TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!

November 9, 2020 by - Leave your thoughts

TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!
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TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!Ready for another post with book-related ideas for supporting core vocabulary learning in preschool classrooms? We’re excited to welcome Jeanna Antrim and Maggie Judson back to these pages with another guest post the TELL ME About It series.

Today, they share ideas for core vocabulary experiences with an old favorite, Dear Zoo.If you’re in search of ways to support preschool teachers who are implementing the TELL ME program with their young students, this post is for you. There are quite a few resource links embedded in this post, ready for you to download.

Maggie and Jeanna are speech-language pathologists who work in the Assistive Technology Department for the Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative (BASSC) in southern Illinois. They are AT/AAC facilitators and provide evaluations, direct therapy, consultations, and trainings with school teams.


TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!

TELL ME About The Book

The third book in this new series is “Dear Zoo” by Rod Campbell.  It’s a classic everyone loves, and for good reason.  Not only does it have simple text, clear illustrations, and repeated phrases, but it is also a lift-the-flap book!  These types of books are great because the interaction is built right into the story, adding a fun interactive component to your shared reading experience, whether one-on-one, in a group, in person, or virtual!  And what else do we love about “Dear Zoo”?  All those (repeated) core words!

TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!

See below for the book focus for “Dear Zoo”:

Book Focus: Dear Zoo

  • Core Words (BOW WOW Words): I, GET
  • Additional Words (Tiger Talk Words): BIG, LITTLE
  • Concept Vocabulary: adjectives (tall, fierce, grumpy, scary, naughty, jumpy, perfect) and animals (elephant, giraffe, lion, camel, snake, monkey, frog, dog)
  • Book Concept: holding a book upright
  • Special Letters: x, v, y, z, j, q, a, m, t, p

TELL ME About Reading

Repeated Reading Focus: Different Voices/Speed

Our students love to hear their favorite books read over and over again, but sometimes it can get a bit repetitive and mundane for us. So how do we provide that repeated literacy exposure while keeping it engaging and exciting? One idea is to give students the choice of reading it with a different voice or at a different speed! We love using this reading choice board from Amanda Saper and Lauren at AACreATively (you can find them on Facebook and Instagram). It provides the students with the ability to have a say in the book reading, and it instantly ups the fun factor by having the book read in a fun, silly voice!  They can ask you to read the book like a monster, or a robot, or a squeaky mouse, or you can tailor it to your student’s specific interests (e.g., favorite movie characters).

TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!

  • “Let’s GET ready to read the book again!”
  • “Let’s read with a BIG
  • “Now I will read with a LITTLE, quiet voice!”
  • Adaptation Idea: Circle Target Words On a Manual Communication Board

Another great way to adapt a shared reading interaction to up the AAC game?  Circle the target words on a manual communication board with a dry erase marker (or try a wet erase marker for a longer-lasting circle).  Highlighting the target core words on the AAC system helps you as the communication partner easily see and find the core words you want to focus on (and bonus! With minimal prep!).  And it provides that symbol support to the story WITHOUT adding symbols directly to the book, keeping the focus of the book totally on the literacy experience.

TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!

TELL ME About Writing

Writing is a big part of a TELL ME classroom!  See below for ideas.

Predictable Chart Topic

TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!

Title: What Will I Get?

Sentence frame: I want to get a _____.

FUNctional Writing Activity

Creating authentic, meaningful, real reasons for our students to write is critical to keep in mind when working in literacy instruction.  Because let’s be honest, writing can be hard!  And typically, we avoid things that are too difficult unless we have a strong motivation to do so.  Having a purposeful, real reason to write can be super motivating and meaningful for our students with complex communication needs who are developing their literacy skills.   Enter FUNctional writing activities!

A fun idea to try out is writing lunch notes.  You know the ones – those cute little notes that we write to put into a lunch box.  These are fun for us to write and fun for our recipient to read.  So try it out with your students!  These would be great to use to work on writing for a genuine reason.  Writing a message to put in a peer’s lunch (or their own!) or to take home to leave in a family member’s lunch could be so fun and engaging!


Below are some specific ideas on how to implement “Dear Zoo” in your therapy sessions and classrooms TELL ME-style!

Aided Language Input Tip – Aided Language Input On Each AAC System/Vocabulary

What if you were trying to put together a new shelf, but the instructions/tutorial video only came in a language you couldn’t read or understand? That would be super difficult to follow, leaving your shelf in a heap of pieces on the floor! The same goes for our students who use AAC systems.  If we want our children and students to learn the meaning of words and the location of words on their AAC system, we must provide aided language input using their language.  We must speak in their language and on their AAC system!

This can be pretty straightforward if you only support one type of symbol set or vocabulary system in your classroom.  But what if you have two, three, or more (oh my!) AAC systems in your classroom?  When we are in these situations, we recommend providing access to each AAC system throughout the room.  Some ideas to make this happen, without overwhelming yourself:

  • Go slow! Start with your classroom-wide AAC system, and slowly add in the other AAC vocabulary/symbol sets:
  • One week, add the different manual communication boards to your tables and play areas.
  • A few weeks later, put up a large wall board of the various systems. If you are low on space, try putting the wall boards on a movable easel or PVC rolling cart.
  • Then a bit later, download the various device emulators to your computer to project to your smart board.
  • Next, spend time adding the other symbol sets to your visual supports, such as lanyards, first/then boards, schedules, and descriptive labels.
  • During circle time or group time, you might provide aided language input on one vocabulary for the whole group while simultaneously having your classroom staff provide aided language input on the specific AAC systems that your students use.

Embedding Core into the Daily Routine – Free Play

Free play can be a routine-based activity within the preschool classroom, making it a natural time to incorporate the target core words into different rote phrases and scripts. Having some predetermined scripts can be a supportive way for communication partners in the classroom to become comfortable with targeting core words and providing aided language input on AAC systems.

Here are some examples:

  • Play kitchen: “I have the BIG Let’s GET the pots out. I will GET you more food.”
  • Blocks: “I built a tower! Let’s GET more blocks. Make it BIG.”
  • Toy cars: “My LITTLE car goes fast! I GET the red one. You GET the BIG truck.”
  • Doll house: “Let’s have a BIG party! She sits on the LITTLE You can help GET the dolls ready for the party.”
  • Sensory table: “Wow! Let’s GET the BIG cups! I will pour just a LITTLE. Let’s see if we can GET all of the jewels!”

Craft Idea – Paper Plate Lion Face

TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!

  • Materials:
    • Paper Plate
    • Crayons
    • Googly Eyes
    • Brown, Orange, Yellow Feathers
    • Glue
  • Crafts and art projects can be a great way to create communication opportunities! Think of all of the communicative functions, such as requesting desired items, requesting assistance, directing actions, commenting, protesting, describing, labeling, asking/answering questions, that we can elicit and provide aided language input for! Some examples for the craft mentioned above could be:
  • Let’s GET the BIG eyes!
  • Aww! It has a LITTLE
  • Wow! I love it’s mane!

Virtual Learning Resource – Virtual Book Sites

Struggling to get a copy of a book you want to use TELL ME style? Try a virtual book site! Sites like Epic and Vooks, and even YouTube, are great places to go to get quick, easy access to almost any story. And bonus! Using these sites can make planning for virtual sessions a breeze! Read them together during your lesson or session and then send the link home for families to access for carryover practice. Let the book read aloud, or you read with the volume off, or pause and mute and “flip” pages by arrowing over. And once you get going with these sites, you and your students are sure to find even more books that catch your attention – there are SO. MANY. TITLES available. There is sure to be something for every interest!

BONUS Virtual Learning Resources!

  • Check out Jeanna @speechwithoutlimits for additional virtual learning resources! I YouTube video, I boom deck, GET YouTube video, GET boom deck, BIG YouTube video, BIG boom deck, LITTLE YouTube video, and LITTLE boom deck.TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!
  • Check out Maggie @the.bookish.slp for additional virtual learning resources! I digital book, I boom deck, I YouTube videos (1, 2, and 3), I Tar Heel Gameplay, and lunch box notes digital activity and boom deck.TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!

TELL ME at Home – Simple Shared Reading Tip: Following Their Lead

One of our (many!) favorite ways to read one-on-one with students is sometimes to take a step back from the desire to read every word on every page straight through and go where our little ones take us. Meaning, follow their lead!  Your child wants to start at the back and flip towards the front?  Do it!  They want to stay on one page and one page only?  No problem!  Do they want to switch between two different books without ever finishing either one? We’re here for it!  By following their lead, at times, we are helping our students build their attention, engagement, and enjoyment in books and book reading because we allow them to participate in the ways they want to.

When following a child’s lead, we use the opportunity to focus on the book’s pictures and talk about what we see in the illustrations (“reading the pictures”).  Talk about what the characters are doing or seeing.  Make simple comments based on what is happening in the pictures or what your child is looking at (remember that CAR strategy!).  Make connections to background knowledge (“There is a dog.  Let’s talk about your dog at home!”). Language and literacy learning through book reading can come in many different ways!

Self-Reflection Tip – “Classroom Assistants Actively Facilitate Student Learning”

The TELL ME program is all about helping us as educators develop good AAC teaching practices and routines that we can implement when planning other lessons. But to do this, we have to reflect on how we are providing instruction.  Last month we talked about dedicating some time during weekly team meetings to discuss, brainstorm, and practice skills all about TELL ME.

This month, reflect on this with the question “classroom assistants actively facilitate student learning” from the fidelity checklists available in the TELL ME program.

TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!

After reflection, would you answer this question as:


If after thinking about the past month you answer this as SOMETIMES or RARELY, that’s okay! We all start somewhere! We encourage you to think through what changes you can make to your teaching practices and routines to support your classroom assistants as they develop their skills to actively facilitate student learning.

Because remember: self-reflection and receiving constructive feedback helps you plan for your next session and get better at providing TELL ME-style instruction!


Be sure to check back next month as we work through the TELL ME manual and share activities, teaching strategies and implementation tips for the next book in this new series, “It’s Okay To Be Different”!

Check out the videos of us reading the book “Dear Zoo” while providing aided language input:

AAC Modeling Dear Zoo with WordPower Vocabulary

TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!

AAC Modeling Dear Zoo with Snap Core First Vocabulary

TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!

AAC Modeling Dear Zoo with LAMP Words for Life Vocabulary

TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Dear Zoo’!


  • You can purchase the TELL ME manual from the Attainment Company or from ASHA.
  • You can learn more about the program by watching the webinar TELL ME: AAC for the Preschool Classroom presented by Dr. Carole Zangari, available from Saltillo (

Follow us on Instagram @basscAAC and subscribe to our YouTube channel (basscAAC) for more AAC implementation ideas!

Other Posts in the TELL ME About It Series


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This post was written by Carole Zangari

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