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Teaching the R Sound in Speech Therapy

Teaching the R sound in speech therapy is one of my favorite targets to treat. In this blog post, I’m sharing a simple, 5-step strategy SLPs can use to teach the r sound successfully and without frustration.

5 Simple Steps for Teaching the R Sound in Speech Therapy

  1. Consider Lingual- Mandibular Differentiation When Eliciting R in Speech Therapy

    I always explain to my students the importance of being able to move the tongue without moving the jaw (or lips). These are orofacial myology basics. We need precise, controlled motor movements of the articulators. One thing I have noticed time and time again with my R students is the lateral shifting of the jaw when they try to say “er” in isolation. Others tend to jut the chin forward. Use a mirror and bite blocks to draw awareness to this. With a bite block or stacked tongue depressors, we work on tasks such as moving the tongue tip from one corner of the lips to the other, while focusing on only moving the tongue.

  2. To elicit R in speech therapy, start with “er” in isolation

    The first place I start is establishing the “er” sound in isolation. This is based off of Sandra’s Holtzman’s R: Techniques and Interventions ceu course, which was a gamechanger for me. If you’re looking to take an amazing CEU course for treating R, look no further. You can establish “er” using either a bunched r or a retroflexed r tongue shape. For a bunched R, I like to use my arms to explain the spread and lift of the tongue. When my student says “uh” instead of “er”, I say, “Try that again. You dropped the sides of your tongue”- and I hold my arms out in front of me (hands clasped together), and visually show them “raised sides” vs “flat sides” using my elbows.

  3. Pair “ER” with other sounds and blends

    Practicing the “er” sound in lots of sounds and blend combinations (in both real and nonsense words) ensures that your student understands how to control, shape, and place the tongue, in a variety of contexts. For example, you would pair “er” with bilabial sounds (erber) in nonsense word combinations. Later, you would cycle back and practice bilabials again in real words (Decem…ber).

  4. Use “ER” to shape other vocalic r sounds

    You can use a strong foundation in “ER” to shape the other vocalic r sounds when working on R in speech therapy. You will slowly blend “er” into the other vowels or sounds, then try it again at a faster pace. For example, to say “RL” as in “girl”, we say “ER + L” (errrrrr…..L). To say “AR” as in art, we say “AH + ER”. ER is the foundation for all other R sounds.

  5. Use “ER” to shape prevocalic R in speech therapy

    And finally, to elicit the initial R, we can use our “ER” sound (“ERrrrrain…. rain).

Other things to consider when treating R in speech therapy

There are some other considerations to keep in mind when working on R.

Some of your students may have been in speech therapy for a long time. Trying a fresh new approach might be just what your student needs to see success.

Also, remember that patience is key. When working on R in speech, I have spent up to two months trying to get “ER” in isolation. It takes focus and a lot of hard work!

Remind your students that their tongue is a muscle. That means they can control it, shape it, and move it.

Want even MORE help with working on R with your speech therapy students?

Teaching the R sound in speech therapy doesn’t need to be so frustrating! Following this 5-step strategic process, which utilizes the foundational skills of orofacial myology, has been an absolute game-changer for me. I know it will be for you, too.

If you would like an articulation resource with ready-to-go worksheets and words that utilize this approach for treating R in your speech therapy sessions, be sure to check out my Correct that R resource on TpT.

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