How to Elicit (Teach) the /r/ Sound {Part One: Elicitation Techniques}

Oh that /r/. The DREADED /r/. This is the sound that gets so many of us SLPs all annoyed because it can be so darn hard to teach. Today, I am going to share with you MY tips for eliciting the /r/, talk about some “devices” you can use to elicit the /r/ and then we will “hear” from your fellow SLPs who weighed in on this subject as well. Then tomorrow check back for Part Two where I will share some great products and programs you can use to elicit and treat the /r/ sound. (FYI There are affiliate links in this post to Amazon for your convenience) How to Elicit the r Sound

MY Tips for Eliciting the /r/ Sound

I actually already wrote an entire post on this. As one of my most popular posts of all time, you can read it HERE. I use a combo of all SORTS multi sensory methods to elicit the /r/ and I share them in that post! So get your mirrors, play dough, and DumDums out and check it out!

Visual Aides

Many of the books/programs that I will be sharing tomorrow provide visual aides to help you show children how to produce the /r/. However another fantastic 3 dimensional visual aide I like to use (as you will read in my post linked above) is the Jumbo Mighty Mouth Hand Puppet from SuperDuperInc.

Proprioceptive Elicitation Tools

You also can buy commercial devices or household items to help you elicit the /r/ sound. Here are a few examples!

  • Speech Buddies: You have probably heard of these devices. They are pretty darn pricey, and I always hear mixed reviews on them in general. However several SLPs have done reviews on them recently, and you may want to check out the reviews and keep these in the back of your mind for *that one* kid that you just CAN’T get to produce the /r/. Check out the reviews at Speech Room News, If Only I had Super Powers, Speech Snacks,  Major Speech Pathology Fun, Smart Speech Therapy,
  • Tongue LifteR: I just learned about this little device from a fellow SLP. It seems similar to the Speech Buddies device but significantly cheaper. if you have ever tried this one, let me know in the comments!!
  • Dental Floss Method: Pam Marshalla shares information on how to use a dental floss pick to help manipulate and position the tongue to elicit the /r/. Click the link for information, or pick up her book Successful R Therapy  for more information.dum dum bag for more information.dum dum bag
  • Pam Marshalla’s Cake Decorator Tips Pam Marshalla shares her tips on using these to elicit speech sounds…you can read her tips on her Facebook Page.
  • Dum Dum Pops or Tootsie Pop Mini can be used to touch/rub areas of the mouth to teach placement and awareness.
  • Flavored Tongue Depressors can also be used in the same way as DumDums (but I find kids prefer the candy! Way more motivating!)

Books That Go Over Elicitation Techniques

Your Fellow SLPs Weigh In: Their Tips

A few months ago I posted a survey, and a bunch of my fellow SLPs were kind enough to participate by leaving their tips to eliciting the /r/ sound. I went ahead and just copied their responses word for word here, so there be some overlap but with slightly different twists. The biggest recommendation I can make to those of you new to the /r/ is that there is no one size fits all way to elicit the /r/. You may have some tricks that work for most students, but then you’ll have that one that just will challenge you! Here are the tips from your fantastic fellow SLPs who took the time to fill out the survey’s:

  • I usually teach a bunched /r/ by prompting the student to say /gr/ and hold out the /r/. I explain that the tongue tip needs to be down behind the front teeth and the sides pressed along their top back teeth. To teach a retroflexed /r/ I have students glide their tongue tip back along the roof of their mouth as they prolong the sounds in “ear”. Again they need to make sure their tongue tip is up, and the sides are pressed along the insides of their top teeth. We play with movement of the tongue forward and back in the mouth until we find their “best /r/”. ~Christina from Michigan
  • I find this sound tends to be more individualistic in that you have to find the technique that works for each child.  For some kids, instructions to “smile”  (to get away from /w/) and “raise the back of the tongue” (along with cueing that by saying /k,g/) is enough.  For kids that can do “er”, I have them say an initial /r/ word by stretching out “er” (ex. “errring”) and then fading that stretch until there is just an initial /r/ sound.  Can’t wait to hear more techniques, especially for specific /r/ vowels.  I have a few kids who have an initial /r/, but are struggling with “er.” ~ Paula from West Virginia
  • Lift tongue tip up to the alveolar ridge to produce /l/. Then, run your tongue along the roof of your mouth. Should produce, “ler.” ~ Jocelyn from New York
  • I had the best success with a kiddo by first having him growl like a bear — the /g/ provided a facilitating context for producing /r/.  We worked from there, first attaching /g/ to the beginning of words, then slowly working away from initial /g/ by moving to voiceless /k/ then letting that get quieter and quieter until it was gone and the child was producing initial /r/ appropriately.  Once we got that, it seemed he was able to work more productively at initial and final /r/ production. ~Anonymous
  • I draw the image of a train and train tracks, and then I teach the student that his upper teeth are like train tracks and his tongue is the train. The train wheels (the sides of his tongue) need to be steady on the tracks in order to move easily (same with his speech). ~Brea from Michigan
  • Teach the retroflex version for challenging students with R. Instruct them to put their tongue up to alveolar ridges, slide it across the roof of the mouth so curled backwards, and make an easy smile….”ER”-Shape challenging vocalic R  from a good pre-vocalic R by saying “ruh” at the end of a vocalic R word. Say car”ruh”, (for “car”) so that it makes the vocalic R sound correct. Fade out the “ruh” gradually by changing it to a whisper, and then just mouthing it. ~Natalie
  • When helping a child elicit the /r/ in the initial position, I have them watch my lips first and then to try the same thing on themselves with a hand held mirror. I tell them that they push out their lips and make an “O” when saying /w/ and that they make a square with their lips when making an /r/ sound.  Then I tell them to make the growling bear sound, while pushing their lips out, touching their teeth together and making a square with their lips….not an “O” or it will become a /w/ sound. This growling bear sound also works when the say /r/ in the final and medial positions. ~Ann from Massachusetts 
  • Quick tip-I worked with one elementary school age (3rd grader) and she persisted in gliding all r’s.  I figured out that if she smiled (think big grin) when she said the r she had more success and her tongue was also further back in the mouth.  She liked this cue and it seemed to reduce her stress about not having her tongue in the correct spot. ~Carolyn from North Carolina
  • I elicit the /er/ sound by telling students to “tickle your big teeth up in the back of your mouth (they’re called “molars”) with the sides of your tongue. Can you do it? Eeek! I can! Now…say “errrrrrrrr”  like a lion growling, or “arrrrrrrrrr” like a pirate. ~Suz from North Carolina
  • 1. Without producing phonation, slide the tongue tip back along the roof of the mouth from behind the front teeth to the back of the hard palate (a mirror helps). Practice until the student can do it easily. 2. Now practice the same movement again without the tongue tip touching the roof of the mouth (still no phonation). Practice until the student is comfortable making the movement. 3. Next, practice the movement from step 2, this time with phonation. The student should hear his sound moving from an /l/ approximation to an /r/. It helps if I use some sort of signal when I hear the sound change to an /r/. Eventually the student should be able to hear himself when the production changes to /r/. ~Abby from Iowa
  • 1)  Remind students that this is a tongue sound, not a lip sound. 2)  Have the students press the sides of the back of their tongue against the sides of the top, back teeth. ~Anonymous
  • 4 steps:  1. stong tongue, 2. bring it back, 3. tongue tip up 4. make your mouth like a square (tiger growl) Make your tongue into a “tongue taco” Say the /l/ while you pain the roof of your mouth with your tongue…transitioning to an /er/ sound ~Anonymous
  • Pretend the bottom of your top teeth is a train track and the sides of your tongue are the train. Slide your “train” back as far as it can go on the tracks while keeping your tongue tip high in your mouth. A visual aid is definitely helpful! Say /l/  and move your tongue back on the roof of your mouth to produce /r/. ~Anonymous
  • Growling like a bear is the most fun or arrr like a pirate ~Suzanne from Texas
  • Smiling!  This is my favorite trick to illicit initial /r/ for kids who substitute /w/.  Sliding the tongue from /l/ back to /r/ ~Jenn from Florida
  • Probably used by many SLPS, but honestly I have had the most success with the “tongue sweep” method, starting with /l/ and sweeping the tongue back along the palate to /r/. I always try the bunched production first, with lots of cues to lift the back of the tongue, but when that isn’t working after a lot of effort, I go to retro flex with a lot of success. ~Mary from Tennessee
  • There are 2 types of /r/ phonemes. The initial and blend and the vowel. The initial I tell the kid to 1.  Smile, 2.  Put tongue back, 3.  Make a sound in their throat. I never tell them to “make the /r/ sound” because they will immediately round their lips as a habit.  I pretend that its a new sound.  I then have the student combine the new sound with syllables and move to words after that. Blends I introduce afterwards and I explain to the student that if they are producing the /gr/,/kr/, /br/ and /pr/ to have their tongue back in the /r/ position while producing the first sound. For /tr/ /str/ and /thr/ I tell them to produce the first sound then “whip” the tongue back into the /r/ position. For vowel /r/ I use my hand as a visual aid. I hold my hand flat and palm up. I tell the kids that OT is like their tongue when it is flat. I say “eeeee” then as I fold my fingers up I curl my tongue back and say ” ear”. I have the student practice that while smiling to keep the lips from helping. I also play “eee”, freeze and scratch. I have the kid say “eee” ther pull the tongue back until I hear the vowel /r/ then I tell them to freeze in that position. I then tell them to move the tongue against the inside of the upper teeth ~Charity from South Florida
  • To elicit the /r/ sound, I have the children hold their hands together (like when praying), and have them put their hands under their chin but slightly back to where they can place their “tall man” fingers lightly where the back of their tongue is and to gently push up. This helps give a tactile cue to the students to raise the back of the tongue to produce a good /r/ sound. ~Terri from Brooklyn, NY
  • I take a tongue depressor and ‘scratch’ the hard palate just above the left and right side molars. Then I scratch the sides of the student’s tongue to show them where the sides of the tongue should touch the inside sides of the molars.. To do that, the tongue pulls back slightly. Then curl the tongue tip up and back.     Sounds crazy but it works for most of my kids! ~Joan from New Jersey
  • With older children I talk about making a /z/ sound and then leaving the tongue pressed up against the back molars and pulling the tongue back slightly and making a vowel sound.  I usually model this with playdough and my hand! ~Anonymous
  •  I like to start by having the child produce a long e sound…explained the structures and how they feel.  I tell them the tongue is the train and upper teeth are tracks.  They say /i/ then slide the train..tongue..back 2or 3 teeth..but keeping it on the tracks.  This allows for tongue stabilization at the back teeth and ensures they keep a “big, flat” tongue shape.  If that doesn’t work, I often find that the child is quickly able to get a retro.flex “curled” tongue /r/.  I have them hold a straw with the tongue curled under and around it when horizontal.  Then they use the straw to touch “just behind the bump” meaning alveolar ridge.  Then t touch that a few times with tongue tip, then act like they are holding the straw with the tip”almost touching the spot”.   Sounds crazy but it works, frequently on the first or 2nd try.  Wish I could SHOW you. ~Kristie from Oklahoma
  • I usually start with a lot of mirror work first.  I explain to them to make the /r/ sound with their tongue and not their lips.  I give them verbal cues to lift their tongue up and back.  Sometimes sliding the tongue back from /l/ to /r/ helps.  Lots of minimal pairs of /w/ and /r/. ~Leslie from Texas
  • We work on “puffy” tongue by using a mirror and lots of examples. Then concentrate on the /ah/ sound with a puffy tongue. Move from there to puffy tongue + vowels, then puffy tongue + vowel + consonant, then finally shape it into an /r/! ~CC from Oregon
  • I use the /k/ and /l/ to help the tongue move back and up for placement… I have kids start by imitating /ka/ several times then I have them move their tongue from the back to front to produce the /la/…. Sounds like kala. After several productions of that… I move into the /r/. It sounds like /karla/… After I hear a good /r/ I fade out the /l/ and end up with car! Works just about every time… Pretty quickly too! ~Anonymous 
  •  I’m a SLP in Sweden. Although the Swedish /r/ is slightly more forward placed than the English I think that this might work for eliciting the English (prevocalic) /r/ as well: I ask my children to buzz like a bee “bzzz” and move their tongue inwards/backwards while buzzing until they reach the r-sound. If need be I show them the tongue movement we are after with my hand and/or clay. ~Elivira from Sweden
  • I have noticed that many of my /r/ kids don’t know proper placement for articulators when they start with me in 4th grade, even if they have been in speech since Kindergarten. The FIRST thing we do is an activity learning about our articulators and when and why we use them. For /r/ I encourage them to stop the lip rounding that turns /r/ to /w/, and we do minimal pairs with /l/ and /r/ noticing that the tongue is in the back or front of the mouth. We also do alot of the slides from /l/ to /r/ on the roof of the mouth to feel the difference and change sounds. I think the key to /r/ is manipulating sounds until you hit the jackpot! ~Sam from South Dakota
  • Placing a tongue depressor across the child’s mouth and having them bite down. Then have them try “gr” words since “g” places the tongue in the proper spot. ~Anonymous
  • At my clinic we have the child practice using “angry doggy” sound (grrr). He must show his top and bottom teeth. We start with “gr” blends in words. The pitch must go up at the end. We have the child say a word three times in unison with the SLP and then three times by themselves. ~Mehren from Texas
  • I learned this key word from someone, “lacree” which helps to elicit /r/. My best luck with /r/ has been drilling rules every session. Tongue up, tongue back, back lateral sides touching upper molars, tongue tight. With these rules and then some discussion about where the tip is, either bunched or retro flex I am getting correct productions. A colleague of mine cues her kids to think of the tongue as surfing and not sunbathing to visualize the tightness.  She has icon visuals too! ~Kyle from Ohio
  • “make a smile to help pull the tongue to the correct position” “point your tongue tip towards the bumpy space behind your top front teeth” ~Anonymous
  • I begin by showing the student a picture of the tongue with a cut view of the muscles.  I tell them that each of those muscles does something different.  Then I have them do a series of tongue movements.  For students who claim they can’t curl their tongue, I take a flavored tongue depressor and tell them the tongue depressor is a hot dog and their tongue is the hot dog bun.  By pressing  gently down the center of the tongue, I am able to get the student to curl the tongue.  This also works if I want them to curl the tongue tip up.
  • My first step is telling students to put their tongues “up, back, and fat” to elicit “er”.  The tip of the tongue goes up and back and the sides of the tongue become fat, that is, they touch the top teeth on each side (I always point to the sides of my tongue and to the place where they are supposed to go). ~Anonymous
  • Place a /g/ in front of it and have child say “grrrrr”, then words ending in /er/ such as “teachgrrr” “teacherrrr”. Have child push up off chair to gain tension often lacking Practice “eureka”, “you’re-right”, “you’re-reading”, etc. “eureka” Use dumdum to push tongue up+back and round tip of tongue around ~Daphne from Toronto
  • My tips for eliciting /r/ are things I have collected from other therapists or resources.  I would recommend getting the Entire World of R screener and book on eliciting /r/ because it breaks down the different types of /r/ and you can usually find a context in which the student can correctly produce /r/.  I believe the company is Say It Right.  I have also used dental floss and had the student rub the dental floss on their tongue and then try to lift the dental floss behind their back molars with their tongue.  This helps get their tongue back in the position for the /r/.  Hope that helps! ~Felice from California
  • One trick that has worked really well to elicit /r/ is to have them make the /zh/ sound (as in the middle sound in the word ‘treasure’).  I ask the student to tell me what the various parts of the tongue are doing when he/she is doing this: what are the side edges, the center, the tongue tip, and the top edges.  I also explain that they need to keep the tension in the tongue and that they need to slide, not drop, the tongue back to a position just behind the alveolar ridge.  Then, when that has been done, he needs to curl the tongue tip up and back.

    For me, the most important part of this entire process is carefully listening to the child, imitating what he is doing, and then figure out what he needs to do to go from that point to the /r/.  I then explain all that to him.  I also use a model of the human mouth to show what the tongue needs to do.

    For some students, it is easier to get to /r/ using /sh/, the voiceless version of /zh/.  I have also used /i/ to /r/ and /l/ to /r/, but the most successful phoneme has been /zh/.

    I also explain to the student the importance of lip position, and tension in the tongue in maintaining the /r/.

    Many of my students tend to drop the tongue away from the /zh/ position as they move the tongue back.  What occurs is a loosening of the tension and a flattening of the tongue, thus losing the slight curve down the center of the tongue.  I explain to the student what he has done that prevents him from reaching /r/ and how to maintain the correct positioning.

    I do one other thing that I believe helps to encourage the student.  I use a system I call the “Shadow /r/”.  I tell the student there are three stages to reaching /r/.  The first is the “shadow /r/”.  In this stage the student is no longer articulating a pure /w/, but has begun to move the tongue into a position that is neither /w/ nor /r/.  If the SLP listens very closely, she/he will begin to hear the student beginning to move toward the /r/.  The second stage is one I call the “close” /r/.  The student is beginning to get very close to /r/, but has not yet articulated a true /r/.  The final stage is one I call the “target /r/.”  This is where the student reaches the goal of correctly articulating /r/.  I use this system because it encourages the student that he is on the right path, and that, although he may not have reached the /r/ yet, he is on his way toward it.

    This sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is.  I do hope it helps other SLPs. ~Linda from California

Links to other Tips and Tricks for the /r/

Looking for MORE tips? Here are some links to come other posts on the subject:

Check back tomorrow for Part Two, where I share some products, programs and resources for eliciting and treating the /r/!  Don’t want to miss future posts? You can have posts delivered via email! just click HERE (be sure to watch for the confirmation email). You can also follow along on Facebook and Pinterest for even more speech and language information and fun!

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links.  
About Katie

Katie is a licensed, credentialed and certified pediatric speech-language pathologist and mom to three (5, 3 and 9 months). Her passion about educating, inspiring and empowering parents of children with all abilities led her to start her blog Playing With Words 365 where she shares information about speech and language development, therapy ideas and tips, intervention strategies and a little about her family life too. Katie has been working in the field of speech pathology for 9 years and is certified in The Hanen Centre’s It Takes Two to Talk ® and Target Word ® programs and holds a certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). In addition to blogging and being a mommy, Katie works part time in her small private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Hey Katie, thanks for the shout out of my past blog post on this subject!
    Dean (formerly 2 Gals)
    Dean Trout recently posted..Teacher Appreciation Day (Week)My Profile

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