Vocabulary Sets for Writing

Posted Apr 22, 2015 - 12:06pm

_ By Jane Odom, M. Ed, Director of Implementation Resources_

The vocabulary available to AAC users can have a huge impact – both positive and negative- on their writing. There are three basic categories of vocabulary sets (Musselwhite&Hanser, 2004)

  • Closed Sets consist of a small number of pre-programmed words and phrases. The vocabulary is typically chosen by another person and arranged for the AAC user. This vocabulary is usually temporary and set up for a single activity.

  • Core + Content Vocabulary Sets also consist of preprogrammed words and phrases. However, this vocabulary is always available to the AAC user. This vocabulary is semi-generative depending on the skill of the AAC user. It can consist of a small number of words (less than 100) to a large number of words (1000s). The alphabet may be available but not used. Word prediction may also be available.

  • Generative Sets will always have core vocabulary available to support quick writing. The alphabet is used to generate novel words not stored in the core vocabulary.

Closed sets may be used to support students who are emergent writers, are exploring print and learning that the printed words have meaning. Many students struggle with access, requiring a limited set of vocabulary. These students want to participate fully and quickly in a writing activity. Classrooms that only offer this may find students get stuck in ‘participation’ mode and are not fully learning language.

Core + Content Sets present vocabulary that is consistently available to students, rather than available for only one activity. These sets may be used by students who have a wide range of writing skills. These sets give them the structure they need to develop their skills. This is a great starting point. You can provide limited support and structure but also allow for creativity and exploration. This is a nice starting point with modeling and brainstorming built in the lesson to help the student learn expectations and processes for writing and communication.

Finally the Generative Vocabulary Set with access to the spelling, permits the students who can spell to attempt to represent any word in their head. Students should have access to the alphabet early and often. Communication partners should model the use of the alphabet for spelling words that are not easily found on their AAC system. This will give them the most freedom as writers to accurately convey what they are thinking.

Just remember that writing and communication go hand in hand. Writing lessons can be a great tool for modeling new vocabulary, exploring an AAC system and allowing a student to explore their own creativity.

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