Simon Says: Model One More Word

simonblogOne of the more common, and important, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) implementation strategies is Aided Language Input or modeling.  It would be overwhelming to use your child’s/client’s device to model EVERY word you are saying verbally…for you and the child!  Here’s the good news, you can successfully use Aided Language Input without overwhelming anyone!

This blog topic was prompted by a discussion in the Speak for Yourself User’s Group.  Since I mentioned it, if you have a child or client using AAC (any type/device/app), the User’s Group is a great place to ask questions and share ideas, videos, success stories, concerns, and frustrations.

The post was about expanding the length of utterances.  I like analogies, and sometimes they’re helpful when you’re trying to explain something that’s complex.  If you can relate a concept to something more simple that already makes sense, sometimes a concept as complex as language development makes sense.  I used an analogy in a prior blog about the difference between using individual words and pre-programmed sentences. (You can read that here.)

When asked about modeling, I recommend modeling one word beyond what the individual is able to communicate independently. So if he/she is using one word independently, model two words. Then when he/she is using two words independently, model three…you get the idea.  Here is an analogy to explain why this works:

You want to raise the bar but make sure that if she jumps, she can reach it. Do you remember the Simon Says electronic game that would flash a color and you’d have to push the colors in the same order as the computer game?

Milton Bradley's Simon Says game.

Milton Bradley’s Simon Says game.

As the levels increased, it kept adding more colors to the pattern, but the colors stayed in order. By the end, you might be remembering twelve colors, but they were added one by one and built on the previous pattern. If the game started by giving you a sequence of twelve colors, it would be overwhelming and a lot of kids would put it down and walk away. When you look at it and it flashes “red”, you think that’s easy, I can hit red. Then it flashes “red-blue,” and you’re thinking, “That’s no problem.  It’s only one more.” Next thing you know, you’re able to do all twelve colors because it was broken down and you were able to build up to it at your pace.

Modeling one word beyond a student’s independent AAC level works in the same way.  Let’s look at an AAC-style example.

The child independently says, “French fries.”

"French fries" on the SfY app.

“French fries” on the SfY app.

You can model any of the following (and many, many more possibilities), and then react to what you model.

So, if Dad just came home with a Chik-Fil-A bag, you might say, “Oh, do you WANT FRENCH FRIES?” and  model:

"Want French fries" on the SFY app

“Want French fries” on the SFY app

You could say, “You want MORE FRENCH FRIES?” and model:

"More french fries" on the SfY app.

“More French fries” on the SfY app.

You could say, “You LIKE FRENCH FRIES,” and model:

"Like french fries" on the SfY app.

“Like French fries” on the SfY app.

Or you could playfully eat a french fry and say, “MY FRENCH FRIES,” and model:

"My french fries" on the SfY app.

“My french fries” on the SfY app.

When your child begins to use two words, you can expand your modeling using the same vocabulary.  Here are some examples:

"Want more french fries" on the SfY app.

“Want more french fries” on the SfY app.

"Like eat french fries" on the SfY app

“Like eat French fries” on the SfY app

"Want my french fries" on the SfY app.

“Want my French fries” on the SfY app.

Now, you may be thinking, I could just pre-program the sentence into my child’s/student’s app or device and then all he has to do is push a button and say, “I like to eat French fries” or “I want more French fries please.”  You’re right…you could, but what are you going to do when he sees the lemonade?  Or the chicken nuggets? Or when he decides he’s ready for dessert?

If you are modeling words, a child is able to generalize vocabulary across items.  For example, if the child says, “lemonade” independently:

"Lemonade" on the SfY app.

“Lemonade” on the SfY app.

Here are some two-word utterances you could model:

"Want lemonade" on the SfY app.

“Want lemonade” on the SfY app.

"More lemonade" on the SfY app

“More lemonade” on the SfY app


"Like lemonade" on the SfY app.

“Like lemonade” on the SfY app.


"My lemonade" on the SfY app

“My lemonade” on the SfY app

And some three-word utterances:

"Want more lemonade" on the SfY app.

“Want more lemonade” on the SfY app.

"Like drink lemonade" on the SfY app.

“Like drink lemonade” on the SfY app.

"Want my lemonade" on the SfY app.

“Want my lemonade” on the SfY app.

If that vocabulary looks familiar to you, it’s also going to be familiar to the child.  In my examples, I used the nouns (lemonade, French fries), but you could model utterances without the nouns such as: “Want more,” “Like eat,” “Eat more,” “More please”…When you’re modeling one word beyond what the child uses independently, you don’t necessarily have to use their independent word.  The idea is to model and ultimately increase language at a manageable, successful level.  When you’re modeling there’s no pressure on the child.  You are showing her that she can say more, and moving her towards independent, generalized communication.  The purpose is not to make her jump through more and more hoops to say the same thing , but to give her the opportunity to be more specific about what she is trying to say.  As well as parents and therapists know a child or understand language, they are never going to be able to guess EVERYTHING that a child is ever going to want to say.  Use your time to build language and teach her to generalize it across items, settings, activities, and communication partners.  After all, we are not mind readers (Click to read the Uncommon Sense blog on that topic), and we never will be.  However, we can move step by step, until a child is able to put together sentences independently…and share his thoughts with anyone who will listen.

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8 Responses to Simon Says: Model One More Word

  1. Anne Mahoney says:

    These posts are so informative and encouraging. Thank you.

  2. Bari says:

    This has to be one of my favorite posts! I have been doing this to expand the language of one of my 5th grade students and within a few sessions he has been able to combine 5+ symbols to expand upon his previous one word requests!

  3. Julie Taylor says:

    This is great. It really explains the process will and how to better expand the vocabulary.

  4. Ana Monaldi says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for this post!!!! I’ve been in desperate need of this article! Great information and very helpful.

  5. Claire Mallon says:

    Great article. I think I remember that game from years ago.

  6. Pingback: Using Aided Language Input to Elicit Verbal Speech - Speak For Yourself AAC

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