Universal Core Vocabulary – 3D Symbol Format

[version 4, updated January 2020]

Creative Commons License
The 3D Universal Core Vocabulary Symbols by The Center for Literacy and Disability Studies are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


We have created a set of three-dimensional (3D) symbols to represent the 36 words in the Universal Core vocabulary. Each tactual symbol is printed on a base that has a shape, texture and color that mark the word category. Each also includes a unique raised element, the printed word and braille to make the individual word. The table below details the rules for the base shapes.

Word ClassShapeEdge TextureColor
adverbcirclebumps (reverse golf ball dimples)yellow
pronounhexagoncross hatchwhite
prepositionsquarehorizontal groovesgreen
verbtrianglevertical ridges like a quarterred
nountrapezoidhorizontal wavy groovesorange
interjectionpentagonsingle string of bumps (string of pearls)black

In the current version of all of the symbols, you’ll find a hole through the center of the shape instead of a loop handle, changes to the texture around the outside of several shapes to eliminate sharp edges, and improved braille.


1. Download the STL (STereoLithography) files.
2. Send to a 3D printer.

How to get started:

We start by introducing three of the 3D symbols: GO, NOT, LIKE

These three words are very flexible and offer endless opportunities for teaching and learning across partners and contexts. Just start by printing these three symbols.

How do I teach students to use the 3D symbols?

We start by identifying activities that involve movement (GO), student enjoyment (LIKE), or student refusal or displeasure (NOT).

Each time one of these opportunities occurs, we place the 3D symbol for GO, LIKE or NOT in the student’s hand and say (or sign if the student also has hearing impairments) the word. When the opportunity is complete, we remove the symbol.

For example, each time the student is going to move, use the opportunity to teach GO.  Some examples of movement include:

  • Moving around the school – Lets GO to media.
  • Moving from one position to another – Let’s GO into your stander.
  • Moving from one place to another – Let’s GO to group.

We look for any signs of pleasure to teach LIKE.  For example, when the student smiles in response to a song, we teach LIKE (I think you LIKE that song).  Other examples include:

  • Laughing while swinging in PT – I hear you laughing. You LIKE to swing.
  • Smiling while tasting ice cream – I see that smile. You LIKE ice cream.
  • Increased breathing rate after hearing a favorite adult’s voice – You hear Ms. M? You LIKE Ms. M.

We look for signs of refusal or displeasure and use them to teach NOT.  For example, when the student vocalizes in protest to a new position, we teach NOT (You do NOT like this).  Other examples include:

  • Turning head to refuse a drink – You do NOT want a drink.
  • Scrunching up face in response to an odor – That does NOT smell good.
  • Fussing when getting ready to go home – You do NOT like this.

When do I introduce the other 3D symbols?

We do not begin to introduce additional symbols until the student is beginning to reach for or otherwise indicate some beginning understanding that the three initial symbols have meaning.  This does not mean that the student has to use or identify them independently, but we want them to show some emerging understandings before we start to introduce more.  When we do go beyond the first three, we must have some system for organizing them so that students can begin to find a desired symbol and adults can continue to model and support learning at the rate that is possible with a focus on the first three.

Some basic rules to consider before going beyond the first three:

  1. Are adults in the environment consistently using GO, LIKE, and NOT throughout the entire school day? Until students are getting dozens of opportunities to learn and use these three words every day, don’t add new symbols.
  2. Is the student demonstrating emergent understanding that the symbols GO, LIKE, and NOT carry meaning? If the student is not demonstrating some expressive understanding and use, don’t add new symbols.

When you are ready to add new symbols, have a plan to organize and teach them every day.  Symbols that are not used dozens of times each day, can’t be learned.  Unlike children with vision, students who are using the 3D symbols don’t have incidental opportunities to learn the symbols just by looking for a known symbol on a communication board.  Students with significant visual impairments and significant cognitive impairments are dependent on us to provide opportunities to learn.

Additional Symbol Download Links

When you are ready to add more symbols, here are the rest for download in STL file format: