2000 Conference Proceedings

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Quick and Easy Ideas on How to Use Materials Lying on Your Desk to Include Nonverbal Children in the Classroom

Carolyn Rouse
Katera Murphy

Clark County School District
Las Vegas, NV

"I'm supposed to make materials so this nonverbal child can participate in all the subjects I teach!! You have to be kidding!!? How do I find the time to do that??" Have you ever felt like this? Including a nonverbal child in the classroom can feel like a mammoth job but it doesn't have to be.

First of all lets take a look at the classroom itself. There are classrooms that are easier to incorporate augmentative communication than others. Classroom characteristics that make it easier to incorporate picture communication systems are:

Structure-- Structure makes it easier to predict the kinds of vocabulary the child will need in their augmentative communication system.

Planning--A teacher who plans activities well in advance is a help because again it makes it easier to plan what pictures, vocabulary or overlays the nonverbal child may need. Weekly planning sessions between the teacher and who ever takes responsibility at the school site for setting up the overlays is always a good idea. If this is not possible, at least get copies of worksheets etc. the appropriate person so that they can be adapted.

Routine--Classroom routines again make it easier to predict vocabulary needs however the routines themselves can be great teaching opportunities. For example, if the routine is to set the table before the children eat lunch. It is easy to forget the utensils and see if the child will ask for them or tell you that someone forgot to set the table.

Accessibility--A child using augmentative communication may be using a device and low tech pictures in addition. For their communication system to be functional their needs to be access to nonverbal communication in some form in all areas. This may mean using their device in structured settings but using a communication bracelet on the playground or a low tech picture overlay for specific lessons in the classroom that do not necessarily need to be programmed into the communication device.

Role Models--Children using augmentative communication also do better in classrooms where they are not the only one "talking with pictures". It is always a good idea for teachers or other classroom peers to use pictures to communicate from time to time. Often pictures benefit other verbal children in the class, as well, who do not process auditory information well and can benefit from the additional visual cues. This is easy to see if you have ever given a student a directive to do something and they don't seem to be able to follow through. Often showing them helps them to process better. Use of the nonverbal child's pictures may help these verbal children also.

We are talking about using a lot of overlays or pictures and, of course, this can be very overwhelming. You may be thinking, I teach 6 subjects each day 5 days a week. That's 30 overlays times 4 weeks in a month. Only 120 overlays a month--AUGH!!! IMPOSSIBLE!!

But the good news is that it doesn't have to be that way. For example, here are some ideas to cut down on the amount of work and preparation needed to make overlays for specific classroom lessons. We call them our...

6 Ideas to Make Life Easier

Idea 1. Make communication boards that can be used all year. We call these our core overlays and we will discuss them in a minute.

Idea 2. Use workbooks and text book materials to make communication boards. We call these unit overlays which we will also discuss in more detail later.

Idea 3. Aim for boards that can be used for more than one activity.

Idea 4. Look at communication boards as wonderful teaching aids for the entire class

Idea 5. Make communication boards that can be used for several lessons. Use cut away grids to reveal what is needed for each lesson.

Idea 6. Try to make communication boards that can be customized easily for different lessons by changing a few pictures attached with velcro.

Let's look at overlays that can be made once and used all year. We call these our Core Overlays.

Core Overlay are the framework of your communication system in the classroom. These generic boards are made only once a year, but give essential practice in major subject areas throughout the year. They are the overlays that you can fall back on because they are ready to use and are usually appropriate for any lesson in that subject area. Thus, they are the backbone of your academic overlay system. Here are examples of core overlays that will meet the child's basic academic needs in 5 or 6 areas. You should be able to see what we mean when we say they can be used all year. We have found these overlays to be really helpful in the classroom:

The Alphabet Overlay for Spelling. This can be a simple alphabet overlay use to spell words. If the board has key linking capability you can actually program in the week's spelling words. This can be a good teaching device other children in the classroom can benefit from as well. Letting other children use the child's augmentative device whenever possible has the advantage of making the nonverbal child's system seem more acceptable and it makes the other children more likely to interact with the nonverbal child by asking appropriate questions that can be answered using the board.





The Calculator Overlay for Math. It is easy to see how to use this overlay for simple math operations if the communication device has key linking capabilities. It also works well if the child is using higher numbers. For example instead of programming a key to say "10", have the child hit "1" and "0" . By hitting the numbers separately you should not be limited by the number of squares the child has on the device. The child should be able to give the answer 524, for example.

7 8 9 +

4 5 6 -- DELETE

1 2 3 X CLEAR


The Art Overlay for Art Projects. Our art overlay has vocabulary such as common art supplies that you would probably use for every art project. However we leave a row of blank squares so you can attach art supplies that are specific to that particular art project. For example, you might attach the eyes, nose, mouth etc.needed for a jack 'o lantern one week. Pull them off and replace them with Christmas decorations for the Christmas tree later.

velcro velcro velcro velcro velcro velcro velcro

A Lunch Overlay can help with food choices as well as provide social interactions. We have generic vocabulary to help meet the student's needs and concerns during each meal. We have allowed places to velcro specific items, thus customizing it to fit the day's menu.

Special Special

Message Message


Special Special

Message Message


Velcro Velcro Velcro Velcro Velcro Velcro

Food Food Food Food Food Food

Choice Choice Choice Choice Choice Choice

Choice Boards for selecting free play choices,toys, colors, center choices, friends, activities, fingerpalys or other classroom items can also be thought of as core overlays because after they are made once they can be used all year.

Generic Classroom Overlays have two purposes: The first is to encourage interaction with the teacher about generic academic needs such as "What page are we on?" or "I want a pencil". The second is to support the nonverbal child's participation in classroom academics.

Unlike Core Overlays, Unit Overlays are made for specific lessons and will have to be changed periodically. However they can usually be used for several weeks. Unit overlays would be helpful in subject areas such as reading, science and geography, for example. Unit overlays can be made from worksheets and text books you are using with other children in the class. Even if the nonverbal child is not on the same academic level as others in the class they like to use the same materials. There are lots of ways to adapt material. Here are some ideas on how to take actual worksheets or textbooks and make overlays out of them.

How to Make Overlays from Worksheets or Textbooks

Idea 1 Take the worksheet and simply adjust it to fit on an overlay. Many times textbook and worksheet graphics will line up nicely to a blank communication board grid. Then the answers will just have to be programmed under the appropriate square.

Idea 2. Cut the worksheet apart and paste it on a blank grid. Often worksheet pictures and text will fit into a square on a blank overlay. These pictures can be key linked if the worksheet calls for matching question and answers or the answer can simply be recorded under the appropriate picture.

Idea 3. Shrink or enlarge the worksheet to fit on the blank grid.

Idea 4. Hand copy the material from a worksheet onto a blank grid.

Idea 5. Leave the worksheet as it is and make an answer sheet out of a blank grid.

Idea 6 For odd sized pictures that don't line up exactly with the grid, put small stickers to mark the spot the student would need to press to get the device to give the right answer.

Idea 7 For textbooks shrink entire pages or illustrations to fit on a single square of the overlay then record the essential information from that page or illustration on the square.

The bottom line is there are some weeks you may have to make 1 or 2 overlays. There are some weeks you may not have to make any. That's Doable!!!

Multiply handicapped children can be especially challenging for classroom teachers. These children often use very technical complicated devices that take time to program. In a normal classroom situations can change or happen quickly. Lessons, schedules or activities can change, sometimes with very little notice. For these situations alternate ways to communicate that are quick and easy are also helpful to use in addition to their communication device. There are some quick and easy ways to meet these challenges.

Eye Gaze. We usually begin communicating with these children with either a yes/no system or eye gaze. Our point here is that this system should not be abandoned when a communication device is introduced. In a classroom, often it is much easier to simply hold two items up and have the child look at the one he/she wants.

E-trans.For more formal training in eye gaze, we suggest making several e-trans out of folders by cutting out the picture areas as well as the area the communication partners needs to be able to look through. We then laminate the folder so those areas are clear and more sturdy. We can then attach pictures and use for more formal eye gaze boards. The beauty in using these cut out folders is that you can have several on hand inside the lessons you are teaching so again it is quick and easy to use.

Low Tech Scanning. Typically when we teach or use scanning for a child to communicate, we do it with some sort or a mechanical device. Of course these devices must also be programmed. Scanning devices are wonderful because the nonverbal child has the power to independently say what they want to say. No more waiting for the communication partner to ask the right question or hold up the right item or picture. However, there is still a place for low tech scanning in the classroom especially for choices or communications that were unplanned and therefore not programmed into the child's device.

We hope you can see that communication in the classroom, be it social or academic, can be quick and easy. Whether the child is mildly handicapped or multiply handicapped we can include them in all activities throughout the day with a reasonable amount of effort. We hope that by adding these ideas to your bag of tricks, we have made your life a little easier.

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