How to Motivate Students by Modeling Communication

Savannah Moffett
Blog on January 09 2023

The importance of motivation and modeling

Every teacher has a toolbox full of tricks to motivate students to communicate effectively. In my experience, these “tricks” are always evolving due to each student’s needs. For me, one trick that has stood the test of time is modeling. Modeling is when you use the student’s personal augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device, or one similar to it to demonstrate how to respond and engage with a lesson or conversation. We model verbal communication as well, for example, when a student is learning new spoken words, we give them examples of proper pronunciation, how the word is used, and what it means. I use modeling daily for all my students, especially those with speech and language differences. I want to share with you how I model communication to help motivate my students to communicate.

Modeling communication during lessons

I use two types of modeling when I am teaching my students with speech and language differences. First, during a lesson, I’ll use an AAC device to demonstrate how to use (and choose) the new words my students are learning. I’ll press the key words that are programmed into the AAC device as we go through each lesson. This way, I’m showing them my own interest in the concept that is being taught and what they can do through their devices to speak and learn. By modeling the key words and showing them how I can and want to use the device, I help foster a student’s desire to engage more with their own communication adaptations!

The second way I like to use modeling is in an individual setting or communicating with a student one-on-one. Whenever I am working with a student who seems disengaged from their lesson, I ask them a question, demonstrate pressing each of the possible programmed answers, and ask for their response again. If they don’t respond in a timeframe that’s typical for them, I then press the answer and say it out loud.

If a student seems disengaged, or maybe they aren’t yet understanding the concept being taught, I simply speak in a positive and encouraging manner, saying something such as, “Let’s figure this out together.” That’s when I model and explain the answer. I have seen from my own personal experience that using this approach helps encourage students to want to communicate with their devices since they see me, my teaching assistants, and their peers using it as well.

Modeling is also an important tool to use when introducing new concepts or words to help your students form a better understanding of what is being presented to them.

What does ‘modeling’ while teaching look like?

Here’s a simple example: recently, my class was learning about the seasons of the year and one of the lessons focused on fall. As I read the book about fall, every time the word “fall” was said, I pressed it on the device that I held in front of the class, modeling the word over and over as we went through the book. It’s repetitive, but repetition is key to learning and forming connections between concepts.This way, the students learn a new word, its use, and have a new way to interact with what they are learning.

As I modeled this word, it helped the students identify it and hear it used in context. When discussing it later, they had a better understanding of the word and were more confident in selecting the answer on their own AAC devices. While we use high-tech AAC in my classroom, other options are available to help students like mine communicate freely. This can include no-tech printouts, which can be used to model communication for students with learning and language differences.

Want to learn more?

I’ve used communication modeling as a skill in my teacher toolbox for the past five years, and I’ve seen the difference it can make when communicating. This helps my students develop the opportunity to truly make themselves heard. I learned this skill through training in the No Limits Method, using their micro-credential videos to help me understand how to connect with my students and encourage them to communicate with me. For more information about communication specific content, visit the No Limits Method site.

Savannah Moffett, Exceptional Education Teacher & Content Creator


The challenge of motivating students to learn and grow is shared by all teachers, but that challenge may seem more daunting if a student has a variety of needs brought about by their disability.

As I was progressing in my own educational journey, I was motivated by teachers that presented me with a challenge in my work, all while considering the difficulties I faced. They understood what challenged me without allowing it to change how they understood my potential for growth. The use of assistive devices is necessary for many students with complex physical and cognitive needs, but it presents them with challenges and difficulties. As teachers, in order to help our students to learn and develop, we must motivate them through these challenges.

In this blog, Savannah explains how she motivates students to communicate using their augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices by modeling their use. Leading by example motivates each student to reach their full potential! Visit the No Limits Method to learn more.


Cheyne Joslin, Director of Research & Efficacy

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