Paths to Literacy

for students who are blind or visually impaired

Teaching Vocabulary to Use in the Community

Index card with image of plants

As we take students into the community, sometimes we need to facilitate their interactions with their environment. I ‘scope out’ the environment prior to going, take pictures, and then talk to the team. What vocabulary do we want the student to focus on?  

I make cards using photos, signs, or tactile representations for students with no vision to practice vocabulary before going out into the community.


  • card stock
  • xyron machine
  • cutting board
  • plastic folder to store cards in

Optional: binding for creating cards in a book



Index card with image of a man signing "plant"

I create cards with picture and font size that is recommended for that student. I try to limit the visual clutter in the photos, but sometimes that can’t be helped. The picture is put in the upper part of the Word document with the word centered just below. I print them on card stock as card stock is sturdier and doesn’t contain the glare that regular copy paper holds. Once printed, I cut the cards down to size. I prefer 5x7, but sometimes we go a little bigger. The ones pictured are 6x8 in size.
Then, if my student requires sign language, on the back is pictures of the sign for that vocabulary word. I put that in a word document and print to copy paper, trim, and then run it through a xyron machine. A xyron machine makes anything into a sticker! Amazon has them, as do Wal-Mart, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, and other craft stores. I have several sizes as I use this A LOT! I don’t use glue as it has a tendency to bubble under an image or the image peels away after a couple uses.
The classroom teacher or paraprofessionals have been awesome in preteaching these vocabulary words. While in the community, the student is either given one card to locate the item or, if they can cognitively use them effectively, books.
Index card with an image of a stream surrounded by grass and rocksIndex card with a picture of a man signing "water"


An adaption to this that I’ve done has been with a student with no usable vision. We made the cards together based on tactile items that they felt would work and I affix them to cardboard as it is much sturdier. For example, plants were fake leaves, tree was a stick off a tree, and water was Saran Wrap.
Collage of teaching vocabulary



Common Core and Braille Standards


L.K.5c Identify real-life connections between words and their use (e.g., note places at school that are colorful).



Posted by Irish Mom

Posted on March 31, 2014
Updated on: February 7, 2018

Previous comments for Teaching Vocabulary to Use in the Community

eleagan commented on April 3, 2014

A xyron is simply an adhesive tape machine. It is hand operated and very easy to use. My students can master it in under 10 minutes! As for materials, I have used paper, card stock, and fabric scrapes. I don't use felt or the foam paper as it tends to be a bit thick and can damage the machine. I recently bought one and and a replacement cartridge at Walmart for under $60. I personally feel that by teaching the students how to use the device, they become more independent in making their tactile graphics.

Hope this helps?

Irish Mom commented on April 3, 2014

I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS!! The professionals working with my son frequently don't remember the signs for my son. This will solve the issue! I'm not sure I understand what the xyron machine is. What exactly is it? What kinds of things can be used in it?