Tips and tricks to building language skills through book reading in children who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

What is language and why is it important?

According to ASHA, language is “the words we use and how we use them to share ideas and get what we want.” This includes what words mean, how to make new words, how to put words together, and what we should say in different situations.

Building language skills in children are important for several reasons. Children use language to help them express their wants/needs to adults, to communicate with peers, to understand the world around them, and later use their skills to further their learning in school (Ezzel & Justice, 2005).

What is shared book reading?

Shared book reading is “the interaction that occurs between an adult and a child when reading or looking at a book” (Ezell & Justice, 2005, p.2). One benefit of using books to help build language is that children get exposure to language both in an oral and written format. Reading books has been found to be a common activity that already occurs between children and adults.

The following strategies have all been found to help increase language use through shared book reading:

1. “Put the CROWD in the CAR”

While reading a book, stop after a page or two and try the CAR approach.

CAR stands for:
Comment about what you just read and wait
Ask a question and wait
Respond by adding something new based on what you read and wait.

CROWD stands for:

  • Completion (ask child to complete a word or phrase)
    “And I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll…”
  • Recall (ask child about details that happened in the story)
    “What happened when the pig tried to blow the house down?”
  • Open-ended questions
    “What’s going on in this picture?”
  • “Wh” questions (ask who, what, when, where, why questions
    “Where is the wolf? What did the pig use to build his house?”
  • Distancing (relate something in the story to the child’s life)
    “The 3 little pigs each made their own house. What does your house look like?”


Model (adult models 1 or more symbols on their child’s device repeatedly throughout the story)
Encourage (Wait and give your child at least 5 seconds to respond)
Respond (repeat a portion of what your child said and then expand their utterance by modeling your words on their device)

3. Aided Language Stimulation (ALS)

  1. Make sure your child is looking at the book and their device.
  2. Model icons on their device at their pace. You may have to go very slowly if this is difficult for them, but that is okay.
  3. Say out loud what you are touching on their device.

Reading books with your child is an easy way to expose your child to language and can be a great bonding experience overall. The above strategies have been found to help with language understanding and expression. Allowing your child time to respond (wait time) is important, as it gives your child time to process what was said or asked of them.

Written By: Nicole Tryon, BA, Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Student Clinician


  • What is speech? What is language?
  • Ezzell, H. & Justice, L. (2005). Shared storybook reading: Building young children’s language and emergent literacy skills. Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H Brookes Publishing Co, Inc.
  • Pierce, P. & Lindauer, C. (N.d.). Get on the road to inclusion: Put the CROWD in the CAR.
  • Sennott, S.C. & Mason, L.H. (2016). AAC modeling with the iPad during shared storybook reading pilot study. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 37(4), 242-254. Doi: 10.1177/1525740115601643.
  • Van Tatenhove, G. M. (2016). Building language competence with students using AAC devices: Six challenges. Perspective on Augmentative and Alternative Communication. DOI: 10.1044/aac18.2.38