In this post I am focusing on phase six of the Picture Exchange Communication System® (PECS®). More specifically looking at commenting with PECs, how to implement phase six and lots of commenting activity ideas. My 4.5 year old has autism he is non-verbal and has been using PECs for a while. I thought it would be a good idea to pass on what has worked for us. Hopefully I will give you some great ideas for PECs commenting lessons or help you get started with phase six.
If your first question is What is PECs? Or How to use PECs? Then you are better off taking a look at my post about the Picture Exchange Communication System (phase one).
In this post I will assume most readers are already familiar with the Picture Exchange Communication system (PECs).
What is Phase 6 of PECs?
Phase six of PECs is commenting. It is about identifying items and commenting on them.
Up until phase six of the PECs the focus has been on asking for something and getting it in return. Phase six is about teaching to use language to label or name things. This is such an important skill and the intention is to end up with spontaneous (un-prompted) commenting (which is the bit we are still working on).
How to implement phase six of the picture exchange communication system (PECs)?
- Use words they already know
- Don’t use reinforcers when introducing new sentence starters
- Use the front of the communication book
- Ask the question
- Prompt when necessary and fade out prompts as appropriate
- Use social reinforcement
- Use 4-step error correction method
- Start in a sensible / quiet teaching environment – such as at the table.
- Be Prepared
To start with use words they already know and understand, the initial focus is to introduce new sentence starters such as ‘I See’, ‘It’s’ and ‘I Hear’.
Avoid using favourite items (reinforcers) they have been asking for with ‘I Want’ when introducing new sentence starters. If you hold up a biscuit and ask a child to name it they will expect to get the biscuit not to comment on it! It is important to ensure the difference between ‘I See’ and ‘I Want’ is clear, you could simply use a photo or flashcard to start off with.
Put the new sentence starter such as ‘I See’ on the front of the communication book, hold up the item and ask’ ‘What do you see?’ If the learner doesn’t go to pick up the new sentence starter then use silent physical prompting to guide them. The learner should be able to complete the sentence strip but instead of getting the item they get social reinforcement – ‘yes a dog’.
Each time you do an exchange use delayed prompting to give them a chance. Then as appropriate for the learner, fade out the prompts until the only prompt is the verbal question.
Use the 4-step error correction method as with the previous phases – Model, Prompt, Switch and Repeat.
We started off doing our commenting with PECs as lessons at the kitchen table when my youngest was sleeping. This meant we could concentrate and there were little distractions. To get the most out of your time try and have a couple of different commenting activities prepared that you can grab at an convenient time. The learner may be better at certain times of day, it’s much better to introduce something new when they are in a more receptive mood. If they are overexcited or tired it will be a battle and not a good start so pick your moment (by the time you have got to phase six you should be pretty good at doing this).
Let’s face it not all kids are going to come and play ball when we want! We used the PECs UK Lets’s Make A Deal token system (see picture below), essentially a reward system- you could also use stickers on a chart. This has really helped us when my son doesn’t want to do an activity. Even helped him learn to put up with getting his nails cut!!
When the learner is confident with the first sentence starter do some discrimination, in the same way you did for phase three but with the sentence starters. Use the 4-step error correction method until they are confidently using the sentence starter correctly. Then you can introduce new sentence starters – ‘I hear’, ‘I feel’ etc. If you haven’t already I would really recommend going on a PECs training course or getting a copy of the PECs manual.
Commenting with PECs Lessons / activities
IT’S / I SEE
Labelling with books and toys
One of my favourite commenting with PECs activities is using lift the flap books. The best thing about lifting the flap is it is easy to understand what the learner needs to identify. This is the same concept as having toys in a bag that you pull out, if there is only one object it is clear what needs identifying. Starting off with lift the flap books is a great way to introduce commenting on books.
We have probably used Dear Zoo for commenting hundreds of times, my son loved it. It is a really good one to start commenting with, particularly if they are already familiar with the book.
We also use toy animals in a bag and pull them out asking What is it?
Postman Bear is a lovely book from the Tales from Acorn Wood series by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. They are lovely lift the flap books and fantastic for commenting lessons.
Books give you the freedom to comment based on the learners level. Above is a simple exchange looking at just the animal behind the flap. Whilst the sentence below is much longer and more complex.
Use the Learner’s Favourite books
Again you can mix it up by using the objects from the book also. However do be careful only to do this when the learner has mastered the difference between requesting and commenting.
Ten Little Pirates is another favourite book in our house. And great for commenting using numbers, I credit this book (and Numberblocks) with teaching both my boys to count.
You might find some helpful book ideas from my post on the top 100 books for under 5s.
Make sure the activity is appropriate for the learner’s level. As they start to master commenting you can add in attributes. Good ones to start with are size, numbers, colours and shape. As the learner gets more confident or able you can increase the sentence length and complexity.
Here we use a Peppa Pig Shapes book and just identify the shape.
Then we also introduce the colour:
Then we add in Peppa Pig too:
Hide and Seek
Hide and seek is a great way to encourage spontaneous commenting while having fun. You probably need two adults to introduce this one or a child that can do the hiding. I might hide behind the sofa and jump out and my husband will ask Who do you See? And hopefully you get I see Mummy.
It is great to encourage commenting throughout the day. I might prompt for my son to comment ‘I see Daddy’ with his PECs when he comes home from work. We have cats so when they come in the room we can comment that we see them. Although I think my son thinks the Cat’s name is Cat now!
Use the TV or IPad
Let’s face it most kids love technology, so use that to your advantage. My son loves the film SING which is full of different animal characters. I made up some PECs cards for the characters and we then did an activity where my son would identify what animal each character is. He loved this activity and loved showing off he knew what they all were.
We have big Gruffalo fans in our house so we needed to make up PECs cards with all the characters. When watching the film we can comment on who we see.
Another favourite is Thomas the Tank Engine and we can comment when he comes on the TV, an you can even try and pause the TV to comment on what the character is doing. Do this with caution it may not be appreciated if you pause at a vital moment in the programme.
Get Out and About
I remember the first few times I took my son’s PECs folder out feeling a bit embarrassed. But it is so important and he loves carrying it around. Now I don’t even think twice about it. We actually have two communication books, one for the house and the other lives by the door so goes with him whenever he leaves the house.
A really successful outing was Longleat Safari. I sat in the back of the car with my son whilst our youngest was up front with his Dad. This meant as we went round the safari my son was able to comment on what he could see. He was so happy and engaged it was great.
Often the PECs you need for a certain outing are not in your communication book. I have found taking a pencil case in my handbag with the cards we may need useful. If we go to the farm I can pull them out stick them on the front of his book and he can start naming the animals as we see them.
Going on a nature walk
You can do this one in the park or garden to start off, there are so many things to see and get commenting with PECs.
If you are out with other people it is a great time to use PECs. The more people in your circle you expose to PECs the more likely they are to get it. Some of our friends are now confident doing PECs exchanges and encouraging my son to do so. Kids love PECs and really like being able to engage with my son, my nieces and friends kids are very happy when they get to do a commenting activities with my son – it’s a good turn-taking lesson and helps them understand PECs.
Using a viewfinder was good fun, it took him a while to grasp how to do it but he really enjoyed it when we got there. I found this a nice way to introduce some different vocabulary such as sea creatures.
We are still struggling with some concepts such as next to, between and behind. To start with we used objects such as Postman Pat and his van to grasp in and on. You can also do this with dolls in a toy bed or a toy cat / dog in a basket.
One of the best activities to comment on what you hear is the PECs I Hear Animals app. My son really likes using the Ipad so this was a good fit for us. Another option is to record sounds on your phone such as people’s voices or vehicles.
You can also use the I Hear sentence starter more spontaneously, such as I hear bird when you are in the garden.
Where to get PECs Resources?
It is really easy to make up PECs cards yourself and I talk about this in my post on making and storing PECs cards.
Again I really recommend doing the official PECs training course if you haven’t already. You can get lots of information and resources from PECs themselves:
I love this PDF from PECs: Materials for Attributes and Commenting Lessons from PECs
It may also be worth looking at the PECs YouTube Channel.
Along with Google, Pinterest is another place you can find some great PECs activity ideas.
Personally I have found PECs a huge help for my son, his understanding and ability to engage with others has come on enormously. Speech is still an area of difficulty but he can say a number of words and is often better at using words alongside PECs. My son has recently started to use PECs less but to be honest I put that down to lots going on with transitioning to start school this September (AHHH!).
I am so thankful that he has the skills to communicate when he wants to – even if it isn’t as often as I want yet. it has helped stop so much frustration when he couldn’t say what he wanted verbally. I just need to be more patient – one of the many skills my son is teaching me.
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Don’t forget to let us know your favourite commenting with PECs activities in the comments below.