Communication Series: An Introduction to Colourful Semantics

An Introduction to Colourful Semantics


What is Colourful Semantics?

A communication/teaching method that makes use of colour coding to highlight and teach the different elements of a sentence and how to join them together.  It was created by Alison Bryan and is used for children with a variety of special educational needs. Colourful Semantics is not an AAC in it’s own right, however it can be used to help with communication. It is primarily used in educational settings but Colourful Semantics can help to expand the communication of children who are ready and want to go beyond requesting and into commenting. As a result it can be used alongside PECS.


How does it work?

As stated above, the different elements of sentences are colour coded according to the following system:

  • Who – Orange
  • Doing/Verb – Yellow
  • What/Noun – Green
  • Where – Blue

Those four are the main stages of Colourful Semantics, and as such the colour coding for them is pretty consistent across all the resources (although occasionally I will see resources with where as red). After level 4 the sentences get long and the colour coding is less consistent across resources. The colour scheme I have used is as follows:

  • Descriptives/Adjective – White
  • When/Time – Brown
  • Adverbs/How doing – Purple
  • To whom – Pink
  • Joining words/conjunctions – Grey
  • Not (e.g not running) – Red on white, no entry symbol

So a long sentence might be colour coded as follows:

Anna ate an apple and a sandwich at lunchtime.

Daniel played football with Aditya.

As I said above, the colour coding is not as universal past Level 4 but the most important thing really is that it remains consistent for the individual you are working with.

Colourful Semantics can involve coloured text like I’ve shown above, or it can be pictures with text onto a coloured background like the image at the top of the page. Many of the people I have worked with have primarily worked with the latter – pictures and words – to help make the concept more visual, but my colleagues have used coloured or highlighted text to the same effect with other children, it depends upon the person using it.


What do I need to get started?

There are Colourful Semantic apps available for Android and the iPad which come with preinstalled photographs and all the card selections you will need for each picture. Otherwise you can print out, laminate and velcro in the same way that you can with PECS.

For Colourful Semantics you will need a selection of pictures, you can find loads of photos on the internet with Google search. You can either print these off or save them to a place where you can load them up and use them later.

Then you need the individual colour coded cards (either words or words and symbols). So if you have a boy throwing a ball, you would want at least two cards for each element:

  • Who? Boy or Girl/Dog/Monkey/Winnie the Pooh/Mike the Knight
  • Doing? Throwing or Jumping/Sleeping/Sitting
  • What? Ball or Cat/Bottle/Jumper

Each card will be colour coded accordingly, printed, laminated and velcroed.

Then you will need a strip to attach the cards to, similar to the one at the top. That needs to be printed, cut out, laminated and velcroed too.

Then that would be you ready to start.

The next Colourful Semantics post will cover “Who?” and “Doing?” and provide a selection of resources for you to download and use. If you are eager to get going then I will post a link below that has a variety of resources related to Colourful Semantics for you to look through.

Until next time.

Resources and Links

Integrated Treatment Services – Click “Colourful Semantics” in the Right Hand Column


Header image made using Boardmaker Studio

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Disclaimer: The opinions and information provided in this post are my own, and based on personal, educational, and work-based experience. They do not reflect the opinions of any of the authors of the content referenced in this post. I am not affiliated or supported by any organisation, and this is meant to be an educational series of posts. The information posted here is not a substitute for advice and information provided by your own GP, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or other professional in the field of autism, and should not be taken as such.

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