HELP in American Sign Language

HELP is another CORE word that is not as common, but 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, etc). 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:


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… Almost everything 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!

F is for FINISH! Many of my students are working on “all done” in place of “finish,” but either way, this is a very important concept.

Finish is an important word for students to learn to help them transition from one activity to another. It lets them know that what they are currently doing is over, so they need to change gears into the next activity. Teachers and staff can use “finish” or “finished” to help prepare students for these transitions.



Finish is also an important word for students to use, to tell teachers and parents when they want to be done with an activity. Students need a way to appropriately “protest”; to tell other people “no” in a pro-social way. When students don’t have protest vocabulary, they may end up throwing, hitting, or screaming instead. We need to honor their right to tell us when they are tired of something by providing vocabulary for students to express these feelings and desires.


Any mode of communication (word/sign/picture symbol) is an acceptable way to communicate “finish.” Students learning CORE words often need multiple avenues for learning, and may do better with one more or another. Using *any* form of communication increases a student’s future potential to use communication of all kinds, so encourage students to use whatever mode of communication works best for them!


“Finish” in American Sign Language

You can work on “finish” at home using any activity that has multiple steps. Cooking, coloring, or craft projects all have steps that you “finish” before moving on to the next step. Any activity, actually, will have an end-time, and using “finish” to signify the end of activities is a great way to model the word.

You can also work on “finish” by anticipating times that your child may want to be done with an activity, and providing an icon or model of the word, so they can use it to get out of something they don’t like. 🙂  Make sure to provide “finish” at an authentic time, and also at a time when the activity *can* end the moment the child wants it to end (so not while walking across the street, for example). Also be sure to honor the child’s request to finish *immediately*, not when you feel it should end. When teaching “finish,” we need to make sure to give the word full power, and let students tell us when they are done. Once they know the word, then it is okay to have them wait if it’s not the “right” time to be done with an activity. When teaching a new word, honor it immediately whenever possible.


For students who have more verbal skills, the book Let Me Finish by Minh Le is a nice support. The boy in the book just wants to finish reading his book, but he keeps getting interrupted! It’s a great book for book lovers, and also uses the word “finish” multiple times.

I’m finished!

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!

Our CORE word this week is Different, for the letter D! Different is an important word because it can be used to let adults know if a student doesn’t like the toy/food/activity they are doing, and they want to have/do something else. Different is also useful to let students know when there is a change in the schedule, or when things are not going to happen as they expect.


“different” in American Sign Language

There are lots of ways to practice the word different. One way is with objects, such as counting bears. One of these bears is different. Which one is it?

counting bears different

Sesame Street has a recurring song about thing being different. Here is one clip from YouTube. There are many more if you search for them!

Here is a YouTube playlist of read-aloud books, and other clips, using the word DIFFERENT.

There are also tons of worksheets that focus on finding the thing that is different, like this one:



“come” in American Sign Langauge

This week we have focused on “come” as our word for the letter C. It is not one of the top-40 CORE words, but it is very important for minimally verbal students (and all students) to understand the direction “Come here” or “Come with me” or “Come back!”. We use “come” in directions to students multiple times per day, and those directions are often very important for safety.


Come Back, Ben was my favorite book discovery for practicing “come.” Every page has the sentence “Ben’s balloon went up. ‘Come back, Ben,’ said __________.” So many opportunities to practice “come”!


Come Along, Daisy! was the second book that we used to practice “come.” Daisy is a duckling who wanders away from her mother. Her mother tells her to “come along, Daisy!” She gets lost (of course), and then she is found (of course!).


Can I Come Too? is one that we didn’t use in our class, but it would be great for students with more verbal skills. The word “come” is featured on every page, but there is more text, which requires stronger receptive language skills to comprehend. It is a very sweet story about animals going on an adventure together.

Here is the ASL sign for “come”. 

Here is a YouTube playlist featuring read-aloud books that frequently use the word “come”.


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! 😦 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 ‘who’ 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 🙂 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).


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Spring break!

Spring break!March 30th, 2018
40 days to go.

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