How I target the R sound (with links)

Before I start, let me say that I work in a junior high with 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students.  Most of these kids have been in therapy for several years but still can’t seem to get the hang of the /r/ sound.

So far, with the approach below, I have dismissed each one of them before they go to high school…because they actually earned their graduations from speech!

The box in the middle shows the interior of the mouth from the Iowa Phonetics website. I drew a person around the box to help students understand what they were seeing.

Here’s what I do:

1. I assess the students’ /r/ productions using the Entire World of R Advanced Screener:  However, I have modified this process a little bit.  I rate the /r/ productions as I screen on a scale of 0-3, with 0 being omitted or completely substituted for /w/ or a vowel.  I use 1-3 (including half points) to reflect varying levels of rhoticity.  In scoring, I count productions between 0 and 2 as incorrect.  I count 2.5 and 3 as correct. (This took some of the pressure off of me in trying to decide if I should mark a production as + or -).  Then, I select target /r/ variations that the student had the most success with that were still under 80% accuracy (e.g, er, ear, ire, or, are, pr, gr, etc.)

2. When I start therapy with a student, I begin by reviewing the mouth anatomy using the Iowa Phonetics website (below) and a model mouth.  I have a Mouthy Mouth puppet from Super Duper Inc.  I also have a model head (I bought on ebay) that splits in half so that I can show the inside.

3. Next, we look at how the mouth looks when it is producing a phoneme (again from the iowa phonetics website) and we look at the mouth producing the /r/ sound.

4. After this, I model the target /r/ variation we will start with.  I explain what my tongue is doing and demonstrate using the mouth puppet (or my hands to represent the tongue and the roof of the mouth).

5. Now, I know there are different ways to teach /r/ but here’s what I do: I show them a /k/ sound production (Iowa phonetics site/mouth puppet/hand cues) and talk about how it’s in the back of the mouth.  Then I ask the student to produce a /k/.  We talk about how it feels in the back of the mouth.

6. Next I ask them if they can lick the roof of their mouths, starting at the front and going backward, until the back of their tongue is bunched up like a /k/ but the tongue tip is still up.  (We do this without voicing and I model).

7. Next, I model this same motion while producing an /er/ sound.  Then, I ask the student to give it a try.  We practice a few times until they get it. They may need cues to keep their tongues tight/more tense.  i tell them that they need to make the tongue work and that the jaw should not be doing all of the work.  If the tongue gets to just lie there or not move much, it will sound like a vowel sound.  (If the student will be working on a vocalic /r/ variant other than /er/, you can shape it from /er/ by adding the vowel sound in front of it. and talking about the mouth shape for that vowel /er/ combo.  If the student will be working on consonantal /r/ you can shape that from /er/ as well).

8. Once the student can do their vocalic /r/ variant in isolation with 80% accuracy, we move to syllables.  I write the /r/ variant on one sheet of paper and another letter on a different sheet of paper.  I ask the student to say the sound that corresponds with whichever paper I point to.  Then I mix it up. Sometimes I point to the same sound 2-3 times in a row.  I point in different orders, etc.

9. Once the student is at 80% accuracy with this, we move to the word level.  This is the point where I introduce the articulation hierarchy using “Articulation Score Card.”  (I make a copy for the student but I also have a laminated copy hanging on my wall.   my             I explain to the student how he/she needs to reach 80% accuracy *consistently* before we can move to the next level on the card.  I explain how carryover will be the last step and that we would repeat this process with other /r/ variants, but that often we’ll see some of those start to come in naturally as we practice the current target.  I write the student’s name on the top of the card and keep it in their mailboxes/speech folders.  As the student completes each level, we check it off and write the date (this doesn’t mean that we can’t revisit this level later for a tune up).  After a while, watching the kids use this card is really cool B)  I have some students enthusiastically asking me what level they’re on now; I have others reminding ME what level we worked on last time; I even have some who will walk up to the chart on the wall to proudly show other students what level they’re on!  It is a huge motivator and the kids really get into percentages (because they are familiar with them from sports stats or video games).  I also show this chart to parents to help them understand all of the work we have to do.  It has the added benefit of helping kids and parents understand why I can’t predict how long their therapy process will take – it’s not up to me 😉

10. As we go through therapy, I assign homework based on what we did that day.  I never decide the homework in advance because it is based on either something that they did really well with that I want them to maintain for next time or something that they just got the hang of but had difficulty with and I want them to practice it at home.  (I write my homework on a telephone message pad so that I can give them a copy and I keep a copy).  I also emphasize that just “talking” or having a conversation is NOT practicing.  In order for it to count as speech homework, it has to be at the hierarchy level we are working on in therapy.

11. At the reading and conversational level, we also talk about suprasegmentals like prosody and stress.  Many of my kids come to me sounding “therapized” as I like to call it.  They have been working on /r/ for so long and they want to make sure their speech therapist hears it so they’ll say things like “waTERRR” when really most of us pronounce it more like “WAHder.” We talk about how if a word ends with a vocalic /r/, the stress is usually not on that syllable.  Final vocalic /r/s are rarely ever stressed.

12. At the conversational level, here’s what I use for taking data:  If I find that one word position is more in error than the others, we may practice that position again in words and sentences and/or shape it from the other positions.

13. Now that we are at the conversational level, we can start a new /r/ variant if necessary. You also have the option of doing another probe at this point to see if there has been some carryover and determine which /r/ variants are most in need now.

14. Once your target /r/ variations are firmly established (80%) in conversation in the speech therapy room, we start working on carryover.  For this step, I ask the student to identify teachers they think would be good people to listen to them in class.  My students have at least 5 different teachers. Some of the them teach multiple classes, so these are usually great people to ask to listen. Then I give the students a form to give to the teachers asking them to rate how the student’s target sound was for the week (Note, I the student should have all variations at this point so I am just asking the teacher to listen for “R”).  If the student is not comfortable asking the teachers him/herself, I put the form in the teachers’ boxes myself.  Check out my post on carryover: Another carryover activity could be having the student make a phone call (usually to the school library or office after I have tipped off the librarian or secretary and asked them to ask follow up questions so that the student has plenty of opportunity to talk).

15. My final step is to go into the classroom to observe the student.  I never announce which class I will do this in, the students just know at some point, I will pop up 😉  I also prep the students by telling them that I may have been going into the class to observe a different student and didn’t even know they were in that class….but, as long as I am there they should talk and volunteer because that is the final step toward graduation.  I let them know in clear terms that if they don’t talk, or provide a one-word answer, it was a waste of time and we’ll need to do this again.  The teachers at my junior high know to be discreet and that I would prefer if they didn’t call on my student first.  This way, the student doesn’t feel called out in front of peers.  I stay and listen to a few other kids talk too so it’s not clear who I was there to listen to.  The teachers also know to ask open-ended WH questions or ask the students to explain routines instead of asking yes/no questions.  (Here’s how I got the teachers on the same page 😉 )

After I observe and hear that the student has carried the sound over into the classroom, we are done!  I meet with them the next session and discuss how they did.  If they need more work, then we work a little more.  If everything was great, I call the parents and set up a dismissal meeting.  At the meeting, I praise the student for the hard work, provide them with a professional looking signed certificate of completion, and shake the hands of both the parent and the student.  DONE 🙂

Need some vocalic R probes?  Check out these from my TPT store:

Boomkarks for Rhymes, Prefixes, Suffixes, and Root Words

“R” you ready for some football? (Football-themed Vocalic R sentences)

Modern Vocalic R Sentences – These aren’t your Grandma’s R probes 😉–910869

Can you CONNECT FOUR speech/language targets?

Articulation Score Card – Next Level

EASY I/M/F Articulation Data in Conversation!

Follow my TPT store to get notifications when I post others.

Autumn Bryant – Speech Language Investigator

The box in the middle shows the interior of the mouth from the Iowa Phonetics website. I drew a person around the box to help students understand what they were seeing.


Articulation Carryover – HOW TO

Here’s what I use for articulation carryover ~

1. I use my articulation hierarchy form with the student throughout the therapy process. When students can visualize their progress in this way, I have found that they become very motivated to reach 80% so they can make it to the next level!

2. Once students reach the carryover stage, I give them a slip of paper to take to 1-2 teachers of their choosing, asking how their target sound is in class (pictured)

3. I also encourage parents to choose a time in the day where they and the student agree they will be listening for the target sound.

4. I listen to the student’s target speech sound outside of the speech room, by either popping up in one or more of their classes or while they are on a field trip.

My students know the steps to the final stages of therapy, so they are excited to get their teacher feedback slip, and to check off the conversation level on their score cards.

5. My students can read my facial expressions so well! That is another thing that helps. I start off with exaggerated reactions to their errors paired with verbal feedback. As we progress, my expressions become more and more subtle, until eventually, they are similar to the fleeting expressions of confusion others will give them when their sound was not clear (and the listener isn’t sure which word they meant). I think this helps them to react to these natural cues when they happen outside of the Speech room. After a while, I can just furrow my brow or squint ever so slightly and the kids will correct their sounds! (I just have to try very hard not to give these natural cues this while testing)  😉

Teacher/Student Carryover Form
Articulation Score Card Next Level Hierarchy

Articulation Score Card

Carryover Teacher input

Middle School & High School Therapy Ideas

1. Teacher Guess Who:

Make 3 color copies of the staff pictures in your yearbook.  Cut out one set to be a deck.  Use the other two copies to be game boards as you play “School Guess Who” with the teachers as the characters.  (Just cover up the pics with coins, chips, or small paper as you go).  This works well for targeting descriptive language.

2.  Would You Rather….

Working on the structured speech level for articulation?  Play “Would you Rather…”  Give 2 choices of hypothetical situations and ask the kids “Would you rather A or B?”  Tally how many answers the students have in common.  (You can have them do this by dropping a chip in a cup every time the agree with the student answering the question and counting them at the end).  Students enjoy this game and you can get do it online for free by using the website:  (Just read each question yourself first to make sure it’s appropriate).  You can also have students at the reading level read the question choices.

3. Electronic Catch Phrase

This game is a favorite of mine because it is fun for students and adults.  I use this game to illustrate the concepts of giving clues for an inference, defining a word with categories and attributes, providing a distractor (the game beeps) for fluency students, and working on structured speech for articulation students.

4. Apples to Apples

This language game is a classic that helps target adjectives, comparing and contrasting, and visualization.

5. Jenga

This multiplayer game allows you to reward each student in your small group with a quick turn removing and replacing a block from the Jenga tower.  This is my go to for mult-student articulation therapy.

6. Model Me Kids

Use the “Model Me Kids” DVDs to target social skills.  This video modeling series features middle school in High School students in a few of the DVDs (including “Conversation Tips and Tricks”).  My students respond well to seeing kids their age talk about what to do and what not to do in social situations that they will face.

7. Show Off

This board game is among my students favorite speech therapy activities.  Like the old game “concentration,” players must think of a word that starts with each letter of the alphabet for a given category.  This board game adds the feature of being able to steal someone else’s turn if they are taking to long.  The game is perfect for targeting categorization, but I have also adapted it to target word-final articulation; for each letter have the students come up with a word that starts with the letters of the alphabet, but end with their target sound.  For example if your student is working on the word-final “er” sound, responses could include “Archer, Barber, Caterer, Doctor, Easter, Foster, etc.”

8. 20 Questions

Have each of the students in your group think of/write down the name of an object.  Then, allow the students to take turns asking each other a series of 20 yes/no questions until they can guess the object.  This is a good game for structured speech practice and descriptive language skills.

9. Connect-4

The kids love this game!  I only use it with groups of 2 or kids that I see one-on-one, though.  I even found a way to spice it up by adding speech and language therapy targets to the back as a snap-on game board.  Check it out here!

10. Classic pencil  & paper games

Hangman, Dots, and Tic-Tac-Toe are always available with just a pencil and paper or even whiteboard and dry erase marker.  I often default to these old standbys to spice up an articulation session or language activity.

Most of the games I love can either be done on scratch paper, found for free on the internet, or acquired cheaply at a garage sale or thrift store 😉