How to Create an AAC Friendly Classroom

Students with complex communication needs (CCN) utilize augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to interact and connect with others. There are a variety of types of AAC, from no-tech paper-based options to high-tech devices. Regardless of what system they use to communicate, it is important that these students have the same opportunities to participate in classroom activities as their peers do. The following information includes strategies that can create an equitable learning environment to support your student’s language development through AAC:

  • Present a lesson on AAC: It’s likely that some students have never met or interacted with someone who uses AAC. Giving a lesson on AAC, including information on who uses it, why it’s important, and examples of different types of AAC can aid in the class’s understanding of the different ways people communicate. As much as possible, the student(s) using AAC in your classroom should contribute to this lesson planning. We should not be forcing them to share anything they are uncomfortable with.

  • Hang up a classroom board: Hanging up a large core board in the classroom makes the AAC device less of an unusual thing and provides opportunities for language modeling. You can incorporate this board throughout the day like during shared reading and writing time, when giving directions during transitions, and to make comments or ask questions during circle time. 

  • Create routines: To increase participation and interaction, create routines for the student that requires them to use their device. These can be triggered by a specific time and place. Examples include telling the class when it’s lunch time, saying hello to the librarian when entering the library, and sharing the title of the class book being read. 

  • Utilize alternatives to worksheets: Worksheets provide a means to keep students occupied. But for many students, worksheets feel like busy work. It’s not as engaging as other activities and does not ignite a passion for learning. Worksheets are even less helpful for students with CCN because they may not have reading and writing skills to complete the task, especially not with any independence. It also does not provide opportunities to interact with peers. To make the classroom more engaging for all students, implement alternatives instead. Examples include having the students play or create digital games like Kahoot, chalk talks or gallery walks, host debates or book circles to promote group discussion, and hands-on activities like art/crafts or manipulatives to encourage creativity and sensory experiences. Small group center based options can also be an option. Students can create their own books, either with a tech tool like BookCreator or Google Slides, or with simplified scrapbooking and drawing. Finally, ask the students! How would they like to show you their learning?

Written by Sarah Black (SLP graduate student)