This is a post written primarily for my fellow SLPs, however many parents may find this post interesting as well There are affiliate links to Amazon in this post for your convenience. Oh the dreaded /r/. If you are an SLP reading this, you know what I mean. The /r/ can be SUCH a tricky sound to teach and it can take a LONG time to get a child to be able to produce it correctly.
My first year working with children on the /r/ was a ROUGH year. I googled and googled and read and read whatever I could find. There are even whole books dedicated to teaching the /r/!! But even with reading the books and blogs and websites, I have still come across kids that are just not getting it. So, every year I have continued to post on the message boards and google in the effort to figure out that one kid that I can’t just get to produce an /r/. I’m going to tell you the steps that I have used to teach the /r/ that I have been successful. I basically have combined a couple different methods I have read about paired with a little of my own creativity. Here we go! Materials You may need to teach the /r/:
- Synthetic Vinyl Powder Free Gloves: You should wear them anytime you are working near the mouth.
- Hand Held Mirrors for each child
- Play Doh- the Play-Doh Mini Tubs work PERFECT and you can let the kids play with them when they are waiting their turn.
- Dum Dum Pops or other mini suckers (I prefer mini Mini Tootsie Pops ).
- If candy is an issue, you can use Flavored Tongue Depressors (but I’ll tell you, they are not NEARLY as motivating).
Here is what I do:
- I hand out a tub of Play-Doh to every student (even the ones NOT working on /r/) and tell them to shape it into a tongue shape. Yes, they look at me like I am nuts. However they all like making their tongue shapes!
- I then do a whole lesson about how we make the /r/ sound with our tongue. I describe verbally the two different ways one can make an /r/, the tongue tip/retroflex /r/ and the bunched/back /r/ as well as show them illustrations of both, and show them a video of he /r/ being produced at the University of Iowa site.
- I then label the different parts of the tongue using our Play-Doh tongues, and make sure all the student’s understand all the different parts (will be important when teaching placement). I may also use my Jumbo Mighty Mouth Hand Puppet from Super Duper INC to do this. It is a great tool!
- Now, I take my Play-Doh tongue, and I show them visually how to make the /r/. I used two fingers to represent the two sets of back molars. So I actually shape it into the shape of my tongue when I make an /r/.
- Next, I ask each student to take their Play-Doh and try to shape it into how their tongue is when they make their /r/. This is an interesting activity and I REALLY wish I have had a camera to take pictures…the different tongue shapes are interesting to say the least. Ha! For some kids, it really gives me a starting place on how to address sound production.
- After the visual lesson, it is time to get physical. I bust out the mirrors (more visual feedback) and the mini suckers. Their eyes LIGHT up. We get SUCKERS?Talk about motivating! I keep my Play Doh tongue out as a visual as well.
- These next few steps are similar to Pam Marshalla’s The Essential Butterfly Position that she describes in her book Successful R Therapy (although I had used these methods before I ever read her book). I have each child open his/her mouth and I take the mini sucker of their choice, and I rub the sides of the tongue, from the back forward, on both sides. I label the parts of the tongue for them and then I tell them this is the part of the tongue that needs to push up on your top back molars. I also label this on my Play Doh tongue.
- Next, I have them bite on the areas I just rubbed. This helps give them more tactile feedback, while spreading out the tongue. Most kids can do this first try, others I have to work at a bit.
- After they can bite on the sides, I again rub the sides of the tongue with the sucker. Then I tell them to push the sides of the tongue up on the top molars HARD while saying the “eeeeee” sound. This is to work on getting enough pharyngeal constriction. I have them practice the “e” really exaggerated by telling them to say the “ee” with a really “tight throat” or like they are “pushing the ‘ee’ down their throat.”
- This next step, I got from an article I had read a few years ago, and found the method successful in several of my students: Eureka! on ADVANCE for SLPs. I have the students hold their “eee” sound while biting their sucker with the front teeth to keep their jaw slightly open and then I instruct them to keep their tongue pushed up on the upper teeth for “E” and then slowly slide the tongue backwards while saying “Eureka” very slowly. I would tell them to say the work with a very TIGHT tongue while pushing HARD on the top teeth. Having the child bite on the sucker will keep them from moving their jaw during the /r/ production. I tell them The /r/ is made with your tongue, not your jaw.”
- Inevitably, once the child gets to the /r/ sound, the placement will breakdown, but often that first “Eureka” results in a slightly closer approximation. At this point, I look into the mouth to see what “kind” of /r/ they are closest to producing, the tongue tip/retroflex /r/ or the bunched//back /r/. Then from here I continue to watch carefully, giving him/her constant feedback to help shape the correct placement. I continue to have the child bite on the mini sucker (you can also have them bite on three flavored tongue depressors taped together if the use of candy is a problem).
- I do trials of 10 productions of Eurkea, each one with more feedback, and then give them a break. Some feedback may include telling them to tighten up their tongue or throat more, pushing harder on the top teeth with the tongue sides, moving the tongue tip up or down, push the /r/ “down your throat” (I have found this one pretty effective to getting the kids to tighten up and push). Another one I found effective was to touch the middle of the back of their head, and tell them to try to push their tongue in that direction.
- Once the child has a good /r/ production in Eureka, I have him hold the /r/ sound and then add the “ed” sound, to produce the word “red” (using coarticulation). So, I have them say “yerrrrrrrrrrr” pause, and then “ed”. Slowly we work towards “yerrrrrrrrrred” and then drop the “yer”. Once the child has a strong /r/ in red, I will use coarticulation to teach the productions of all the different types of /r/ (er, ear, ire, air, ar, or, and words containing /r/ and /l/ if they are a problem).
- See below for the programs and resources I use to work on the /r/ sound after I am able to teach a successful /r/ sound.
- Another tip: If at ALL POSSIBLE, I recommend trying to work on placement with your students 1:1 or 1:2. See if you can pull the child at a different time for a couple weeks on their own to teach placement. I know, I know, this is not always possible if you are in the schools..but having that 1:1 or 1:2 time can make a HUGE difference in how quickly they can learn placement.
A note about the two types of /r/: If you are an SLP, you know there are two ways people produce the /r/, and some people will actually produce both types depending on phonemes that surreound the /r/. My husband, in fact, produces BOTH types of /r/. The two types are the Retroflexed/Tongue Tip /r/ and the Bunched /r/. I personally make the bunched /r/. I think one mistake some SLPs make is trying to teach all students the same type of placement. I always try to see which /r/ placement the student is closest to and then go from there. Additional Resources on how to teach the /r/:
- Check out my How To Elicit the /r/ Sound Part One for a TON more elicitation techniques for the /r/ and then check out Part Two where I share a ton of materials for teaching and working on the /r/.
- I learned a LOT from Pamela Marshalla’s book (affiliate link ->) Successful R Therapy: Fixing the Hardest Sound in the World and recommend reading it if you work in the schools (or plan to). She has a ton of different elicitation techniques for both /r/ placements. There is a LOT of information in this book though, so don’t expect to just read it all one night and use it the next day in therapy. In fact, I found it a bit overwhelming at first.
- For actual practice, I like the (affiliate link ->) The Entire World of R series by Say it Right and really love the book Vocalic R to Go! by Beverly Plass. I also made some word lists for all the different types of /r/ that I have used in my drill (If I find them I will post them in my FREEBIE section).
- I have been successful in using coarticulation to help teach the /r/ and have used fellow SLP Dawn Moore’s program that you can find at her website, Expressions Speech. Be sure to check out her site, as she all kinds of great goodies
- Need more tips on eliciting the /r/? Check out Judith Kuster’s elicitation techniques site
A note on therapy and progress: The two major keys to progress is making sure you can get as many productions per session as possible and daily practice. I aim for 75-150 correct productions per session, depending on the group size (30 minute groups). Once the child can produce the sound well with me, I send home easy homework…a word list that needs to be practiced for 5 minutes every night. That is all- just five minutes. I have a fun way of challenging the students, I’ll have to post about it soon. So that is how I teach the /r/ in 15 steps. I hope some of you find this helpful!! Cheers!