TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Not a Box’!

February 1, 2021 by - 1 Comment

TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Not a Box’! 
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TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Not a Box’!Looking for ways to support preschoolers teachers who are learning to use an AAC system rich in core vocabulary? Today, we welcome back AAC SLPs Jeanna Antrim and Maggie Judson for another guest post the TELL ME About It series. They have lots of ideas for classroom activities, e-learning, supporting AAC learning at home, and more.

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 ‘Not a Box’! 

TELL ME About The Book

The fifth book in this new series is “Not a Box” by Antoinette Portis.  Such a fun book to read, with its simple text, repeated lines, and engaging illustrations.  But the real magic of this story lies in the ways it fosters imagination.  A box is just a box – unless it’s not; maybe it’s a race car, a mountain top, or a robot!  And where else does the magic come in with this book?  With all those great (repeated) core words!  TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Not a Box’!

See below for the book focus for “Not a Box”:

Book Focus:

  • Core Words (BOW WOW Words): NOT, WHAT, ON, MY
  • Additional Words (Tiger Talk Words): show, first
  • Concept Vocabulary: action -ing words (sitting, doing, standing, squirting, wearing, standing, thinking, going)
  • Book Concept: Spaces between words
  • Special Letters: b,l,e,r,w,k,x,v,y,z

TELL ME About Reading

Repeated Reading Focus: CROWD Questions

As your students begin making more comments and becoming more interactive and engaged during shared reading, another great instructional strategy to incorporate is ‘Put the CROWD in the CAR.’  With this, you will be asking various questions (CROWD questions: Completion, Recall, Open-ended, Wh question, Distancing) during the ASK step of CAR. We’re big fans of this strategy as it supports us as communication partners to ask a variety of questions (no yes/no questions here!) during shared reading. Below are some examples of CROWD questions you can ask when reading “Not a Box”:

  • C = Completion – It is NOT a _______ (box)!
  • R = Recall – Tell me WHAT the box was FIRST.
  • O = Open-Ended – I wonder WHAT you would make with a box?
  • W = Wh Question – Point to the pictures and ask: WHAT is this? Where are they going?
  • D = Distancing – When we played with boxes yesterday, WHAT did you make? WHAT did you put ON your box? Remember WHAT I made with MY box?

To learn more about CAR and CROWD, check out these modules from Shared ReaderCAR Reading Strategy and CROWD Reading Strategy.

Adaptation Idea: Add a bookmark of the Target Words

Another simple book adaptation idea we love to highlight the words we are targeting? Making a ‘bookmark’ with AAC symbols for the story’s core words! We make these with the emulating software available from many commercial AAC companies (some to check out:;; All we do is copy and paste the symbols or symbol pathways to a Word document, print, and trim. Easy and simple!Bookmarks

Download our bookmarks here.

We like this way of adapting a book because it gives us, the communication partner, an aided language input reminder for the target core words. But just as importantly, it provides this visual WITHOUT adding symbols directly to the book. Adding AAC symbols to text in a book (aka “symbolated text”) can actually hinder students’ reading comprehension skills and their ability to attend to print (Erickson & Koppenhaver, 2020). So by keeping symbols out of the book, you are supporting your students’ ability to develop their print-based reading skills!

TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Not a Box’!

TELL ME About Writing

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

Predictable Chart Topic

Title: It’s NOT A Box!

Sentence frame 1: MY box is a _________.

Sentence frame 2: It’s NOT a box, it’s a _______.

FUNctional Writing Activity

Remember a few months ago when our FUNctional writing activity was to create classroom signs? We had students write labels or pictures for the different classroom areas, such as the library, kitchen, circle area, computers, etc. (“Write ‘toys’ ON this sign for our toy area.”, “Will you write ‘desk’ ON this sign for MY desk?”). Well, this month, it might be time to re-write those signs because “periodically, these classroom signs may get lost or mysteriously damaged so as to create additional writing opportunities (Erickson & Koppenhaver, 2020, pg. 79)”! We LOVE writing activities that lend themselves to being reused in meaningful ways – working in writing opportunities whenever you can allows for extra experience and practice for our students.


Below are some specific ideas on how to implement “Not a Box” in your therapy sessions and classrooms TELL ME-style!

Aided Language Input Tip – Aided Language Input for 2-3 key words in an utterance

Providing aided language input is one of those instructional strategies you will find yourself doing over and over (and over!) again in a TELL ME classroom. Once you get comfortable(ish) using aided language input for one main word in your utterance, it is time to up your demonstration game! Work on providing aided language input for even MORE core words say 2-3 words per phrase. Just like when you started with aided language input, doing it for more words in your sentence might be somewhat clumsy and uncomfortable, but with practice, it will feel more natural. Some examples below (the bolded words are the words you will demonstrate on the AAC system):

  • WHAT should we do FIRST with our boxes?”
  • SHOW me WHAT you put ON your box!”
  • “I did NOT put that ON MY box!”
  • Embedding Core into the Daily Routine – Sensory Time

Sensory time is typically 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 phrases 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.

Some examples:

  • WHAT should we put in the sensory bin?”
  • “Who wants to play with it FIRST?”
  • WHAT did you find? SHOW me!”
  • “Water beads are MY favorite!”
  • “You are pouring sand ON your hand!”
  • “I think you are saying you do NOT want to stop playing”

Craft Idea – Box Crafts TELL ME About It: AAC Learning with ‘Not a Box’!


    • Various sized boxes
    • Markers
    • Crayons
    • Paint
    • Tape, glue
    • Decorating materials, such as stickers, pom-poms, ripped up paper
    • Optional (but so fun!) – Mini manual communication board with target core words circled

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:

  • “WHAT are you going to make?”
  • FIRST I want to paint MY
  • “Now let’s put ON some stickers!”
  • “I do NOT want that one!”
  • “MY box needs more colors.”
  • “SHOW me WHAT you did.”
  • “It is NOT a box anymore!”

Virtual Learning Resource – LessonPix

Have you heard of LessonPix? We absolutely love this subscription-based symbol website! They have SO many functional material templates, which are great for creating materials that can be used in conjunction with any symbol set or AAC system you support in your classroom or therapy room. They also have a sharing center with premade activities! All of their templates can be downloaded as PDFs or PowerPoint slides so that you can easily incorporate them into your lessons. And now they have an interactive PlayTools addition, which is a total game-changer for virtual learning! Check out their YouTube channel or Facebook page for easy to follow tutorials (link: Lessonpix).

BONUS Virtual Learning Resources

  • Check out Jeanna’s @speechwithoutlimits additional virtual learning resources! SHOW Boom Deck, WHAT Boom Deck, WHAT YouTube video, ON Boom Deck, MY Boom Deck, MY YouTube video, NOT Boom Deck.
  • Check out Maggie’s @the.bookish.slp additional virtual learning resources! NOT YouTube videos, NOT Boom Deck, NOT digital book activity; WHAT YouTube videos, WHAT Boom Deck, WHAT digital book activity; ON YouTube videos, ON Boom Decks (1 and 2), ON digital book activity, CROWD Planning Sheet.

TELL ME at Home

Simple Shared Reading Tip: Comment and Pause

While reading at home with your child, a technique to elicit language and literacy learning is to read the text (or a small part of the text) on the page and then make a simple comment and pause.  Commenting and pausing provides the opportunity for your child to respond and can help foster their interactions with the book.  Some tips:

  • When commenting, keep it simple and fun! Make a simple 3-5 word comment about something that might interest your child.  Here are a few examples for “Not a Box”:
  • “Look! A race car!”
  • “Up high!”
  • “It is a firefighter.”
  • “A big robot!”
  • “Up in space.”
  • Pausing is a time to wait quietly so that your child can process what you said, think of what they want to say, and then have time to respond. They may need 20-30 seconds (or more) to think and respond.
  • Try counting in your head or tapping on your knee or with your foot to make sure to give that quiet count of 30+ seconds.

Self-Reflection Tip

Visual Supports are Implemented From the Student’s Point of View

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 providing aided language input from the student’s perspective (think: while sitting next to the student, not while across the table from the student).

This month, reflect on this with the question “visual supports are implemented from the student’s point of view” from the fidelity checklists available in the TELL ME program.

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!


To read more about how we prepare for a TELL ME week, check out our previous posts in the TELL ME About It series!

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, “I Like it When”!

Check out the videos of us reading the book “Not a Box” while providing aided language input:

AAC Modeling of ‘Not A Box’ with WordPower

AAC Modeling of ‘Not a Box’ with LAMP WFL

AAC Modeling of ‘Not A Box’ with Snap Core First


Erickson, K., & Koppenhaver, D. (2020).  Comprehensive Literacy for All: Teaching Students with Significant Disabilities to Read and Write. Baltimore, MA: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Aided Language Stimulation video – Icpsat

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

  • 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 (

To read more about how we prepare for a TELL ME week, check out our previous posts in the TELL ME About It series!

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This post was written by Carole Zangari

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