Books for Targeting Core Vocabulary

Core vocabulary has proven to be a very useful tool in my therapy room for my low/non-verbal students. It allows them to expand utterances in a way that other AAC methods simply fall short. In typical language therapy with my preschoolers, I love using books. It’s age-appropriate, motivating, language-rich, and enjoyable. Why should my minimally verbal students be any different?

Here are some common books that I’ve found are wonderful for targeting core vocabulary. They’re the perfect blend of child-directed and clinician-directed because of the “lift the flap” aspect.

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Whenever I read any book, I target the words: “open”, as in “open the book”; “turn”, as in “turn the page”; “read”; and “finished”.

“Where’s Spot?”    Core words to target: look, open, yes, no, eat, under, behind, in, up

Most of you are probably familiar with this book. It’s great for where questions/location concepts. You can target the same location concepts using core vocabulary. Spot’s Mommy “looks” for him on each page and the reader gets to “open” or pull “up” some sort of household item/furniture to find him. The majority of the book targets “no”, that he wasn’t located there. Mix it up with the “yes” at the end. Then Spot needs to “eat” his dinner (as well as at the beginning).

“Dear Zoo” Core words to target: open, yes, no, big, little, happy, want

In this story a child writes to the zoo requesting a pet. They send her a new animal on each page, each in a different box to “open”. The book labels many adjectives as to why the zoo animals wouldn’t make good pets, and you could also model that they are too “big”. The narrator says “no” to keeping most of the animals. At the end of the story, the zoo sends a dog. That makes the child “happy” and “yes”, she “wants” to keep it!

“Goodnight Gorilla” Core words to target: open, in, out, bye, good, sleep, up, walk

This story is almost wordless – but not completely. The zookeeper goes around the zoo at the end of the day locking all of the animals’ cages and saying “goodnight”; this is a perfect opportunity to say “bye”. The mischievous monkey walks right behind him and “opens” all of the cages and lets the animals “out”. The animals all follow and “walk” home with the zookeeper. He then goes to “sleep” while his wife goes back to the zoo and puts all the animals back “in” their cages.

While reading this book, I like to use my Critter Clinic and animal figures. Students can “open” the cages and make the animals “walk” right along with the book!

“Blue Hat Green Hat”  Core words to target: not, it, that, wrong, there

This book follows a bunch of animals as they get dressed. They each label their clothing using an adjective+noun phrase (like the title) but the turkey always wears the clothing on the wrong body part. This is wear I target “not” in phrases: “not there”; “that’s not it”; “that’s wrong”; etc.

“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”  Core words to target: I, me, see, look, do, you

Almost everyone on the planet is familiar with this book, but it wasn’t until I read it again recently that I realized that nearly all of the words in the story are core words.  JACKPOT! And, since most students have this memorized (or will after 2-3 pages of your reading it), they can have independence in reading the story. The “lift the tab” version allows to easy prediction of what color the student needs to label next.


“Open the Barn Door”  Core words to target: open, up, under, behind, who, says, in

This book is great for student who love animals. (So many of mine do!) Each page asks a question: “Who says…?” with a different animal noise. Then students have to lift the flap and look “under” a blanket, “in” a tree, and “open” a door, etc. to find the animal who makes that sound. This is also great for encouraging come CV combinations/animal sounds!

I hope you find these books useful for your AAC users just as much as you probably have for the others on your caseload.  Have another great book for core vocab?  Please let me know about it!


  1. Jen N. says

    Blue Hat Green Hat was one of my favorite books with my sons. I love the Oops! Thanks for the great suggestions. I just got a new kiddo from a Spanish-speaking country who is non-verbal in both languages, so these will be great!

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