November Checklist

This is a fun, exciting time of year, with many opportunities to build in engaging and memorable activities. You might be doing a Thanksgiving theme. Some students will enjoy learning about early America and the pilgrims. Others may enjoy a trip to the grocery store and participating in preparing a meal for parents. Still others may enjoy exploring the sensory components of the lesson, such as the feel and smell of a pumpkin. These activities provide time and opportunity to engage with students, parents and peers in meaningful ways.


Build Communication for All Students

In this guide, we will discuss ways to build communication for all students. Teachers of students with significant cognitive disabilities often do a lot of talking. They are naming and explaining as a student participates.


“Now we are going to get ready to make a pumpkin pie. This is a pumpkin that a farmer grew in his garden. Remember, we visited a pumpkin patch and cut up a pumpkin at Halloween and toasted the seeds. Today we are going to use the rest of the pumpkin to make a pumpkin pie.”

While it is important to pair language with experiences for our students (many of who are non-verbal), it is even more important to help our students participate in communication. Let’s begin by defining what we mean by communication. Communication is a two-way exchange. We can talk, talk, talk but sometimes we need to limit our verbalizations and find ways to support our student in communicative, give and take exchanges. Until we learn to provide multiple opportunities for our students to communicate, we are falling short and limiting our students and their ability to make real meaning from their experiences. Remember, communication goes beyond words.

Be Aware of Non-Verbal Communication

How does your non-verbal child communicate? This comes down to knowing your student. You might be able to notice a change in affect, differing vocalizations, etc. Teachers can begin by acknowledging a conversational attempt and engage with the child in a non-verbal communication exchange.


For example, the teacher might notice the child shows interest in the bumpy feel of a gourd. The teacher responds to his interest and hands the child a different gourd. The child accepts this gourd and shares the first gourd with the teacher. The teacher is initiating a back and forth exchange and that is the beginning of communication.

Introduce a Core Vocabulary Communication Board

Children with significant cognitive delays are seeking to make meaning of their world and we begin with this type of conversational exchange. From this point, we can add on other skills such as making choices, how to request and reject appropriately, etc. What you are accomplishing here is the development of a reliable response mode. The student may begin to make choices through a variety of means such as eye gaze, a change of facial expression, an increase in vocalization, the use of a switch, etc. At this point, consult with your speech pathologist and consider introducing a core vocabulary communication board.

A core vocabulary communication board is a “low tech” augmentative and alternate communication (AAC) tool. In its simplest form, a teacher places key words/pictures on a grid so that the student can communicate more efficiently. The student is using his most reliable response mode to make a choice between the different words on the grid for communication. A great deal can be said with a small number of words. To learn more about how to implement this strategy, talk to your regional CAN specialist and investigate the links below.


This is an example of a core board that a teacher quickly drew to support a student in participating in a reading activity.  The student now has a way to request that the teacher continue reading, stop reading, get another book or read the page or book over, etc.  This is just a nice reminder that it doesn’t always have to be fancy, i.e. created with Boardmaker or using internet images. 

Hand drawn vacab board containing the words "Go" (with forward arrow), "Stop" (with stop sign), "More" (with open book), and "Again" (with reverse arrow).
Project Core

Project Core

Universal Core vocabulary and communication instruction during the naturally occurring academic and daily routines of the school day
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Provide Opportunities for Communication

Finally, expand on conversational skills by providing not only multiple opportunities for communication, but multiple conversational partners. Include peers and help everyone who interacts with the child better understand how the child expresses himself.

Continue to Take Data

Once again…as you prepare for the upcoming holidays, remember to take good data. This data will be compared to data after the holidays to determine if regression occurred and if extended school year services might be necessary in the future.

STAAR Alternate 2

Continue instructing students in the targeted skills and refining supports, materials, and response modes as needed. Also, make sure that you are visiting the TEA website for any updates or information you may have missed last month. 

Final Thought - Incorporate "Moments of Joy"

We started this monthly guide discussing the fun opportunities that the holidays offer. This is also the time to incorporate what Dr. Jan van Dijk calls “moments of joy”. Dr. van Dijk is a leader in the field of working with children with deafblindness and multiple disabilities. For many years, Dr. van Dijk has advocated the importance of building communication skills, but he also reminds us to build in moments of joy. Please view the video at this site to guide you as you make plans for the rest of the year.

The Role of the Emotional Brain

Significant Cognitive Disabilities

The Role of the Emotional Brain

Dr. Jan van Dijk presents his research and ideas related to the brain, the limbic system and the impact on teaching and learning for students who have complex access needs.
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