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Wednesday 22 Nov 2017

Organizing Picture Symbols to Support Vocabulary Development

Did you know that typically developing preschoolers learn as many as nine new words per day (Adams 1990)? Since January is national “get organized” month, it is a perfect time to discuss how to collect and organize vocabulary symbols to provide access to new words for learning and communication.

Young children often learn new words by pointing to pictures and line drawings in books and by getting constant feedback from the people around them. A very early skill that many children learn is categorization. This is an important skill for children who may use communication books or augmentative communication devices because vocabulary is often organized into categories (e.g., parts of speech, similar items, etc.). To help with your child’s vocabulary development, start creating picture symbol libraries that can be used to teach important language skills. Pictures can be found on the internet and magazines or by using a specialized software program (e.g., Boardmaker). Once you have collected and organized your symbols, you can use them to play games, to read and talk about books and to model appropriate use of vocabulary during every day activities.

Game Ideas:

What’s in the bag?
Place several picture cards (or objects) in a bag and have your child pull out one at a time. Depending on their language level, have them:

  • find the picture symbol for the word (e.g., picture card or on communication device)
  • use vocabulary symbols to describe the item (e.g., big, blue, round, etc.)
  • Answer a wh-question about the item
  • Place the item in a category
  • Spell the item on a keyboard

Category Round Up
Choose 2 to 4 categories (ex. food, clothing, animals, transportation, body parts, etc.) and create picture cards of items found in each category. Create a corresponding background for the category (ex. kitchen, closet, barn, etc.). Have your child match the object to the most appropriate category using the device and picture cards.

To help you get started, print the Categories page below. To make this activity more interactive, cut out the individual symbols on the left side of the page so that your child can place the items on the appropriate category.


Tip: To make picture symbols last longer, laminate or cover them with clear contact paper.

Sample board was taken from BoardmakerShare.com. Board courtesy of Stephanie Hershberger. All rights reserved. To learn more about the Boardmaker Family of Products, download a free 30-day trial of Boardmaker.

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