Let’s Talk AAC Blog: Stories and Strategies for Success

PRC consultants and other AAC Professionals share stories of strategies and success.

The "Model, Model, Model" Mantra

Posted December 10, 2014 in Stories and Strategies for Success

_By Beth Ahmad, , M.A., CCC-SLP Speech-Language Pathologist Regional Consultant, PRC

Beth Ahmad

The “Model, Model, Model” Mantra

Here’s an all-too-familiar story… I met with a team of a student who uses an Accent 1000. This student has had the device for over a year now, but the team tells me, “He’s not interested in using it” or “He doesn’t know how to use it”. That’s when I ask, “Well, how are YOU using the device?” Cue the “deer in the headlights” look and responses such as, “I don’t use the device – it’s his voice, not mine” or “I didn’t know I was supposed to use it”.

How do you teach a person to use sign language? For example, if you want to teach him how to sign the word “more”, do you say, “bunch your fingertips together and bang them at midline and I will give you more cookies”?! NO!! You model the sign for “more” while saying the word “more”, right?! You pair a motor plan (the sign for more) with an auditory signal (the verbal word “more”) and every time you say the word “more”, you pair it with the sign! That’s modeling!

So imagine this… Your goal is for the student to use sign language but you keep your hands in your pockets all day, every day. You don’t model any signs for him; his parents don’t model any signs; his teachers and aides don’t model any signs; and his peers don’t use sign. No one ever shows the student how to sign. At the end of a year will your student have learned to use sign language?! NO!! “But he’s had his hands for over a year now! I don’t understand why he’s not signing!” Ridiculous, right?!

It’s no different than expecting the person to know how to use their communication device without first showing them how! We need to model, model, model and show our students how to use words to communicate a variety of language functions across their day! In fact, I tell my teams, “You should use the communication device to talk to the student more than he/she uses it to talk to you!” That surprises a lot of people because they had no idea they were supposed to be modeling on the device! So, how do you model?

Modeling is also known as Aided Language Stimulation or Aided Language Input. It is defined and described at The AAC Institute. Modeling with a communication device is no different than modeling sign language. Here are a couple of things to remember:

1) Modeling is all about YOU. It is about providing input to the student without expecting them to say anything in return. It is simply pairing your verbal output with the words on the device.

2) You do not need to model every single word in your sentence. Just like when teaching sign language, you don’t start out signing every single word in the sentence you’re saying. You start with one word and model it repeatedly. Then as your sign repertoire grows, you add additional signs (pair two together like “more” + “cookie”) and so on. If you say, “I need you to go sit down” you can pick any one of those words to model on the device as you say it. There’s no “wrong” word when it comes to modeling!

Let’s pretend we’re playing with a balloon and balloon pump. It’s often helpful to determine which core words you want to model if you start by narrating yourself through the activity and write down the core words you say. For example, I might present the balloon activity like this:

“Hey there! Thanks for coming to play with me! I brought something really cool that can GO. Do you want to see something GO? Okay, first I have to PUT the balloon on my balloon pump so I can PUT some air inside. (start pumping the balloon with air) I think it needs MORE air. Let’s PUT some MORE air into it. Okay, it’s ready! Ready, set, GO! (balloon flies around the room and makes a funny sound) That was FUNNY! Where did it GO?! Who’s going to GET the balloon? Okay, I’ll GET it. (go pick up the balloon) Let’s do it AGAIN! I’m going to PUT it on my balloon pump so I can PUTT some air inside…” *Note: the bold words are those I model on the device as I say them.

Notice how in this example, I didn’t ask the student to “say go” or “tell me go”. That’s because, with modeling, I’m focused on providing him input or an example of how to use the words appropriately. It’s about me, not about him. I have found that approaching the interaction this way takes the pressure off the student and allows us to have a fun and naturally-engaging interaction. Because I don’t tell him what to say, it means he can say anything and still be “right”!

Teaching language on a communication device should be fun and engaging! I try to play and interact with children who are nonverbal in the same way I play and interact with my own 3-year-old. We comment about things we see, we ask questions, we protest, we direct each other to do things, and we share our feelings. If you apply those same concepts to building language using a communication device, you will have much success! Just keep modeling!


  • On January 28, 2015, Guest said:

    Thank you for your positive feedback! You asked about how to respond to a parent who doesn’t want to use the child’s device for modeling because “that’s HIS voice, not mine”. In an ideal world, we would be able to incorporate what’s called “parallel modeling” where I have a device that matches yours and I use my device to say things in my own voice while you use your device to say things in your own voice. Unfortunately, communication devices are expensive, even iPads when you’re talking about providing two that are exact copies of one another. The funding and financing is just not there to be able to do parallel modeling in most situations. So, if we can’t afford an identical system with which to model, we have to do the next best thing and use the person’s own device as a tool for modeling. Another consideration is that you can print a manual communication board that matches the layout of the person’s display and use it for modeling. But this can get tricky if the person uses a sequencing vocabulary on their device. It’s difficult to model icon sequences on a manual board because it is static, not dynamic like the device. Hope that helps answer your question! ~Beth Ahmad bea.cons@prentrom.com”

  • On January 26, 2015, Guest said:

    Of course you can share this article Kathy and Tracy.

  • On January 26, 2015, Guest said:

    Hi I love your blog! How do younrespond when a parent doesn’t want to use the child’s device for modeling? They feel it’s the child’s voice so only he should use it. What are your thoughts?

  • On January 25, 2015, Guest said:

    What a great article, may we print this and share with our staff? Kathy and Tracy

  • On January 8, 2015, Guest said:

    Hi guys, thank you for writing this blog entry it has helped me hugely. As a mother of a 20 yr old who uses a AAC device and “seems not interested” knowing this has helped. Do you have any videos of modelling that can be shared.