Have you ever slowed down and examined your speech? Which words do you use most frequently and which ones are absolutely essential in your day-to-day conversations?
Core words include a set of approximately 220 words that are very commonly used and applicable to all populations, places, topics and activities. Approximately 80% of the words we use in conversation will be core words, but most of them are used repeatedly, which is another reason why we refer to them as being “core” to language. Some core words can also be called “sight words” because they have to be recognized and learned by sight. For example, the words “eye” and “new” are nearly impossible for young readers to sound out using phonic rules, so they would require memorization by sight.
Language tends to become very complex over time so it is crucial that we help new learners set a strong foundation through core vocabulary. Once children become comfortable with using core words they can ultimately build on it by using tools like grammatical rules such as where and when to add tense or possessives. When students are able to identify and read all of the core words, they can read about 75% of words in any given piece of children’s literature. Some of the most successful ways to teach core words include consistency and repetition, exposure, and teaching through stories, music and visuals. Natural integration of core words in language produces the best outcomes because children learn quickest when they see others modeling language.
It is also important that we entice communication and give the learner an opportunity to use core words when something motivates them. When a word is consistently used and repeated in conversation, the learner begins seeing the pattern of use and is eventually able to reproduce it without being prompted. Some of the first core words in English include “all done,” “help,” “want,” “more,” “it,” “who,” “what,” and “why.” Core words can also be quite challenging to sound out so it is important that teachers, therapists or caregivers spend time teaching children how to say, understand and apply them. For augmented communicators who struggle with speech, it is also helpful to provide an extensive list of high frequency core words on their communication device so they can point to words or visuals to better explain what they may want or need. Grade schools also do a great job with integrating core words into class curriculum so students can acquire fluency as they move up grade levels. Just remember: take things slow, do not overwhelm the learner but do not restrict their access to more words and provide as much support you possibly can for your learner to reach the pinnacle of their core language development.
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