The speech therapy R sound – there’s just no one right answer for everyone! If this tricky sound is tricky for your and your students, I have just a few tips and reminders to help you and your students (If you’re too busy to read this entire post, scroll down to the last section that includes my top 5 tips for the /r/ sound!)
When I got my job at a middle school, I saw more students working on /r/ than ever before. I attended online seminars, read every bit of research I could find, read /r/ curriculum books, and reflected on my experience working with students on the /r/ sound to really uncover everything I could about this sound!
So, without further ado, here are some of the things I’ve learned about the /r/ sound, broken apart by how to elicit the sound, the therapy hierarchy I follow, and where to start when you need to target /r/. Plus, other cool info and my top tips. Enjoy!
Elicitation and Stimulability of the Speech Therapy R Sound
I worked really hard to compile effective elicitation strategies on teaching /r/ in this previous blog post of mine. Definitely check that out if you haven’t seen it! Spoiler alert: using a mirror is a super helpful strategy that I often forget. Bonus points if it’s a mirror where the student can see themselves AND you at the same time.
One of my other favorite tools for targeting stimulability is this website. I’ve shared about it before on social media but, in case you missed it, you need to check this free online tool out! It includes tons of videos and tutorials (that you can use directly with students!!) for eliciting the /r/, /s/, and “th” sound. I can’t believe it’s free but I’m really thankful for it. I use it all the time!
/R/ Therapy Hierarchy
Following a therapy hierarchy for the skills I teach is critical for me so that I can provide the most effective therapy possible. After all of my researching and learning, the hierarchy below is the one I follow with great results:
1 – Auditory discrimination using minimal pairs (w/r)
2 – Stimulability/elicitation
3 – Syllables
4 – Words then phrases then sentences
5 – Carryover
I break apart all of the forms of /r/ and only target one at a time. For example, I might only target “ar” sounds until the student demonstrates progress on that sound. Then, I’ll move onto “ear” and then I’ll move onto “or”. I try not to mix these variations of /r/ until the student is demonstrating success with them consistently. Based on information from the Entire World of R books, I don’t move on until my student demonstrates 80% success on a given form of /r/.
Where to Start?
This used to be so tricky for me! I’ll admit that I used to start with either /r/ blends, prevocalic /r/, or “er”. Now, I know better and make decisions on where to start on a student by student basis!
Below is the process I follow in order to determine where to start when targeting the /r/ sound:
- Is the student stimulable for any forms of /r/? I assess all of them try to start with sounds they can produce 60% of the time or more. Research on the /r/ sound has shown that most students can produce some form of /r/ correctly some of the time. This is a great place to start.
- If all else fails, start with “ar” or “ear”. Lately, I’ve noticed that most of my students demonstrate increased success with “ar”. The Entire World of R books say that the most correctly articulated vowel-r combination is “ear” (following by “ar”) so personally, I’d consider both of those great places to start. They’re really visual and allow your students to product the correct vowel and transition into the /r/.
- Avoid starting with blends that incorporate bilabial sounds (e.g., “br” in “bring”) because that can often encourage the lip rounding we are trying to avoid when producing /r/! Same goes for “or”… I usually save that one for later!
Just like I recommend when doing the cycles approach, reassess your students frequently. Sometimes, your students will demonstrate progress on variations not even targeted giving you another sound that’s stimulable and successful!
Other R Info
While reading The Entire World of R Elicitation Strategies book, one thing really stood out to me. The authors of the book feel strongly that therapists should NOT use “er” to elicit a prevocalic /r/. For example, do not practice drills such as “errrr-red” or “errr-run”. I shared info about this on Instagram but I thought I should mention that here as well. Students may come to us with this bad habit from previous therapy and if that happens to you, it’s important to start by breaking that ineffective cue.
Last, because R isn’t a “right” or “wrong” type of sound (i.e., there’s a lot of variability between right and wrong), it might be helpful to have your students rate their productions on a visual analog scale. Not only is this evidence-based, but it will better help you give immediate feedback to your students about their productions.
I have a FREE visual analog rating scale for speech sounds that you can download here!
My Top 5 Speech Therapy Tips For the R Sound
- Work on only one variation of /r/ at a time. This will increase motivation AND progress.
- Start with stimulable variations of /r/ that the student already has some success with.
- Stick to activities that allow you to elicit a high number of productions each session (100-150+ is my goal every session). Don’t get caught up with cute activities when drill will work just as well.
- Consider a 5 minute articulation style approach whenever possible. This makes it easier to stick to drill and forget all the fluffy time fillers.
- Talk about HOW to produce each sound frequently. Do this before starting any new variation of /r/. For example, talk about how it feels to produce “ah” and then how to move your articulators to produce “r”. Then, put them together to say “ar”! I might say “Your tongue moves back and up and it should be tight! Your mouth should close a little”. I’ve found that the more explicit and direct I am during this step, the faster progress my students make. We talk about where to put their tongue, how open their mouth should be, and how to move from one sound to another almost every session.
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No-Prep Articulation Printables Using High Frequency Words for R
This resource includes printables to target R in isolation, syllables, words, phrases, sentences, and in reading! In addition, there are vocalic R and R blend targets included. The worksheets work incredibly well for short, drill-based articulation sessions.More Info
If you’re looking to learn more about /r/, I’d personally recommend the resources below:
- No Prep Articulation Articulation Activities Using High Frequency Words for R – my packet including functional words, organized by /r/ vowel sound!
- Speech Therapy Articulation Menus for the R Sound – another one of my classic products – pretend takeout menus to target each of the /r/ variations in a fun way with lots of practice targets!
- The Entire World of R Elicitation Techniques Book
- Step Up to R
- R Made Simple – As a disclaimer, this program follows a completely different protocol than what I discussed in this email, however I’ve found it to be really helpful for certain older students working on /r/, especially those who have been in therapy for a long time.
Hope these tips and resources are helpful!