CORE words are a concept gaining recognition in AAC circles. CORE vocabulary refers to the most common words used by speakers. Depending on which list you use, CORE words are 100-200 words, which account for up to 80% of spoken language! You can break down CORE vocabulary even further, identifying about 40-50 words which are the most “useful” for expressing wants and needs, commenting, and protesting.

Fringe vocabulary are words which are context-specific, like names of family members, favorite foods, places you go, or favorite activities. Fringe vocabulary tends to have a lot of nouns, but also includes actions, descriptors, and anything else that is important but not included in the most common CORE words.

We have been talking about CORE vocabulary in my classrooms, and several teachers are working to incorporate more instruction about CORE words – usually by focusing on one CORE word per week. To teach any AAC word requires both direct instruction, and LOTS of modeling, so that’s what we are working on.

I will be posting more this year about CORE words, following one particular class as they work through the alphabet with a different CORE word for each letter! We are drawing from several TPT authors who have put together CORE word materials (Super Power Speech, and Speech Room News), as well as additional materials we put together ourselves.

Stay tuned for more!


The word summer written in the sand on a beach

Summer break is getting closer and closer! According to my countdown widget, We have 15 days left until the last day of school.

While I am very excited to have some time this summer for home projects and working with a new puppy, I am also thinking about how to prevent the “summer slide” that is so prevalent every year. When students don’t practice their talking and listening skills all summer, they lose some of the skills they have gained during the year! ūüė¶ But when they have short, frequent practice during the summer, they can keep up their skills, or often even gain new ones, by the time school is back in session in September.

To help prevent summer slide I have put together a speech/language home practice calendar for the past few years. Each day has a short activity/conversation starter to do with a parent or caregiver, to give students practice using their speech sounds, or practicing language skills like vocabulary, categories, describing, and asking questions. Students who stutter can do the same activities, and either practice using a speech strategy, or practice using easy stuttering.

Click on the pictures to download the calendar for this summer!

2017 summer practice calendar July-page-001

2017 summer practice calendar August-page-001


A ‚Äėwho‚Äô question is asking about a person.¬†I usually work on ‘who’ questions after students become good at answering ‘what’ questions. Giving an answer that is a person is still very concrete, and students can learn that when the question begins with “who?”, the answer must be a person.

Students in my intensive support classrooms often need visual supports to be successful answering questions, so having picture choices for answers helps them both to figure out how to answer, and to show us what they know.

I made a Boardmaker Online WHO question activity with visual answers, similar to the one I made for WHAT questions, which has been getting lots of use in the intensive support classrooms this month. To access this activity for free, you will need a Boardmaker Online subscription. You can search for it in the community activities, or find it in the Ms Petersen SLP group.

If you do not have a Boardmaker Online subscription, you can find a printable version of the WHO questions with visual answers on Teachers Pay Teachers.


(Note: I have no financial connection to Boardmaker Online, or Mayer-Johnson. I did not receive any compensation from them in exchange for my opinions about Boardmaker Online. I am simply using it myself, and finding it very helpful).


A ‘what’ question is asking about a thing or an action. Typically developing children learn to answer simple ‘what’ questions¬†by around age 3 (example: “What is your name?”). However, students with language disorders can struggle with answering questions. For students who are “emerging communicators” (just beginning to use words or pictures to communicate), learning to answer questions can be very, very difficult!

I have several students this year who are ready to work on answering WHAT questions, and who are just learning to use words (verbal or pictured) to communicate. For these students, the typical WH-question materials that I have used in the past are too complicated, and do not give them enough support. I needed to make more materials, which could give my students more clues to help them learn to answer questions.

Boardmaker Online is a resource I have been learning to use. I finally got my district to pay for a subscription this year, and have been loving it! It replaces the old Boardmaker disks that I have been using (last updated in 2006!). The most useful feature is that when you create interactive activities, they can be played on a FREE iPad app, so that students can use the activities over and over!


My first activity was for WHAT questions, with visual answers that students can chose from. This allows them to show me if they know the answer, and also supports students who are learning to answer these questions, because there are only 3 options to chose from. If they chose the wrong answer the app tells them that it was wrong, and gives them another chance to find the right answer. It has been working FABULOUSLY for many of my students who love using iPads.

Another neat thing about Boardmaker Online is that you can search for activities that other people have made, and save them for your own use. I made the WHAT interactive activity public, and put it in a Ms Petersen SLP group to make it easy to find. If you have a Boardmaker Online subscription, you can add it to your activities and use it for free!

Some of my students do better with low-tech paper materials instead of using the iPad, so I also made a printable version of the same questions, which I laminated and bound into a book for the teachers of those students. I wanted to give away the book as a freebie, but one of the restrictions of using Boardmaker Online is that I am not supposed to give away PDF versions of materials that I create using the Boardmaker symbols, because of the copyright laws. However, I am allowed to sell materials, so long as I credit Mayer-Johnson as the source of the graphics.

In order to respect the law ūüôā and also share what I’ve made, I have two versions of the printable WHAT questions. If you have a subscription to Boardmaker Online, you can download the printable version for free off of the Boardmaker Online website. When you logon, search for “Ms Petersen SLP” in the groups, and when you join, you will find all of the activities I’ve made so far to share.

If you do not have a subscription to Boardmaker Online, you can still get the printable version of WHAT questions with visual answers for emerging communicators from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.


Further reading:

(Note: I have no financial connection to Boardmaker Online, or Mayer-Johnson. I did not receive any compensation from them in exchange for my opinions about Boardmaker Online. I am simply using it myself, and finding it very useful).

This post is going to be a bit different. Most of my posts are intended for teachers and families, to share what students are doing in their speech/language time. This post, however, is for other SLPs. It is about how to complete a Professional Growth Plan (offered by OSPI) to get 30 clock hours for our certificate maintenance! I presented this to my district SLP colleagues last month, and have figured out how to add narration to my powerpoint in order to share it here.

To get the most out of the presentation, you will need to download/print the two documents that I am referencing:

Here are the other links that I reference in the presentation:

To view the presentation, click here: Professional Growth Plans for SLPs Narration. You will need to click on the sound icon in the upper right hand corner of each slide to hear the narration.

This fall has flown by! I am in shock that November is here, and two months of school have already passed.

2016 Ginger cone.JPG

She hates wearing her cone. ūüė¶

One thing that has been occupying my mind this fall is the health of my therapy dog, Ginger. She is almost ten years old, which for her breed is a senior dog. As you dog lovers know, we never expect our pets to get old, and are surprised when they do! In my mind, she is still the 7-week-old puppy I brought home from the shelter in 2007.


2007, a few days after I brought her home.

Since I brought her home, she has certified and recertified 5 times as a therapy dog with Pet Partners¬†(the certification is renewed every 2 years). We have taken buses, trains, and even airplanes together, and she has interacted with hundreds of students and teachers along the way. Right now she is being treated for¬†some autoimmune¬†issues, and hasn’t been able to come to school since June.

This blog post is dedicated to her recovery, cataloging some of the things I miss about working with a therapy dog.

  • Instant rapport

Having a therapy animal creates an “aura of safety” (my term) in the therapy room. Students who are shy or unsure are often much more outgoing and confident when Ginger is with me, and it becomes much easier¬†to establish rapport and trust.¬†I need students to trust me, in order for them to feel confident to try new, hard things and make progress on their goals. I need their parents to trust me, so they will tell me important info about how things are going at home, and also be willing to put in the work to support their students.

I also need teachers to trust me with their students, who they care about and want the best for. Teachers have a wealth of knowledge about their students, and it is so valuable to me when we are able to establish enough of a connection so they can share it. When Ginger is in my office, teachers, students, and their parents are much more likely to come by and chat. It is during those informal chats that I gain the most insight into student needs, parent priorities, and teacher observations. Having a therapy dog facilitates these interactions in a natural way, with so much ease and grace. It is wonderful to experience.

I have been amazed over the past 10 years how quickly rapport can be established when I have Ginger with me. People trust her, so they trust me. (And I am a trustworthy person, I promise!). Working in a new school this year, I very much miss her ability to connect. I can do it without her, but it takes much longer, and is much more work.


School photo from 2012. How could you not trust this face?

  • Motivation

Students LOVE THIS DOG. They want to come to therapy to see the dog. Their friends want to come to therapy to meet the dog. They work hard in therapy sessions to earn a treat to give to Ginger at the end of the session. Students bring their friends to my office after school, introducing Ginger to their friends, and their friends to Ginger. Older students, who are much too cool for candy, stickers, or high-5s, will still come to get pets and licks from a furry friend.

We’ve all had students who were difficult to motivate. Stickers, candy, and prize boxes have all failed me at one time or another, but a fuzzy puppy has never failed to engage and motivate my hard-to-reach students.


2015, when we visited a medically fragile classroom every week. This student LOVED petting Ginger, and would use her switch to ask for Ginger.

  • Increase social interaction

This is a big one. Therapy animals have been shown to provide positive social benefits to children with Autism. I have had minimally verbal students say multiple words together as they were petting Ginger, talking to Ginger, or talking about Ginger. Even some of my unpredictable students, who I would worry about using gentle hands when petting, seemed to intuitively understand how to be gentle with Ginger. They would get quiet, kneel/sit down, and sometimes just smoosh their faces into Ginger’s neck or chest. Her moments with students who have autism have been some of the sweetest I have ever seen.

Even for students (and teachers, and ME) who do not have autism, having a therapy animal can provide a topic for conversation, and a level of comfort which fosters more social interaction than would occur otherwise. During Ginger’s training I took her out into the community to socialize and desensitize her to novel experiences. I was always amazed by how many strangers would start conversations with us when we were out as a team. We had conversations with everyone! This happens in the community, and it happens in my school. I miss those opportunities for interaction that happened so naturally when Ginger was coming to school with me.


Ginger and me, at a university recruiting event in 2013. She was the star attraction at our booth, and facilitated many great connections.

  • Deescalation, sensory breaks, and stress reduction

I cannot count how many times Ginger has helped me get through a marathon testing session with a student who had difficulty focusing. Our routine was simple: 5-10 minutes testing, 2 minutes of “dog time.” I could get through the most grueling standardized tests, with students who had the most difficult time with testing, so long as I had a dog to play with during the breaks. It served as a “brain break” from concentrating, a sensory break for students who needed it, and a fun respite from the hard work of testing. Even the most wiggly preschooler has been able to sit for a few minutes, with the promise of doggie time after 5 more questions.

I have also used Ginger with students who were easily frustrated (mostly students who had autism), to decrease melt-downs as we worked on difficult skills. One student in particular needed Ginger to be sitting on his feet, and he could handle anything. Without her he might be under the table refusing to work, but with HER under the table, we could work for an entire session without interruption. I would see him reaching down towards her as the tasks got harder, using a few pets to calm himself down so he wouldn’t lose it.

And for my own stress reduction, during hard days or when I was working under a deadline, I have used Ginger more times than I can count. I have crawled under my own desk to get a hug and a kiss when I needed it, to keep myself sane and stable.


My sister, snuggling with Ginger over winter break last year.

So here’s to a quick recovery, and thankfulness¬†for wonderful veterinarians who provide the best care possible, and to every old dog who has spent their life giving love and snuggles.

Home practice folders are coming home this week!

You will find a GREEN folder in your student’s backpack. It will have their name on the front, like this:


Inside the folder, there will be:

  • A page to practice on the left-hand side, with directions for what to do
  • A log-page, for you to write any questions/comments, and sign that you’ve seen the home practice.
  • Old practice pages will go in the back.


What you should do:

  • Pick a time to practice – at breakfast, in the car going home from school, before dinner, etc. Practice with your child as frequently as you realistically can. 3-5x/week is great, but even 1-2x/week is extremely helpful. Any responsible person (parent, babysitter, older sibling, grandparent, etc) can be a good practice partner.
  • Keep it short! Practice should be 3-5 minutes MAX. Short, frequent practice is the most effective way to make progress, and also the most likely to actually happen in busy families.
  • Sign the log-sheet or home practice page, so that I know you’ve seen it. ūüôā
  • Keep the folder in your student’s backpack. If it is always in the backpack, then it never gets lost. ūüôā

Here’s to a new year, and lots of speech and language at home!

It’s here! My¬†2016 summer speech/language practice calendar. The calendar is in both Spanish and English, and can be used to practice articulation, language, or stuttering strategies from the end of June to the beginning of September.

2016 summer practice calendar preview

Top reasons to practice over the summer:

  • Summer Slide

The “summer slide” is a term educators use to refer to what happens when students leave school for summer break, and don’t practice any of their academic skills until they come back in the fall. June – September is a long time to not practice! Students who do not practice their skills will actually go backwards in their skills, falling further behind their peers, and begin school in the fall at a disadvantage with their peers who have practiced, even only a little.


The good news is that it doesn’t take much practice to prevent the slide. Even 5 minutes a day, a few times per week, can keep students from losing skills over the break.

  • Make faster progress

Students who practice at home, during the year or over the summer, make faster progress on their skills than students who don’t practice. Research on therapy effectiveness has shown that therapy programs that are more “intense” help students to grow more than therapy that is less intense, and one of the key factors in intensity is how often students work on their target skills.¬†Practice at home is a major way to increase intensity, and boost the effectiveness of what is happening in the therapy room.


  • Graduate from speech/language therapy!

Having a large-ish caseload in a public school, I have a variety of homework-completion levels amongst my students. Some students practice and bring their homework back every week, some students do it occasionally, and a few students are not able to do it at all. I work just as hard with the students who bring it back as with those who don’t, but I have noticed a definite trend, where students who practice graduate significantly faster than students who don’t. For speech sounds, learning a new motor pattern takes time and practice, just like learning to play a sport or play the piano. The more you practice, the easier it becomes! For language skills, practice talking and listening is working on the muscle of your brain, which also needs exercise in order to grow. The students who practice the most are the students who graduate from speech/language therapy the soonest, and get back to full-time learning in their classrooms.


This month in Teacher Norma’s classroom our language circle time is focusing on body parts. Knowing body parts is important for students because it impacts self-care (getting dressed, personal hygiene) as well as a student’s ability to tell a caregiver if they are hurt or ill. For students who are not yet using words expressively, it is still important to understand body words when parents, teachers, or doctors use them. “Stick out your tongue”, “Give me your hand”, “Arm in the jacket”, etc. Body part vocabulary is important!


We have been playing with Potato Head toys during circle time. I have picture symbols (sometimes called PECs) with different body parts, and each student gets to choose which part they will add to the potato. Together we build the whole potato! I let students put the body parts anywhere they want, though they usually put them in the “normal” places.


Our book this month is “My Nose, Your Nose” by Melanie Walsh. It is a book about how children are similar and different, using both body parts and things they like or don’t like. The book touches on skin tone, hair texture, but also things like loving chocolate cake, or not liking shampoo. It also covers a good chunk of the major body parts, while still feeling like a storybook rather than an “educational” book. ūüôā


And of course, who could talk about body parts without singing the Hokey Pokey? In our class we skip the “left” and “right” and focus instead on the basic body parts – arm, leg, hand, food, head, tongue, ear… Students take turns choosing which body part we will sing next, and we do it all together.


Answering yes/no questions is a very important skill, especially for children with limited verbal skills. If a child can answer yes/no questions, it expands how much they can tell an adult or caregiver almost exponentially. Yes and No are so powerful!

Yes/No are also ideal target words because they can be expressed simply, with or without verbal words. Children can nod, vocalize, or look happy to express “yes.” They can shake their head, look unhappy, or push away to express “no.” Yes/no questions can apply across many different settings, from snack time (do you want a cracker?) to recess (do you want the ball?) to bedtime (do you want your red pajamas?). They allow parents and caregivers to offer choices, and children to have more control over their lives by expressing opinions. Being able to answer yes/no questions can reduce frustration for both children and parents, especially for children with communication difficulties.

Using gestures or facial expressions is often how children start expressing their preferences. Sometimes making a face is enough, but sometimes the rejection can be pushing or throwing, which we don’t want! Starting with what we know the child wants to tell us, we can build those preferences into more conventional ways to indicate yes/no. If a child is using a push-away to express rejection, we can pair that with a sign or word to help them learn more socially acceptable ways to get their message across. Adults modeling yes/no in¬†situations that children are currently in is very important for emerging communicators to learn how to use yes/no themselves.

There are different kinds of yes/no questions, also. Yes/no questions that are preference-based (example: Do you want a cookie?) are easier than fact-based yes/no questions (example: Is this a cookie?). Students typically master preference-based yes/no questions before they can answer fact-based yes/no questions.
yes no

Using visual supports is essential for students who have difficulty with yes/no. The graphic above is one I use every day. I have two cards – one with “yes” and one with “no.” When I ask a student a question, I hold up the cards so they can see their options for answering. It helps cue students who may not remember the words independently, but can point to the answer they mean with the visual support. This can reduce the amount of echolalia that students may use (repeating the question instead of answering it). A student can say Yes/No, point to the word they want, or even look at the word that they mean.


This month we are reading Are You My Mother?¬†by P.D. Eastman during circle time. Each time the baby bird meets a new creature, I ask the question “Is the [cat/dog/cow/boat] his mother?” The board gives visual supports, along with pictures for the “yes” and “no” for modeling and pointing.

Are you my mother

Other books ideal for working on yes/no:

Additional resources:

Lastly, here is a video with a catchy song about yes/no, made by an SLP working on a kickstarter project. There are words that pop on the screen about their project, which is a bit annoying, but the song is pretty fun and could be engaging for a student who doesn’t mind the words, but enjoys music and puppets.