One of the things I was most nervous about when starting to work at the middle school level was working on the dreaded /r/ sound. Honestly, before starting this job, I didn’t feel comfortable eliciting /r/ at all. In the past couple years, I’ve gotten so much more comfortable with it and wanted to share some of my favorite techniques and tools with all of you!
This is my number one tip if you haven’t tried this already. It has probably worked for 75% of the students I’ve tried it with. The best handout I could find to explain the protocol I use is available for free on Speaking of Speech by clicking here. This video is also really helpful to show exactly how to teach it to students. Sometimes, I put on the video in therapy and pause to practice! Easy peasy!
I’ve had an unlikely amount of success getting my students produce /r/ in “gr”, even going as far as to have bear growling competitions in therapy. It is tons of fun and it has really worked! When I have success with this method, I almost always use the “gr” context to get other words more successful. For example, if producing the word “rod”, we might say “grrrrrrr-rod” to elicit it. PS: “Kr” blends are also great for elicitation as well!
The Eureka method works on the “er” sound by placing a “y” before the “er” sound. This can help because it puts your tongue towards the top of your mouth, getting it ready for a good “er” sound! This video gives some more information on doing therapy with the Eureka method. I’ve had success having students practice words like “your” by producing them more like “yrrr”. You can build to saying things like “your rose”, producing it like “yrrrr-rose”.
I’ve had success getting the /r/ from a nice, long “eeee” by slowly pulling the tongue back as you say it. Try it yourself! say “eeee” and slowly pull your tongue back! You might find yourself saying “ear” 🙂 This technique works well for students who have trouble visualizing that they need to really pull their tongue back!
As a last resort, this technique will usually work. I prefer to work from an “eeee” if possible (see previous technique), but sometimes I need to use the /l/ sound to elicit an /r/. The reason I prefer to use this as a last resort is that it produces a retroflex /r/, which in my opinion can be harder to generalize into words/sentences/conversation. Maybe it’s just my mouth, but it definitely feels less natural to me! To do this method, have your student produce a nice, long /l/ sound. From there, have them slowly drag their tongue back along the roof of their mouth until they are producing /r/. I practice doing this without making sound for a while. For some students, I don’t tell them we are producing /r/ so they don’t psyche themselves out! It will eventually sound like the beginning of the word “learn” (i.e., lerrrr).
I’m keeping this fairly general but sometimes you might need to back it up and spend a session (or 2 or 3) to discuss placement. Some ideas for this are making playdoh tongues or drawing the tongue. I love calling it the “taco tongue” and using a picture of a hard shell taco as a visual. You can also use flossers (check out this post from Natalie Snyders about that) or small suckers (rub on the sides of their tongue to get that taco tongue going!) to help with placement. Definitely incorporate a mirror while giving placement cues so your students can see what they’re doing! Sometimes I forget that and it can make a big difference!
If you’re consistently having difficulty eliciting articulation sounds, I 1829327% recommend this book. It has tips and tricks for elicitation. I’ve shared it with several SLPs in my district and several of them have purchased it after borrowing it! I know it’s expensive, but it’s amazing!
I’m putting this tool first because it almost belongs in the elicitation section of this post. I’ve recently had success with a couple of middle schoolers who’ve been working on /r/ for years with this program. You can check it out by clicking here. I love it because the kit is small (I don’t have a room so I see students all over the school!) and it can be used for longer sessions or 5 minute sessions. You can see more examples of what is in the kit in my review of this program by clicking here.
This is my second most used commercial /r/ resource. It is great for traveling therapists and short, drill based sessions. Click here to check it out. It’s super quick and easy!
This series of materials contains tons of helpful probes and screeners. If you can’t figure out what contexts or versions of /r/ that your student is most successful with, this series will help a ton. I have the Advanced Screening book as well as the Elicitation Techniques book. I use both every school year!
Up your game with this FREE handout that allows your students to rate their productions. Sometimes in the flurry of busy days and back to back groups, I can forget simple things like making sure my students can hear a good production from a bad one (oops!). I keep copies of this handout in clear page protectors and hang them on my dry erase board so I never forget!
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If you’re looking for some creative, motivating materials that target /r/, check out some of my favorites from my store below:
Articulation Menus for /r/ – Perfect for working on /r/ in more difficult contexts including sentences and conversation.
Articulation News – This product is similar to my menus product. It works incredibly well in mixed groups (mixed articulation sounds OR speech/language mixed groups!) and is age-appropriate for older students.
Hope that helps you with some tricky /r/ cases! What works best for you? Share your techniques and ideas in the comments to help other stuck SLPs out!
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