Instructional Resources

Instructional Resources

DLM Essential Elements Unpacking

Thanks to the leadership and generosity of Iowa and Emily Thatcher, the DLM Essential Elements are being unpacked by a team of educators in Iowa with the guidance of Claire Greer of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies.  Unpacking has been completed for ELA and we expect Math to be completed by the end of the summer of 2015.   The math unpacking documents will be linked here as soon as they are available.

DLM Essential Elements in English Language Arts Unpacking Documents

DLM Essential Elements in Mathematics Unpacking Documents

Please READ  this important message about Tar Heel Reader if you are not already familiar with the site.

Familiar Texts

The DLM Alternate Assessment supports students with the most complex disabilities by providing them with the texts they will encounter in the English Language Arts assessment before they encounter them in the assessment.  The FAMILIAR texts will be released as they are available.  In addition, when there are specific objects called out for the assessment, those are described.

The familiar texts for are available through the Educator Resource Page for your state.  If your state participates in the Year-End assessment only, the familiar texts are here:  Year-end assessment familiar texts.  If your state participates in the Integrated Model with  Instructionally Embedded Assessment windows, the familiar texts are here: Integrated model with instructionally embedded assessment windows familiar texts.

Other Texts

One of the challenges in providing students with the most significant disabilities with access to the general curriculum is finding materials that link directly to the grade level content, but are written at a level that is accessible.  As part of the DLM project we have been building a library of companion texts that go with the exemplar texts called out in the Appendix of the Common Core State Standards. These books are accessible, open-source texts that you and your students can read online, on a reader that uses epub files, or offline as Powerpoint files or printed versions of the books. The books come from the collection of books at Tar Heel Reader.  Many of the books were written by teachers across the U.S., Canada, and other English speaking countries.  Please read the message about Tar Heel Reader linked above if you are not already familiar with the site.  You will find a great deal of variety in the quality of the books and not all of the books are appropriate for all students.  If you take some time to familiarize yourself with you’ll find you can choose which books you want your students to access. You can find the library of companion texts at

Shared Reading Vignettes

Having a hard time imagining what shared reading might look like using these books with your students with more complex needs?  Here are some vignettes that describe what interactions between teachers and students with the most significant cognitive disabilities might look like.  They are arranged by grade level because they link to specific books at each grade level, but read some at the grade levels above and below the levels you teach to get more examples.

3rd Grade Shared Reading Vignette   My Father’s Dragon Unit – “Wild Island

4th Grade Shared Reading Vignette The Birchbark House Unit – “Omakayas

5th Grade  Shared Reading Vignette The Secret Garden – “Families

7th Grade  Shared Reading Vignette  Hatchett – “Moose

9th-10th Grade Shared Reading Vignette The White Heron – “Making a Dress

11th-12th Grade Shared Reading Vignette To Kill a Mockingbird – “Dad Loved the Farm

DLM Core Vocabulary Supports

DLM Core Vocabulary Overview (pdf) This paper describes the value of using a core vocabulary for students who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), particularly when addressing the communication and academic demands of the DLM Essential Elements.  The paper also includes a detailed description of the selection and ranking process used to identify the 463 words included in the DLM Core Vocabulary.

DLM “First 40″ Core Vocabulary (pdf) This table includes the DLM “First 40” recommended core vocabulary words for students and a description of how these words were selected.  The “First 40” core vocabulary words are particularly useful for students who need AAC systems with a limited set of words and symbols due to motor, sensory, and or cognitive challenges.

DLM Core Vocabulary-Resource (xlsx) The Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) Core Vocabulary is a list of words that have been determined to be highly useful for communicating in both social and academic contexts. The words are listed in rank order of utility based on a variety of factors that are fully explained in the DLM Core Vocabulary Overview paper. This word list includes vocabulary that is necessary for the DLM Essential Elements. (This list is also available in pdf format.)

Columns on the spreadsheet include the following:
  • Column A: Core vocabulary words
  • Column B: Priority score. A larger number indicates greater utility.
  • Column C: A score of 1 indicates that this word was included in the AAC core vocabulary research that we reviewed.
  • Column D: Initial DLM Essential Element for which the word is needed.
  • Column E-G: Additional Essential Elements for which the word is needed. These lists are not exhaustive.
Here are some examples of communication displays that present the top 40 DLM Core Vocabulary words. Each has 4 words per page on 10 pages. As described in the DLM Core Vocabulary and Communication Module, we suggest that you select the one that uses the symbols already used in your school. Print the pages in a size that meets the needs of your student(s). Then laminate and bind them together so that you can start modeling their use across activities throughout the day.

DLM 1st 40 with Boardmaker Picture Communication Symbols

DLM 1st 40 with Widgit Symbols in Print to Communicate 2

DLM 1st 40 with N2Y Symbolstix

3D Printer Tactile Symbols for Core Vocabulary

The Center for Literacy and Disability Studies has a different project that is focused on the use of core vocabulary to support symbolic communication development for students with significant cognitive disabilities.  Several of the students in the project have multiple disabilities including deafblindness.  They need tactile symbols and there are not existing tactile symbols that systematically represent core vocabulary. To address the need, we are developing tactile symbols that can be printed on a 3D printer. These are currently in development and are likely to change as we learn more, but we have decided to share them because we understand that the need is not limited to the students in our project.  Here is a picture of the symbols: Top View Example 3D Symbols You'll need access to a 3D printer that can print in multiple colors (we use multiple colors to take advantage of any residual vision the student may have), and you'll need to use 3D design software to view and/or modify these files (we use  Each symbol has braille (on the top to support orientation and accommodate the fact that most of the students in our project can only manipulate the object with one hand); the label is stamped in print (to ensure that sighted communication partners call the symbol by the correct name); and a specific tactile representation of the word.  The colors and shapes are organized as follows: Green Square (prepositions) Red Triangle (verbs) Blue Heart (adjectives) Yellow Circle (adverbs/conjunctions) White Hexagon (pronouns) We will be adding to the symbols over time.  The symbols can be found here, at the Project Core website
The DLM Alternate Assessment will assess writing for all students at all grade levels.  There are numerous professional development modules focused on writing instruction.  One of the modules focuses on Alternate Pencils that are required for students who cannot use a standard pencil, pen, keyboard, or computer-based technology for writing. Below are files required to create two of the most widely used alternate pencils.  They are intended to get you started, but you may have to develop other alternatives for your students.  (These files are also available in the Materials Exchange in the Alternate Pencils folder.)

Eye Gaze Frames

Flip Charts

  Description of Alternate Pencils (on the CLDS Website)

Initial and Distal Precursors

These Math (Initial and Distal Precursor Extended Descriptions for Math pdf) and ELA (Initial and Distal Precursor Extended Descriptions for ELA pdf) resources provide teachers with enhanced descriptions of the Initial and Distal precursors for the most frequently used Essential Elements.

By providing a clear connection between the IP or DP linkage level and the Target linkage level, teachers can better tailor classroom instruction for each student.  Additionally, links to instructional information for each Essential Element and familiar texts in ELA, make these handy classroom resources.

Self-reflection and observations forms are intended to help educators reflect on their own teaching and engage meaningfully in conversations with others who observe their teaching.

English Language Arts:

For most instruction aimed at students working at the Initial and Distal Precursor Linkage Levels:



For most instruction aimed at students working at the Proximal Precursor and Target levels:



Please e-mail us with comments or concerns at