WWOA : Picture Exchange Communication System

Contributed by Perenda Isom-Satterfield

The National Professional Development Center, (2010) Picture Exchange Communication System: Steps for implementation explains that the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is an alternative communication system that uses pictures to aid in communicating with student that have a language disability.  The program has six phases.  The first phase is the training period.  In this phase, you are teaching the concept of requesting.  To do this phase properly you need two people.  Usually, a teacher and the teacher assistant.  The student sits in a chair facing the table. One of the teachers will sit in the chair behind the student.  The other teacher will sit on the other side of the table across from the student. The teacher will choose a PEC picture of the student favorite item.  For example: Chocolate chip cookies worked in my class with all my students.  I would hold up the cookie as the student reaches for the cookie, the assistant (shadow) would hand over hand move her towards the pecs picture of the cookie and pull the cookie picture off the pecs board and give it to the teacher.  Teacher would model verbally “I want cookie”, and immediately give the student the cookie.  The teacher would repeat this at least 10 times a day (discrete trials) The teacher would document how the skill was completed phase 1.  There are several ways this could be documented: Physical prompting, fading prompting gesture, and independently.  In the previous example the teacher document that the skill was completed with physical prompting.

Phase 2 – distance and persistence

Now that the student understands the concept of PECS and can request needs and wants.  They move to the next level.  Phase 2 is designed to generalize and teach students to move the pecs pictures to another location to request a need.  The shadow is still needed.  Again, you will need the students most desired reinforce or item.  Start at the table and do the same techniques used in phase 1.  Gradually move away with desired item.  Student may follow without picking up the card the shadow would immediately physically prompt the student to the pecs picture and guide her to hand the picture to the teacher.  Teacher immediately gives the desired item to the student.  Trials would continue until student is completing task independently.

Phase 3- discriminating

This is the level that we teach the student to be able to tell the difference between pictures.  I call this phase vocabulary building.  To teach picture discrimination, you need to have two pictures.  One picture of the student favorite item and a picture of something they dislike.  You need to have both items available. The second person is no longer needed (shadow).  Show the desired item to the student.  The student will then give you one of the pictures, and you then give the student the item of the picture they handed you.  This technique is design to teach the discrimination of the two pictures/items by trial and error.  Ultimately, the child wants the desired item, but may give the teacher the wrong picture.  Eventually through trial and error they will figure out that they get the desired item my giving the picture of the desire item to the teacher.  

Phase 4 –building sentences

This phase helps student to put words together to make a sentence.  The materials needed would be the pec pictures and a sentence strip.  Through the phases the teacher has been verbally modeling “I want” sentences. In this phase, the strips are an added visual prompt to the sentence started “I want”.  The student is taught to add the pecs to the sentence strip “I want”.  For example, I want_____________. The student would fill in the blank with whatever pecs picture desired to express his/her needs. There are also picture symbols for the word I and want.

Phase 5 and 6 -Answering questions and commenting

Phase 5 and 6 are similar to phase 4.  They continue with construction of sentences.  Phase 5 sentence strip ask, “What do you want?” and Phase 6 sentence strip ask, “What do you see, hear and What is this?” 



The objective of this written information is to be a resource and a guide for parents and professional who would like to use PECS to enhance language communication in children with communication and language delays and disabilities