Approach: Core Word Approach


This approach is good for children with very severe speech problems (like severe childhood apraxia of speech) or those with limited attention for drill and practice. Also helpful for children who make very slow progress in speech or who only say a few words because of their speech problems.  Instead of improving intelligibility by teaching specific sounds, a few target words are selected that are functional in a child’s environment and will allow him to practice new speech sounds.  These words are then introduced in direct therapy as well as indirectly through play.  Children who require this approach often have difficulty being understood by adults and peers and have limited vocabularies due to their speech difficulties.   

Task Analysis (How To):

Now comes the fun part!  Here’s where we break this larger skill down into manageable, bite-size pieces.  Here’s how to break this skill down for therapy:
  1. Choose a List of Words: This should be a short list of words that the child can use in a variety of situations (common words).  They should also include sounds that you want to target during your speech practice.
  2.  Practice Words in Isolation: At the beginning of your session, have the child practice saying the list of words in isolation.  Use tactile, verbal, and visual cues to encourage correct production of the sounds in the words.  Accept gradually more accurate approximations of the word if the child is not able to produce the word completely correctly at first.
  3. Practice Words During Play: Once the child loses interest in the direct drill of the words in isolation, move to some fun play activities.  Choose activities that will allow multiple opportunities to practice the target words.  Each time the word comes up, stop and help the child practice saying that word correctly.  Praise correct productions.
  4. Encourage Practice at Home: If the child is able to practice the words in isolation at home, train the parents on how to cue the child to produce the words correctly in isolation.  Then, train the parents on how to encourage these words during everyday situations and show them how to prompt the child to say the word more correctly.


Now for some practical strategies and activities that you can do in therapy for each of these steps.  Click on the task analysis level to drop down the list of activities:

Where do you even start with this?  Don’t worry!  We have a guide that will help you pick the perfect words!

How to Choose a Word List for the Core Word Approach

Build a visual list of the words you’ve selected for the child.  You can use these pictures below if you’ve selected words from our “basic first words” cards.  Cut out the words you are targeting and photo copy them onto a single page.  BONUS!  These have the sign language signs on them as well in case you need that!


First Words Flashcards

Here comes the fun part!  Now you’re just going to play with the child but you’re going to focus on those words you’ve chosen for the week or month. 


How to Use Play in Therapy

This full hour-long webinar recording will show you many different ideas of ways to use play in therapy!

Here’s the part where we hope you have access to the parents or teachers!  Find ways to show parents and teachers how to correct these words when they come up in everyday situations.  Give them the short list of words so they don’t feel like they have to correct everything.  Make a quick video for them so they know how to cue, prompt, or correct to get more accurate productions from the child.  Most parents are eager to get involved but feel overwhelmed by the process.  The core vocab approach is great for making the process of speech therapy more approachable for parents.


What do you do if these things don’t work the way they’re supposed to?  Well, nothing’s ever easy, is it?  Try these great troubleshooting tips that some of our other members have found helpful.  Click the problem to drop down the link to the solution.

Check out this full hour-long presentation on how great the core word approach is for AAC users!

Resources, Tools, and Training for Speech-Language Professionals

*** The SLP Solution is for informational and educational purposes only and does not provide medical or psychological advice.  We provide general resources but cannot tell you exactly what should be done for a specific client.  Every client is different and your clinical judgement should be used when making decisions about specific individuals.


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