2004 Conference Proceedings

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Melanie Jones
Inclusive Technology
Gatehead Business Park, Delph New Rd
Delph, Oldham, United Kingdom
Email: melanie@inclusive.co.uk

Symbols are used all over the world in real life situations such as restrooms and highways to give information visually. In foreign countries we can find our way about with the help of symbols. Students with little or no speech can communicate with symbols. For example, a student can point to symbols in a low-tech communication book to express their thoughts. Where speech is unclear, the symbol reinforcement can give the user confidence and encourage the user to verbalize more frequently. Pupils with little or no understanding of text have a chance of reading symbols or pictures. It may be appropriate to write out the words of a new song with symbols on the keywords. This will give the user a chance of being able to join in with the rest of the group.

As well as pictures, there are many different types of symbol systems - PCS, Rebus, Compics - each with its advantages and disadvantages. The important thing is to choose a system that is relevant for the individual learner, with symbols that are age appropriate and within their experience. Students with learning difficulties often need a Horizontal Curriculum - different ways of presenting the same subject. Personalized resources allow a topic to be covered in many different ways, encouraging the student to make progress in small steps at a time resulting in a sense of achievement. Worksheets, storybooks, flashcards, communication books and games can be printed out in multiple copies- for use in school and at home, and can be replaced when they are looking well used and worn!

Using symbols with books

Books with good language structure can develop speaking, listening, reading and writing skills at sound, word and sentence level. When choosing a book to be used with symbols, it is important to choose a book with appropriate language. Try and find a book that has a keyword on each page that is relevant to the child's vocabulary. For instance, for a child who can recognize symbols for a dozen or so words, it may be more appropriate to have a book about favorite toys, than a book about martians or dinosaurs. It is often difficult to find books at this level, so I usually end up making my own. It can be useful to model books on those that are familiar to the student with simple text and repeated lines, such as

This allows you to use a text that is developmentally quite young but ensures the content and images are age appropriate and motivating. The content can be made relevant to a current topic or theme. I like to make books a multi-sensory experience - using switches to operate fans (wind), lights (lightning) and tapes (sound effects). I also love to use puppets and costumes to dress up in. It is often easier to find props, puppets, toys etc to complement books that have been personalised. Students can read the books in paper format or on the computer as a talking book, using software such as Switch It! Maker. The student can turn the pages of the book on the computer with the press of a switch, allowing all students to be included in class activities and read the story to the rest of the class.


It is very useful to make a grid with symbols of keywords in a program such as Boardmaker, Writing With Symbols, Clicker 4 etc. The grid can be printed out time and time again to make: a low-tech communication board, a picture dictionary for early writing, flashcards, sequencing cards, and symbols which can be velcroed into the book. The grids can be used for object-picture, picture-picture or word-picture matching activities. They can also be used for games such as lotto, snap, dominoes, board games or for cupboard labels

Communication Aids

Single message communicators such as the BIGmack, Partner/One and One step Communicator can be used to speak lines such as 'I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down' which may be repeated throughout the text. A picture or symbol can be placed under the AbleNet Switch cap, or a real object may be velcroed onto it. A Step-by-Step communicator can enable students to participate in shared reading of favourite stories, or to sing along with a song, line by line. Students can use communicators such as 4talk4, Tech/Talk 8 or Partner/Four to answer questions e.g 'What did the cow say?' 'MOO!'

Creative Writing

Symbols can be used in on-screen grids (Writing with Symbols or Clicker 4) to develop creative writing skills. The framework allows students to write: their own stories, news, shopping list, letters to penfriends and newspaper articles at a very early level. The finished item can be printed out which gives students a great sense of pride.

Personalized resources are easy to make and have made a difference to the children I have worked with. They can make a difference to your children too!

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