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Resource File: Early Childhood -- Picture Symbol

Tips for Placing Picture Symbols in the Environment

It is difficult to create one communication board that will accomodate all communication needs, particularly for young children or children who have severe disabilities and may not be able to use a communication board consisting of more than four items.

Symbol Centers

Some teachers find it helpful to create a symbol center so that spontaneous communication can occur. For example, one teacher has covered her chalkboard with felt, divided it into the following sections:


Examples of Symbol Centers


Feeling and Social symbols

Feeling and Social

Things We Do symbols

Things We Do

Enlarged symbols are velcroed to the felt. The teacher then has felt covered cardboard sentence boards which she uses as a slate. Symbols can be pulled off the symbol center to accomodate unplanned communication.

Pole with symbols attached



Other teachers post folders of communication boards or sheet protecters filled with communication boards throughout the room. Still others have large boxes in the center of the room with all four sides covered in symbols. Barbara Smith (featured in the tour) has created a symbol center in her room by covering a central floor-to-ceiling pole with foam mats (gym mats) and adhering velcro strip to them to which she affixes a variety of symbols.


Center/Activity Specific Communication Boards

Picture communication symbols need to be accessible to the teacher and child at all times. Communication boards may be constructed for general communication needs or specific activities. Therefore, it is important to have boards posted throughout the room so that children can access the vocabulary they need at the time and location they need it.

For example, communication boards containing vocabulary about sharing toys, working with a partner, or requesting certain toys can be placed in toy areas. Communication boards relating to storybook selection or reading interactions can be placed in the classroom library.

Center Specific Communication Boards

Dress Up Area

Kitchen Area

Place yourself in a particular center, imagine the conversations that might occur there, and create vocabulary to place there in the form of picture communication symbols so that children can interact with one another.


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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP)  in collaboration with the Center for Literacy and Disabilities (CLD)  at Duke University.   NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by CLD, NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

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