“Can I ask you a question?” Using Language Experience Surveys

January 23, 2013 by - 3 Comments

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Want to give your AAC learners more frequent opportunities to interact with others? We love using Language Experience Surveys for this purpose. The concept is a simple one. Once you have a language goal in mind, craft a survey with a key question that the communicator can use as a conversation starter. After some instruction and practice, they can then ask people the question. You’ll need to create visual supports for the survey so that the communicator can use it as a cue and show to the interaction partners. In some surveys, the partners then use the visual support to record their responses. Putting the visual support on a clipboard works well in some situations.

The simplest way to do this is with a forced-choice question with a list of response options. The survey could be about favorite TV "Can I ask you a question?" Using Language Experience Surveysshows or places to visit, for example, and show different options. The communicator would take it to a bunch of people, ask them the survey question, and the responders can make a tally mark by their favorite option on the survey sheet.

Open-ended questions can also be used for this purpose. Some examples: “Who is the biggest joker in our class?” “How do you feel about them closing the canteen?” “What is something scary that happened to you?” “If you could be any animal what would it be and why?”

With either type of question, the language goal drives both the focus of the question and the specific role of the AAC user and the respondents.  There are lots of meaningful ways to use Language Experience Surveys in your therapy. We picked out five of them to get you started.

Suggested Uses

  1. Use it to practice scripts for social conversation. One way to help people with communication deficits get better at conversation is to develop scripts that help the communicator know what to say at the beginning, middle, and end of an interaction. Plan out a visual script with things that the AAC learner will say to a partner when administering the survey. Provide explicit instruction on the script and then practice it using a Language Experience Survey to gain experience with a variety of communication partners.
  2. Use it to build the AAC learner’s confidence in approaching others and engaging them in conversation. With the appropriate supports to ensure that both parties succeed, Language Experience Surveys can be a great way to gain confidence in one’s ability to interact socially.
  3. Use it to give the AAC learner opportunities to practice core words.
  4. Use it to provide an opportunity to request clarification or elaboration.
  5. Use it to give the AAC learner experience with a target vocabulary word (e.g., effort, shocked, abundant). Asking others to tell about their personal experiences with these words will leave lasting memories that help the learner gain a deeper understanding of the target word. Examples: “Can you tell me something you did that took a lot of effort?” “Tell me about something that shocked you.” “What do you own in abundance?”

Language Experience Surveys are another way to give AAC learners repetition with variety. Depending on the situation, the AAC user may communicate with prestored utterances for all or part of the interaction so that the conversation is not too time-consuming. We also like the fact that it gives communicators a lot of practice with a well-rounded sequence of interaction:

  • approaching a potential communication partner
  • initiating the interaction (e.g., “Hey, Jonah! Do you have a minute?” “Hi Mr. Mellow. Do you have time to answer a question?” “I’m a student in Mrs. Kiendlee’s class. We’re doing surveys. Can I ask you a quick question?”)
  • waiting for a response
  • listening
  • maintaining the interaction
  • terminating the conversation
  • departing/exiting

It also gives them valuable experiences in communicating with a variety of partners. Depending on the situation, you may want to give potential partners a ‘heads up’ and/or do a little training so that they know what to expect and how to respond. We’ve done this with front office staff, for example, and they’ve generally loved the interactions with our AAC learners. That sometimes led to a nice bond between the AAC learner and the staff, which in turn led to additional communication opportunities. Now, they look forward to the days when the AAC clients come with clipboards and survey questions.

Have you used surveys like this? We’re always on the lookout for fresh ideas and would love to have you share some in the comments.

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This post was written by Carole Zangari


  • Jeanne says:

    This has been a valuable tool that I have used quite often! I usually have the student’s script include a statement like “I’ll share the results of the survey with you later!” This creates the opportunity to engage the communication partner in a conversation again later (and can be a good math activity if the student can be engaged in plotting out the results of the survey).

    • Avatar photo Carole Zangari says:

      Great to hear from another survey devotee! These are great ideas!! I’ve also used a bulletin board or office door to display results. The person using AAC can then have a message telling people to check the board to see the results later on.

  • Deanna Wagner says:

    I have encouraged my consumers to use interviews/questions in their e-mail correspondence. We design a script with the following parts:
    1. greeting
    2. share information (e.g., we made nachos with potatoes and carrots, no cheese)
    3. ask a question (e.g., Do you like nachos?)
    4. give an opinion (e.g., I like nachos with cheese better)
    5. closing statement

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