HELP! WHAT DO I DO WITH /R/?
One question I get asked a lot is, how do you teach the /r/ sound? Now, I wouldn’t consider myself an /r/ guru by any means(!), but as an SLP in an elementary school, I have had a fair share of /r/ cases. Today, I would like to share what has worked for me (disclaimer: it might be different for you!).
Some people approach /r/ from a traditional articulation perspective, and look at simply initial, medial, and final positions of words. Personally, I have found that treating the different /r/ sounds separately has more success.
What are the different /r/s? I typically look at initial (or prevocalic) /r/ and /r/ blends (such as in the word bright), then the six vocalic /r/ sounds – /ar/, /air/, /ear/, /er/, /ire/, and /or/.
First, I try to get a picture of how the articulation disorder is impacting my student by using my Articulation Student Self-Rating Scale.
Next, I do an overall screening of the /r/ sound to help determine if my student is stimulable for /r/ in any contexts. I like to use my own progress monitoring tool for /r/ and either use the overall screening or administer all the probes at word level – another good option is the in-depth screening from the Entire World of R.
HOW TO RATE?
When I’m assessing the results, I look for the /r/ context that has either the most correct productions, or the context that has the closest to correct productions. I have my own personal five point scale (rather than simply correct/incorrect) that I’ve found to be quick and easy for me to use.
Interestingly, a study by Schellinger, Munson, & Edwards from 2016 found that a visual analogue scale to rate articulation is a potentially useful clinical measure for the /s/ and voiceless /th/ sounds that they studied, which is similar to the scale I have for /r/. (See citation below)
After analyzing the results of the screening, I start work on the /r/ context that has either the highest rate of accuracy, or the one that has the highest amount of close (~+) productions.
HOW TO WRITE IT OUT?
If I need to write this in the present level of the IEP, I typically use a template like this to fill in the individual student information:
I will attach a PDF copy of the rating scale to the IEP on the goal page to make sure a future SLP would understand what I mean by the different ratings.
HOW TO WRITE GOALS??
After getting frustrated with writing goals for mastery of /r/ when my students didn’t always get that perfect /r/ in all positions and contexts, I now use the above rubric and write goals such as:
“STUDENT will produce the TYPE OF /r/ in words or sentences with a 4 or 5 rating on the attached rubric with at least X% accuracy.”
I will often split the goals up into initial /r/, /r/ blends, and vocalic /r/s, but sometimes I need to specify each individual vocalic /r/ in a separate goal. And for some students, I know the 4 or 5 rating may not be achievable, especially if it is a persistent error and they are starting across the board at a “1” rating – then I might make something like:
“STUDENT will produce the TYPE OF /r/ in words or sentences with a 3 or greater rating on the attached rubric with at least X% accuracy.”
(Don’t forget to attach the rubric to the IEP paperwork if you write your goals this way!)
WHERE TO GO IN THERAPY?
I typically start with on auditory discrimination – can they tell the difference between a /w/, weak /r/, and a strong /r/ that I produce? I might have them give me a thumbs up, thumbs down, or a thumb sideways to see what they think. This is also a good way to start a session – I often start my /r/ sessions with 10-20 auditory discrimination trials, even when we are further along with the sound.
Next, I typically focus with discussing placement in different ways – for some students, this only takes a few sessions, while for others, it can take a month. Different things seem to “click” with different students, so I typically try them all until I find one that seems the most helpful. A few things to try:
- The Sounds of Speech website offers helpful placement videos.
- This video from The Peachie Speechie helps explain placement very well.
- I have also used this dental floss trick to help students figure out exactly how far back their tongue needs to go.
- The Karla method works for some students – this video helps explain it at about the 2 minute, 10 second mark.
Once we find something that works, I start working on co-articulation. This is where you use a stronger /r/ to help strengthen a weaker /r/, and usually uses a stronger final vocalic /r/ or initial, prevocalic /r/.
This isn’t fancy – I typically write a list of syllables or words and we work on “smashing” them together to “trick” our brains into using the stronger /r/. Then we slowly fade the stronger /r/ word by whispering it, then saying the paired word at normal volume. We work towards just “thinking” the stronger /r/ word, and then fading it out completely. (Note – I tend to avoid using /r/ words with rounded vowels in this stage if they still have some closer to /w/ productions, as I’m trying to get them out of the habit of rounded lips.) Some students really do well with this, and others spend more time here.
Once we’ve got it solidly in a certain context in one position of words, I use a more traditional articulation approach to strengthen it in all positions of words, then work up to phrases, sentences, reading aloud, and conversation.
One thing I have found that seems to be helpful when they finally find a “strong” /r/ – have them record a short video for themselves, talking through exactly what they did, because their own words and explanation will help them more in the future much more than your own ever will.
In all sessions, I’ve found it’s really important to continually talk about what our tongue and mouth is doing when making the /r/ sounds. It’s easy to forget to review it once a student is farther along with the sound, but it’s very helpful to keep reminding. Some students are better at explaining themselves than others – some, I have to ask questions like, “Now, can you tell me – was your tongue flat or up in the back on that word?”
One really exciting thing that I have observed over the years in articulation therapy is that strengthening one /r/ context also strengthens other /r/ contexts, even if you don’t work on them directly in therapy. This is really neat to discover when you use a progress monitoring tool on a quarterly basis!
I hope these tips help, and please share any of your own tips for the /r/ sound in a comment below!
Sarah K. Schellinger, Benjamin Munson & Jan Edwards (2017). Gradient perception of children’s productions of /s/ and /θ/: A comparative study of rating methods, Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 31:1, 80-103, DOI: 10.1080/02699206.2016.1205665
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