Modeling is an effective strategy that can be used by Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), educators, and family members to support an AAC users communication growth. AAC or augmentative and alternative communication are tools such as a communication book or a voice output device that an individual may use to communication. AAC is an alternative means to communicate and it takes training and practice to build communicative competence. This training and practice isn’t needed just by the AAC user, it is important family and team members. Modeling is an impactive tool when we can get the team on board.  Want to learn more about working as a team to support AAC, then check out this post!

What is Modeling?

Modeling is part of a prompting hierarchy that supports language development with AAC. With modeling, we are using AAC to teach AAC. During any sort of social interaction or communication exchange the communication partner demonstrates an utterance, what they want to say, by touching the buttons on a communication device or visual supports paired. Vocalizations or oral speech should always be paired with pointing or touching the vocabulary words. The purpose of modeling is to show or demonstrate how to use augmentative means to support communication. Modeling isn’t a test or check on the individuals skills. Modeling is simply about talking and teaching with AAC.

A communication partner is sitting on the ground modeling and playing cars with an AAC user.

So what does modeling look like?

When reading the book Brown Bear Brown Bear, an SLP or communication partner might choose “I see bear” by touching the picture symbols and saying “I see bear” on the language system. The communication partner demonstrates for the AAC user by combining pictures on alternative communication system (AAC) and the vocalized words. If you were at the grocery store you might model items on the grocery list. You could model “I need strawberries” or “Where is strawberries”. The family member or communication partner would “say” the message using the communication system and vocalizations. There is NO expectation for the AAC user to use AAC. Modeling is about demonstrating.

Modeling Multi-Word Utterances

If we want the AAC user to communicate with multiple words, we have to model this. When modeling, the communication partner should incorporate multiple word utterances. The idea is to model 1-2 steps ahead of the individuals current MLU on the AAC device or core board. For example, if an individual has mastered asking for goldfish crackers with a single word/button, the SLP or family member could model using a phrase such as “I eat goldfish” on the speech-generating device. If an individual is currently using 1 core word or fringe word at a time, modeling 5-6 word sentences might be too much. So if you are working with an AAC user that is using single words, model 2-3 word phrases. This helps the individual learn that phrases and sentences can be used when making requests. If a student is playing a video game and using single utterances to share their favorite characters, you could model “Mario drives car” or “Mario drives fast” for the AAC user.

A teacher sits at a kidney shaped table.  She is reading a book and modeling to a child using an AAC device.

Modeling an SVO Framework to Build Utterances

The basic communication consists of phrases and sentence structures that combine of subjects, verbs, objects, prepositions, and locations. Our utterances get much more complex and varied, but these are the building blocks. When children are building language skills, they combine these word types for a variety of purposes. During early language development children will use simple 1-3 word combinations such as “eat cookie”, “mommy up”, “car go”, etc. As we are modeling and building AAC, we want to start with these important building blocks composed of core words and fringe vocabulary.

Modeling Core and Fringe Vocabulary

Core Vocabulary refers to a small set of words that are frequently used to communicate. These words are essential for effective communication and are often the first words that children learn when they are acquiring language. Core Vocabulary words typically include high-frequency words such as pronouns, prepositions, common nouns and verbs. These words can be used in a wide variety of contexts and for a range of purposes, such as requesting objects, expressing emotions, describing events, and conveying ideas and opinions. Fringe vocabulary in AAC refers to words or phrases that are more specific to a particular individual, context, or activity. These words may not be as common or universal as core vocabulary words, but they are still important for effective communication. When modeling we will use a combination of core and fringe vocabulary.

Modeling Variety

When modeling AAC, it is important to demonstrate a variety of communication functions beyond just requesting. If the speech-language pathologist or communication partners only model requests, the individual using AAC may not develop proficiency with other communication functions, such as commenting, protesting, asking questions, and initiating social interactions.

To promote a range of communication functions, it is important to model across different settings, individuals, and functions. This means modeling AAC in a variety of environments, such as at home, in school, and in the community. It also means modeling with a variety of communication partners, including family members, peers, and other adults. In addition, it is important to model a variety of phrases and sentences that support different communication functions. For example, modeling “I like that” or “That’s funny” can support commenting, while modeling “What is that?” or “Can you help me?” can support asking questions. By modeling a variety of communication functions and phrases/sentences, we can support the development of well-rounded communication skills and promote greater independence and participation in social interactions and activities.

How will use modeling today?

If you would like to check out some ready to go activities for modeling fun, head over to Boom Learning and check out all my AAC activities.  These activities are ready to model and go!

Light blue background with 3 images of AAC activities on Boom Learning.