If you have read my blog before you will know that one of my Speech Therapy guilty pleasures is making communication books! I am always experimenting with different layouts/sizes/designs.
Another speechie tool that I love is Colourful Semantics. If you haven’t heard of Colourful Semantics, a quick Google search should provide you with lots of examples and free resources! Basically, the concept breaks a sentence down into its components or ‘thematic roles’. These roles are then colour coded, supporting a child to develop their vocabulary and sentence structuring.
The colours used can vary slightly but the standard system (as specified by Alison Bryan, who developed the system) is as follows:
Who? (Person/animal or subject of sentence)- orange
What are they doing? (Verb)- yellow
What? (object)- green
Where? (Place)- blue
What like? (Describing words)- Purple
When? (Time concepts)- Brown
An example of some sentences using Colourful Semantics can be found below:
Recently, after delivering a training session on Colourful Semantics at a mainstream primary school, a Teaching Assistant planted a new idea in my head…using Colourful Semantics in a Communication Book format!
I had been working with a young boy with verbal dyspraxia and had discussed how he needed an alternative form of communication to supplement his speech. His Teaching Assistant had started using Colourful Semantics with him and as he was so familiar with the format it made sense to base his communication book on this foundation.
I put my thinking cap on and decided that in order for this system to work it would need to have 3 main features:
1. Access to core words- We know that the most commonly used words in the English language are not nouns like ball, cat, car, etc. Words that we use again and again in multiple contexts such as ‘more’, ‘not’, ‘finished’, ‘want’, ‘different’, etc are the super important words! Lots of studies have provided Speech and Language Therapists with a starting point regarding the core words that ‘typically’ developing children use most frequently. Here is a handy list of these very important words, based on a number of research studies: https://aaclanguagelab.com/files/100highfrequencycorewords2.pdf
Every communication book should ensure that the child has access to these kind of words. In the Colourful Semantics communication book, I stuck the core words to the inside
cover so that they were a) easy to find and b) always accessible (see picture below!)
2. A simple navigation system based on Colourful Semantics- The layout of the communication book organises vocabulary using the Colourful Semantics system. Typically a category based communication book would have a people page, a place page, etc. This book extends on that idea by having these elements arranged in a logical sequence to support sentence construction. The child can navigate through the book, gradually extending on their sentence, flipping back to use core words as and when they need to.
I added sub-categories to many of the pages e.g. the ‘what like’ section had sub-categories related to feelings, words used to describe objects and words to describe people.
3. Personalisation– As with any communication book, we need to ensure that it is created with the individual in mind. This means that we consider their strengths, their needs, their likes, dislikes, etc.
The child who I designed the book for had a preference for visual learning, limited literacy skills, difficulties with attention and listening and generally good fine motor skills in that he could point and flip pages.
Bearing all of this in mind, I limited the core vocabulary to 20 words to begin with. As he becomes more confident with these words, I plan to increase this over time, keeping the words that he is familiar with in the same position to support motor memory.
I made the book bright and colourful and cut out tabs to make it easier for him to flip through the book to find the words that he needs.
Finally, I got him to design a front cover so that he felt a sense of ‘ownership’ of the book. He drew a picture of himself and he and his Teaching Assistant typed out a few sentences about what the book was and how he would use it.
As you can see from my photographs, the colour system varies slightly from standard Colourful Semantics! Why?! Well, the school were already using a slight variation of colours- it was important to stick with what they knew as this was what the child was already familiar with.
So, who would this type of communication book be useful for?! Well if you want to try it out, here are a few groups of children that it might be suitable for:
1. Children who struggle with sentence construction– Children who use alternative forms of communication often get stuck at using single words. Learning to combine words is tricky! Colourful Semantics aims to support children to work towards constructing sentences of increasing length by adding more content. Each element is introduced gradually but initially the focus would be on constructing a sentence with a subject (the orange ‘who’ element) + a verb (the yellow ‘what doing’ element) e.g. ‘I like’, ‘You go’, ‘Mummy play’, ‘Elsa sing’, etc. As the communication partner, you would continue to model using core words and expanding on the child’s message.
2. Children who struggle to answer questions– The colour coding element helps children to link a colour with a question e.g if asked a ‘who’ question, a child would know the answer would be located on their orange page.
I’ve also used this idea to support a young man who uses a communication app on an iPad. I simply colour coded the page buttons so that he could find how to respond to questions more quickly.
3. Children who are already familiar with the system– Colourful Semantics is used quite widely across schools in the UK. When supporting a child who already uses this approach but needs a more formal communication system to supplement their speech, this is a good starting point! The young boy I made the book for quickly grasped the idea as he was already confidently using Colourful Semantics.
This is just an example of a wide variety of communication books that can be used to support children to communicate. There are many alternative ideas but I like to have a bank of resources so that I can ensure that the communication system used matches the needs of the child! If you want to know more about other types of communication books, have a nosey at this blog post:
The great thing about combining core words and Colourful Semantics is that both approaches have a strong evidence base. This makes me curious as to whether or not using these ideas together with children who require alternative means of communication will increase the ability to create novel sentence structures…Hopefully this is something that I can delve deeper into examining in the future!