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Core Vocabulary: Practicing the Basics

Core vocabulary is a key element in any person’s day. For some of our students with special needs, we need to model and practice how to communicate and ask for what we want and/or.

Core vocabulary - practicing the basics with put in tasks

If you’re unsure of what Core Vocabulary is or where to start, I recommend learning more in this blog post first.

In this blog post, we’re going to learn all about how to use a put-in task as an AAC device communication lesson. One that is simple and very inexpensive.


Before we get in to what the activity is or can be, let’s learn about the skills that can be practiced by using put-in tasks:

  • Communication (that’s why you’re here!)
  • Colors, shapes and sizes
  • 1:1 correspondence
  • Turn taking and sharing
  • Strengthening hand and finger muscles
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • …and more!

Now let’s talk about using put-in tasks for communication…

The actual practicing of using Core Vocabulary started with the activity I’m going to show you is one I learned about at a staff development. However, there are so many different options for put-in-tasks that you can literally make them out of almost any resources for just a few bucks.

Pinterest Board for work tasks and bin ideas.

To see other recommended work bins and put in task ideas, you can follow my Pinterest Board here.

Plastic spike balls work best, but you can use pom balls too.

I like to use the spikey balls, or porcupine balls; but you can easily use different sizes of pom balls too! They’re inexpensive, and around different holidays Walmart usually has different colors available in the holiday section where you find the party toys.

Same goes for large plastic coins; I usually find the larger gold coins at the Dollar Tree around St. Patrick’s Day. For smaller coins, you can use bingo chips or play money.

core vocabulary put in task activity and how to

You can use any size or shape of container you want. Save your recyclable plastics and use those, or go to the dollar store and grab a pack or two.

With my husband’s help, we (read: HE … ha! I watched.) drilled a hole in the top of each lid.

Depending on the thickness of the plastic, you may even be able to cut through the lid with an exact-o knife.

Use any container you'd like and drill a hole in the top.

Screw the lid back on and you have an instant put-in task, that doubles as a communication lesson.

And right now, you’re probably wondering how… right?! Let’s keep learning…

To start the activity, each student can have one container and a few spike balls.

After you’ve decided on which route to take with a Core Board (a tech device, a binder, binder ring, mini core board strips, or something else), you simply start with “I want that” or “I need that”. If your student is just starting out with using an AAC device, you can use “want” or “need” or even the word “it”.

Practice using the AAC device before introducing the activity.

It might even be a good idea to let students explore the put-in task items before working with them. Set a timer for 1 or 2 minutes, and then get to work.

| As the teacher, you are the facilitator of the learning… but allow students to have ownership over their learning. You guide, but they execute.

Model what you want the student to accomplish… and model using the child’s device. Then it’s the child’s turn to communicate using his or her AAC device to request a put-in item.

Put the spike balls inside of the container one at a time. Students say or use their AAC device to say "put in".

A key part in this activity is to (1) remain quiet and really let the child think it. We don’t want to interrupt their thought process or communication with our words. Let the child do it.

And (2) reward the child for each appropriate response, and reward heavily when you are first starting out. As the child becomes more independent with the task, you can fade out the rewards. (To learn more about the prompting hierarchy, you can read this blog post.)

Put the spike balls inside of the container one at a time. Students say or use their AAC device to say "put in".

The key to facilitating more communication throughout an activity like this is having the student request for each item, one at a time.

“I want it” or “want” or “need blue” rewards the student with one blue spikey balls. Or if you’re using pom balls, bingo chips, gold coins… the student only gets one.

Once they put-in all of the items, it’s easy clean up… or you can open the container and start all over again!

Maybe the first time, you just worked on “want”. So now the second time you can add in a color word or a number word.

Trials can occur over multiple settings, or in one lesson. The great thing about put-in tasks is that you always have them ready to go. If your lesson ended quicker than expected, you can quick grab a put-in task and have a mini lesson ready to go in a matter of seconds.

core vocabulary put in task activity and how to

I wanted to show you the poms we use too, instead of the spikey balls. For some of my students, the spikey balls are above their fine motor ability level, so I switched the item to the poms to accommodate the learning task.

As with any activity, it’s all about doing what works best for you and your students. Adapting and accommodating the task to make it fit your specific classroom needs.

What is your favorite put-in task? Tell us in the comments below!

Learn all about how to use a put in task as an AAC device or core vocabulary communication lesson. One that is simple and very inexpensive, and a core vocab lesson than can be easily implemented as a full lesson or a time filler transition lesson. Learn more at Mrs. D's Corner.


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I'm a special education teacher, presenter, curriculum writer, and educational blogger behind Mrs. D's Corner.
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