation. BUT… it is a very important fringe word nonetheless. Students need to be able to tell us they want to eat, and we need to be able to tell students to “Eat your _____”. Words relating to basic body needs are high priority.

There are tons of opportunities in everyday life to model the word “eat”.

  • Before snack or mealtimes: “It’s time to eat!”
  • When you know a student is hungry: “What do you want to do?” (offer AAC with EAT prominently visible)
  • While eating: “I am eating.”
  • While student is eating: “You are eating.” “Eat your _________” “Do you want to eat __________?”

Puppet games, where students give items (food or non-food) to a puppet to “eat” can be riotously fun. 🙂


I also made a Boardmaker activity with the question “What do we eat?” and a food/non-food option. Students choose on every page which thing they can eat. It is in the Ms Petersen SLP Boardmaker group.

CORE alphabet EAT

And then there’s YouTube, with all of the eating-related videos, like Cookie Monster EATING cookies!

Here’s a playlist of Cookie Monster eating cookies, and babies eating cake!

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winter break!

winter break!December 21st, 2018
Winter break!

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