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Aided Language Input Part 4: Using Chaining

What About Prompting?

As a review, when we are using Aided Language Input, we are not prompting or making the child say something, and we are not testing a child to see what they know.  We can, however; use prompting to elicit language and expressive language.  Most importantly, we can use aided language input throughout the day across multiple communicative opportunities, but also use a prompting procedure when expecting the child to communicate and to elicit or naturally encourage communication.

Can I Use Prompting and Aided Language Input?

Over the years, many prompt hierarchies have been created to teach functional, academic, and language skills.   The most frequent prompt hierarchies that come to mind are the Most to Least and Least to Most Prompt Hierarchies.  Depending on the child’s individual needs, we may use one prompt hierarchy over another, or we may choose to use a combination of prompt hierarchies depending upon our expectations for the child.  For example, if we are teaching the visual motor integration and selection of an icon, we may need to use a most to least hierarchy.  If we know a child can physically remove an icon, we may move to a least to most hierarchy.  

When working with AAC, most of us think of using a least to most prompt hierarchy when prompting to elicit language from our clients.  When working with children who use high or low tech alternative and augmentative communication, the least to most prompt hierarchy is what I often use when I expect my students to use new vocabulary words. This is, of course, if they can physically access an icon.   With CVES, I need to ensure that a child can motorically access an icon and give that icon to the communication partner.  Instead of a least to most hierarchy, I can use a most to least hierarchy called “chaining.”


We can use a most to least hierarchy in the form of chaining to teach physical motor access. More specifically, we can use “chaining” to teach the visual-motor sequence of selecting icons.  Chaining refers to a method of teaching a behavior using behavior chains. Behavior chains are sequences of individual behaviors that when linked together form a terminal behavior (  

Chaining has been using for many years to teach a variety of skills, including vocational and life skills tasks (washing hands, brushing teeth, stocking shelves, data entry), as well as language learning and foundations of language learning such as object-picture matching, color matching, picture discrimination, imitation skills, following directions etc.   In backward chaining, it is the last step or “subtask” that a child has not mastered that is focused on first.  This provides the child with immediate reinforcement through successful completion of the task.  Them, once the skill is mastered, the focus moves to the next-to-last subtask.  For example, a child learning to remove his shoes might initially focus on learning to put their shoes on the shoe mat after being assisted with other steps.  Next, the child would learn to take off his shoes and put them on the shoe mat. Chaining is a teaching method which can be used on CVES to teach the motor access of removing an icon from it’s position on the core vocabulary foldout, and giving the icon to the communication partner, then letting go of the icon into the communication partner’s hand.

How do I use Chaining?

We do “chaining” by teaching the last step first.  Provide full physical prompting on the Core Vocabulary Foldout to isolate the icon, grab it, pull it off, and hand it to the communication partner.  Alternatively, have the child place the icon onto the communication card if constructing phrases before handing the communication card to the communication partner.

If we want a child to learn “want stop”  the already learned “want” would be on the communication card.  The focus would then be to backward chain the word “stop” using full physical prompting of physically placing the icon onto the card, and then physically giving the communication card to the communication partner.  We can focus in on chaining to teach the visual motor integration, or physical sequence of the transfer of icon.

Can I Use Backward Chaining and Aided Language Input? YES YES YES!

We should focus on providing aided language input all day to the children we work with, but we can have separate expectations for the  use of icons.  We can use the word “go” and talk about “go” all day across various communicative opportunities (go bathroom, go fast, we go, i want go, go home, don’t go, want to go? Go up, etc.), but use chaining to teach communicative exchanges and have the child complete a communicative exchange with the target core word.  

Up next, guest author Cynthia Quiroga shares how she is using CVES!

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