"The magic is in the core vocabulary, not the machine” Gail Van Tatenhove

Developing Language with People Using Minspeak Systems by Gail Van Tatenhove

Knowing where to start with Minspeak and what vocabulary or language teaching strategy to use can seem like an overwhelming task.  Gail Van Tatenhove delved into two of the explicit teaching strategies during her Pittsburgh AAC Language Seminar with contagious enthusiasm,  a wealth of knowledge and highly organised resources.

Pittsburgh AAC Language Seminar Series – October 2018

Explicit teaching strategy 1: Icon Family Approach

This is a semantic approach to language intervention and AAC vocabulary learning, which is unique to the teaching of a Minspeak system. It helps to strengthen semantic networks and relationships and provides a clear, systematic way to work through the icons using “units”. Each unit focuses on one family group (a family group is any group of words that is coded with an icon as the key icon in the sequence) for example, ‘apple’. Gail’s website has free resources on Icon Family Trees (see http://www.vantatenhove.com/products.shtml).

Strategies to teach the icon family approach include:

-        Starting with high value semantic groups of words for the client. For example, a client who loves to eat, go shopping and has medical needs may start with apple, money and medical.

-        Developing icon family stories about the client which utilise the icon families currently being targeted. Make the stories fun and prompt the client to find the icon when it is referenced in the story.

-        Creating visual supports of the icons and placing them around the house or classroom as a reminder to use the target words.

-        Making props that represent Minspeak icons for a tangible and engaging experience for the client. Gail is the Queen of Minspeak icon props!


Explicit teaching strategy 2: Part-of-Speech

This teaching strategy is also known as Grammar Rocks. It provides a structure for teaching more words quickly and is similar to traditional speech pathology language intervention. 

Strategies to teach part-of-speech include:

-        Sub-dividing core vocabulary into grammatical groups.

-        Teaching the core words that support functional fluency.

-        Focusing on small sets of words rather than a single word or all the words.

-        Having  resources ready to go for each of the grammatical groups. Gail has some resources on her website including modified board games (see http://www.vantatenhove.com/products.shtml). Resources should include visual supports, props such as dress ups, reinforcing games and books.


Gail’s key take away messages:

-        Don’t use one strategy exclusively.

It is important to divide up approaches based on the client’s strengths and skills. This allows a collaborative approach using various approaches simultaneously.

-        Mastery of target words is not required before moving on.

-        Track vocabulary using multiple methods such as charts, Realize Language and language samples.

-        One can never have enough resources. See Gail’s treasure trove at http://www.vantatenhove.com/resources.shtml

Written by Ash Colombini – Liberator Speech Pathologist. Our Speech Pathologists provide AAC therapy services under the NDIS to clients in Sydney & Perth. For more information contact Therapy Manager, Leanna Fox, on 0424 662 728 or visit https://liberator.net.au/therapy/clinical-therapy/aac-therapy.

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