Visual Schedules and Core Vocabulary

A visual schedule is a visual depiction of expectations for a child for the sequence of upcoming events or activities. It can be composed of real objects, photographs, line drawings, colored icons, written words, or a combinations of these modalities differentiated to the student’s needs.  A visual schedule should tell a child what he is doing during a designated time period.  One child may need a visual schedule for within a 30 minute activity, while needing a separate scheduling depicting the child’s entire day.  

Why are visual schedules important?

Visual schedules are evidence based and have been shown to be helpful as part of Functional Communication Training (Bopp et al, 2004). A visual schedule can visually show what is expected for a child within a certain time frame (5 minutes, half hour, half day, full day, etc.).   They can also help a child predict what will come next and which may result in avoiding negative behaviors due to frustration of not understanding a transition.  Students with special needs may become frustrated, overwhelmed, or anxious if daily activities are not clearly indicated, or if they don’t understand the sequence of events that are expected of them during an activity or across a time period.  It is very common to assume that students are comprehending and organizing more auditory information than they actually do.  Then performance deficits are assumed to be “behavior” or lack of effort.   The use of visuals in a schedule acknowledges the strengths of many students and assists them in using their stronger skills (visual processing) to overcome their areas of difficulty (i.e. auditory processing of speech).

Explain Core Vocabulary and Visual Schedules…

Our generative language systems consists of a 80%-20% Core to Fringe (or Core to Fringe + Personal Core) ratio.  This ratio is consistent for children as we talk about how they communicate during their school day; however, oftentimes, we often provide visual schedules which don’t match what we are actually saying.  Instead, we provide noun filled schedules which don’t depict these important and frequently used core words.  As a result, our schedules become very unlike like our generative language system.    Instead of a “noun only” visual schedule, I recommend adapting visual schedules with core words.  This creates a more natural way to speak to a child and also model language.  If we can increase what a child understands receptively, there is greater chance that the child may begin to use those words expressively.

Benefits of adapting schedules with core words:

Increase understanding of core and fringe words

Pair language with pictures to increase speech to icon association

Increase understanding of spoken language when paired with a visual

Increase use of aided language stimulation

Increase understanding of transitions and sequences

Increase understanding of expectations within or across activities

Increase opportunities for learning word meaning

Increase opportunities for generalization of word meaning across contexts, activities, and communication partners

Increase understanding of spontaneous novel language

Use of visual schedule to target past tense and recall past information

CVES Solution Visual Schedule

Potential target language:

Sit at table

Put on coat

Go on bus

Go home

Child or communication partner moves first sequence to the red area when an activity is finished.

Child or communication partner continues this sequence after each activity by moving the core and fringe words into the red area when each activity is completed.

When all activities have been completed as shown above, the icons can be reset for the next time period/activity or moved into the inside of the visual schedule for storage.

Past tense recall:

Past tense recall can be targeted to talk about what happened within the activity or school day.  Two word combinations or adding subjective pronouns might be appropriate depending upon what the educator is targeting. The core vocabulary words can be rotated to include pronouns, action words, locations, etc. in order to target various grammar structures and to increase mean length of utterance.

sit table/Sat table/I sat at table

Put coat/I Put on coat/coat on

Go bus/went bus/I go/I Went on bus

go home/went home/I go/I went/I went home


Consider adapting your visual schedule with core vocabulary words, or check out the visual schedule in the CVES Solution Store.



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