Are you struggling with articulation therapy students and ready to get started with the cycles approach for speech therapy? I was in that same place once, which is why I made my Cycles for Phonology Toolkit! Let me share what I learned and how I decide who is a good fit for this approach, assess, choose targets, and use those targets in speech therapy!
In 2019, I was invited to do a podcast with SLPNow about the cycles approach for speech therapy. If you’d like to listen, here’s the link. If you’re more of a reader, I cover most of the information in this blog post!
When I first switched to a school setting, I was working with students up to grade 2 and had a TON of students with phonology disorders.
I went on vacation shortly after I started, but I kept thinking about how overwhelmed I was with phonology therapy. I had heard of cycles, but didn’t know where to start. I read things online but still felt overwhelmed. So, in true Shannon form, I pulled out my laptop and started the cycles for phonology toolkit. Really at first, I was just jotting down notes from research article after research article. Then, I made a progress monitoring form. When I start something, I like to be super organized so that I don’t lose steam and motivation! Shortly after I added a screener and an evaluation because I needed a fast way to assess all of these new students!!
3 months later, I completed the Cycles for Phonology Toolkit. It has everything you need to informally assess children with phonological disorders, set up a cycles program for them, monitor their progress, and provide easy, grab and go therapy!
The cycles approach is an evidence-based way to treat phonological disorders in children. Developed by Barbara Hodson, it treats sound patterns and processes instead of individual sounds. Error patterns might include not saying both sounds in a cluster or omitting the final consonants. What makes it different than other approaches is that you cycle through sounds even before the child has mastered that sound.
Think about if you were doing a physical body workout at the gym. One way to workout is to focus on one body group at a time, like a day for arms and another day for abs. Those are like phonological processes. Within each day, there are muscles that you target, for example on arm day you would target biceps and triceps. Those muscle groups are like the sounds.
So in a cycles-based workout, you would do arms for a week, working on biceps for 60 minutes, then triceps for 60 minutes. Then next week, you would move on to legs.
The benefit is that there is a rest period, so you’re not getting fatigue from just working non-stop on one thing. Plus, you might actually see growth in non-targeted areas by the time you come back around to them!
Students that have severe phonological disorders, who have significantly lowered intelligibility are good candidates for cycles. The cycles approach to speech therapy is very drill-based, so it’s best if they can sit and attend to activities. Like other articulation approaches, you need to get a lot of repetitions in!
I’ve usually used the cycles approach with preschoolers because they are the ones most likely to have lots of pattern-based errors.
It’s also important that the kids are stimulable for several different processes, because the cycles approach focuses on sounds that are stimulable.
I’ve talked at length about my typical articulation assessment and that holds true here as well. I would typically administer a formal test like the Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation and also score it with the Khan Lewis Phonological Analysis. It’s important to really analyze the errors and make a good differential diagnosis:
I strongly, strongly recommend that you look at language as well!! Phonology is language-based. Kids with phonology errors are more likely to have reading problems and language problems.
Then I like to do informal assessment, including a language sample that I score for percent consonants correct (PCC) for an intelligibility baseline. If it looks like it’s a phonological disorder, I also like to complete my phonology toolkit informal assessment to get baselines on each phonological process and help guide my intervention.
So that’s a lot of information! How do you organize all of that?
I like to work on target processes that the student is producing at least 40% of the time, that they are stimulable for. Generally, the first four that I work on (if they are present) are syllable reduction, syllable structure, cluster reduction, and final consonant deletion. Those are earlier developing patterns and can really make a big difference on intelligibility! I only target four processes at a time in one cycle, so will move on to other processes in a future cycle.
I target only 5 words in a session and try to get 100 (correct!) productions total! Each sound should be targeted for 60 minutes. So if you’re working on final consonants, you might target final /p/ for 60 minutes (it doesn’t – and probably shouldn’t! – be in all one session), then move on to final /m/ for 60 minutes and so on.
I use a visual schedule in my sessions to follow these steps:
I actually set up audio files that students listen to with their headphones for auditory bombardment! That way they can turn up the volume to amplify the sound.
When I have a group of students, I will usually have one student make at least repetitions before moving on to the next student, rather than having them say one word at a time.
There are some simple ways to engage students and have fun. You can arrange this as an articulation centers activity. I also like to put picture cards under bowling pins and bowl, or under train track pieces. For toys with little doors, you can put the cards behind the doors and open them to find the words. Sometimes we color black and white picture cards of our words. You can make a scavenger hunt by hiding picture cards around the room. It’s easy to quickly make activities a little fun, but still get in all the practice!
I generally only write goals for two processes at a time. Because cycles are not about mastery, your annual IEP goals might not be mastered in a year.
My final consonant deletion goal is will reduce final consonant deletion by producing final consonants in CVC words with 80% accuracy.
I usually write cycles goals for word level only.
If a kid is making slow progress, I might isolate one final consonant that I’m assessing instead of in all of them.
If you have to write a big long term goal, it could be related to intelligibility or PCC.
I have data sheets included in my phonology toolkit, which help me track time spent on sounds (so I know when 60 minutes has passed), plus room for quick percentages.
I like to send home 5-10 black and white cards for students to practice at home with parents. I don’t send home anything that they aren’t stimulable for (but really, we’re not working on anything that the student isn’t stimulable for in the cycles approach!).
Sometimes I also try to carryover words in the classroom by adding my students’ phonology cards to their sight word practice. This helps the teachers get involved too! They might not understand everything about the processes, but this can open up the conversation.
It’s all about lots of practice!
I hope you learned something about the cycles approach for speech therapy today! It’s a great system because once you get it set up, it’s an evidence-based way to really see some good progress for those highly unintelligible students!