Explicit Intervention in Language & Communication

Intervention Overview

In an Explicit Intervention in Language & Communication, you will want to address the following skills. Identify yes/no responses using multi-modal communication skills and diverse access features, including assistive technology, as needed, based on a learner profile. Teach the use of tools for accessing communication containing individualized features based on learner profile data. Teach the use of core vocabulary paired with fringe vocabulary to communicate across settings. Teach sound-symbol correspondences to develop spelling skills. Teach the use to symbols (icon sequences), and spelling (especially onsets) to find and access words for communication.

Why Does Communication and Language Matter?

Communication and language matter for a range of reasons:

  • Allows students to communicate their wants, needs, feelings, and thoughts
  • Facilitates the ability to build friendships and interact socially with others in society
  • Allows students to participate effectively in their education 
  • Increases access to employment opportunities
  • Essential for daily living including tasks like grocery shopping and wellness visits
  • Essential for developing literacy skills

Reading is a language-based skill. The development of skilled reading depends upon the initial development of basic listening and expressive communication skills. Students need expressive communication modes and language skills to learn about reading and writing and access the general literacy curriculum. Oral language, or communication, is essential in the process of becoming a skilled reader. In fact, those who show difficulty developing communication and language skills are at risk for developing reading problems. With the recognition that all students need to have access to high-quality literacy instruction in the general education program, oral language development can look different depending on student needs. Some students have disabilities that prohibit them from the typical communication mode of oral language, speech. For example, a non-verbal student whose preferred communication mode is through gesturing and the use of sign will need to be supported in a different way than a typically developing peer to acquire the skills necessary to become a skilled reader. Language development can be supported through the implementation of many different types of accommodations that reflect a student’s communication profile such as various scaffolding supports and use of a preferred communication mode and/or tool. Educators should consider family preferences and involvement when thinking about how to support language development in the classroom, especially for teachers considering AAC devices. When students are supported in their preferred modes of communication and in the development of language related skills, then they thrive socially, emotionally, and academically.

"Communication is key to accessing the general curriculum, and every student is a participating member. Language and communication access are critical to literacy skills development."
Shawna Benson
Program Director, OCALI

Why is a communication/language intervention in the RIMP codes and Decision Rules Framework?

You may be wondering why there is an option for Explicit Intervention in Communication/Language on a literacy decision rules framework and why it is one of Ohio’s Reading Improvement Plan (RIMP) codes. Aren’t communication and language interventions reserved for Speech Language Pathologists? While a classroom teacher may collaborate with specialists, a teacher is still responsible for supporting students in their communication and language development. Oral language and communication is a part of Ohio’s Plan to Raise Literacy Achievement which is the reasoning behind including a RIMP code related to communication and language. All teachers and staff must work collaboratively to support students who need explicit intervention in communication and language as purported by assessment data. Whether you analyze Gough and Tunmer’s (1986) The Simple View of Reading model or Scarbourough’s (2001) Reading Rope, it’s clear that language and communication are essential in becoming a skilled reader.

Explicit Intervention in Language & Communication

An explicit intervention in language and communication instruction looks different for each student as it is dependent on the needs of the student. Every student should feel supported in their preferred communication modes. The video below gives information about what to teach and how to teach the intervention in ways that may be applicable to the needs of your student.

Preparing to Implement the Intervention

Before designing an explicit intervention in language and communication, it is critical to have information about the learner’s communication profile, access needs, communication modes, and the tools they use to communicate. Educators and support personnel should work together to design an intervention that supports the student to develop independent access to communication and language.


Each intervention should be based on the student’s communication profile data including access needs, communication modes, and specific tools used to communicate.

What to Teach:

Access and Communication Tools

Access and Communication Tools

  • Use of communication tools with modeling.
  • Practice communication access using AT/AAC tools identified through assessment.
  • Motor movements to access communication.
  • Display expressive communication.

Core Vocabulary

Core Vocabulary

  • Communication across a variety of modes (receptive and expressive).
  • Model the use of core vocabulary during communication (teachers and peers) while engaging the learner.
  • Use single words and phrases to convey a variety of communicative functions (e.g., asking questions, protesting, commenting, and describing).

Fringe Vocabulary

Fringe Vocabulary

  • Build vocabulary knowledge around Tiers 2 and 3, including content vocabulary across all subjects.
  • Learn to navigate fringe vocabulary by topics or other structure.
  • Combine core and fringe vocabulary to expand communication.

Sound-Symbol Correspondences

Sound-Symbol Correspondences

  • Phonemic awareness and phonics (full scope and sequence).
  • Encode words beginning with onset (could be paired with word prediction).
  • Spell words to expand a communication message also containing core and fringe words.

How to Teach

Explicit interventions programs and approaches related to communication and language use the following approaches to support students with complex communication and language needs:

Explicit, Systematic Instruction/Practice

Provide plentiful scaffolded opportunities to model (e.g., teacher, specialist, peer) and practice using communication tools (AT/AAC).

Use a Team Approach

Specialists across the team supporting the student bring expertise, engage in collaborative planning and development, and utilize integrated provision of services.

Identify Communication Opportunities

Present students with a multitude of opportunities to communicate, read, and write. Model the use of communication tools in formal and informal settings. Provide opportunities for students to use communication tools in literacy instruction.

Scaffold for Access, Fade for Independence

Use modeling, prompting, chaining, and reinforcement to teach how to access and use communication tools. Provide access and teach communication to replace behavior formerly used to communicate with. Provide opportunities for reciprocal communication (e.g., back-and-forth conversations) between teachers and peers.

Pair Communication Modes with Decoding Instruction

Scaffold verbal expression of phonemes with augmented phonemes for word decoding and encoding. Pair all communication modes with printed letters (Braille, signed alphabet, visual phonics, voice output). Teach students to match the sounds (phonemes) to the letters (graphemes) that represent those sounds in words they are trying to encode to communicate.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

AAC means all of the ways that someone communicates besides talking. People of all ages can use AAC if they have trouble with speech or language skills. Augmentative means to add to someone’s speech. Alternative means to be used instead of speech. Some people use AAC throughout their life.” -ASHA, n.d.

What is the difference between AAC and Assistive Technology (AT)?

AT is the device or program used to assist students to do something that they cannot do on their own. This is not limited to speech generating devices or other tools used for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). AAC is any other way to communicate that is different from speech. Examples of AAC include gestures, sign language, and the picture exchange communication system.

Will the classroom teacher be teaching students how to use AT or an AAC system?

In the past, the belief has been held that students who use AT and/or an AAC system will receive training on how to use a communication tool or system from a special education teacher or a speech and language pathologist. Classroom teachers need to additionally facilitate the learning and practice of AT/AAC use in the general education setting to support student communication.

What is it Like Being an SLP with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)?

In What It’s Like Being an SLP with a DLD, Juliana Hirn, a Speech Language Pathologist who has a Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), shares her experience in living, learning, and working with a DLD. Hirn offers valuable insights into the lives of those living with DLD. 


Featured Resources

Class looking at girl gesturing to communicate

The National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities (NJC) has published a communication bill of rights to convey what all non-typical speakers.

Child with special needs

This article on the SST 13 website by Jessica Hoffman, SST 13 Literacy Specialist, shares information about supporting language and literacy development for students with low-incidence disabilities .

People communicating virtually through sign language

In this article, Cincinnati Children's Hospital shares information about what AAC is and additional resources.

girl communicating through a computer

An article by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association that shares information about communication development in elementary school.

Additional Learning Opportunities

Expert Report

Access the CEEDAR Center Report on Preparing Teachers to Facilitate Communication Skills in Students with Severe Disabilities. The report discusses what types of communication difficulties can be associated with severe disabilities, how to assess communication skills, and communication interventions.

Expert Report

Access the Center for Literacy & Disability Studies at UNC Chapel Hill Research-Based Practices for Creating Access to the General Curriculum in Reading and Literacy for Students with Significant Intellectual Disabilities report.

Expert Video Series

Access free professional learning content through OCALI’s Teaching Diverse Learners Center. The Access to the General Education Curriculum for ALL Learners video series is based on evidence from the most up-to-date research.