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CORE vocabulary and symbols help youngsters develop language skills

Comstock Park — Preschoolers with limited or non-verbal language skills are benefitting from CORE vocabulary implemented in Allison Martin’s special education classes at Greenridge Elementary.

CORE words are a special set of simple words that make up 80% of those used every day by all age levels, represented as consistent symbols. CORE words can simplify communication to help students with delays start communicating with success, Martin said.

Using CORE vocabulary decreases frustration with students who may have limited language and increases language development, said Martin, who teaches morning and afternoon classes of 3 to 5-year-olds. If she asks a student “Do you want a snack?” and points to “yes” or “no” on a chart, that is a cue to the student to indicate their choice.

CORE vocabulary words and symbols taped to students’ lockers at Greenridge Elementary

“They are able to point to the CORE picture and communicate they need ‘help’ or ‘more’ in a way that they would not have been able to do previously,” she said. “Many students soon begin to pair the word along with pointing to the picture.”

Nicole Smith, speech pathologist at Greenridge, introduced the CORE vocabulary program with the help of Kent ISD. Smith said the symbols and pictures help students who might know what they want to say, but can’t vocalize it. 

“They can point to it and tell me ‘yes’,” Smith said. “They can answer questions such as ‘Do you have on green today?’ or indicate during snack time if they want “more” or with the ‘hands out’ picture, indicate that they’re ‘all done.’ If they’re doing a craft and getting frustrated they can indicate that they need ‘help.’”

Martin said they have been impressed by how well students have taken to CORE vocabulary. Greenridge is exploring incorporating more visuals for in classrooms and on the playground. 

“There are other special education classes in our building that would benefit from having CORE such as we do,” said Martin, noting that all students, including those with developed language skills, can benefit.

Martin said she and Smith are in the beginning stages of sharing CORE vocabulary with parents and have provided some small CORE boards for parents to use at home.

Kent ISD Involvement

Suzanna Ruskusky, augmentative and alternative communication consultant for Kent ISD, said Comstock Park reached out and Ruskusky observed in the classroom, consulted with the team and provided professional development to help them implement CORE vocabulary. 

She said every district in the Kent ISD service area has implemented CORE vocabulary at some level. 

As students develop their early language skills, CORE vocabulary is a great strategy to bridge their communication as they acquire additional language, she said.

Early childhood special education teacher Allison Martin says CORE vocabulary decreases preschoolers’ frustration
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Karen Gentry
Karen Gentry covers Comstock Park. She is from Evansville, Indiana and St. Joseph, Mich. and a graduate of Lake Michigan Catholic High School and Central Michigan University. She moved to the Grand Rapids area in the mid-1980s and has been a resident of Comstock Park since 2002. She understands the complexity, rewards and challenges of the teaching profession as she has five years of experience as a high school teacher at River Valley High School in Three Oaks, Mich. and St. Stephen High School in Saginaw. As a reporter for the Advance Newspapers and Mlive she covered Sparta, Kent City and Northview schools. She is happy to be reunited with some of her journalism colleagues and writing about Comstock Park Public Schools for the School News Network. Read Karen's full bio

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