Does your child have difficulty saying a particular sound? Maybe your child has trouble saying more than one sound. Children who have difficulty producing certain sounds will work on improving articulation skills during speech therapy sessions (i.e. they will learn to produce a specific sound or sounds correctly). As a speech-language pathologist, I first evaluate a child’s speech sounds and determine what sounds the child needs to improve before beginning the process of articulation therapy. During articulation therapy, I systematically move through a hierarchy of levels to improve your child’s target sounds. The hierarchy includes: isolation, syllables, words, sentences, stories, and finally generalizing the target sound in conversation and all other contexts of language. There are different ways to teach speech sounds to children depending on their specific sound error(s); however, I often use the “Traditional Articulation Therapy” approach, which I have described below:
Sound in isolation -
First, I will teach your child how to produce the sound by itself. I will model the sound and see if your child can copy the sound. I will also make sure your child is listening closely and watching my mouth as I say the sound. I may provide verbal cues about where to put their tongue or I may provide tactile cues (i.e. use a tongue depressor or lollipop to show correct tongue placement).
After your child can successfully produce the target sound by itself, I will teach your child how to say the sound in syllables. I will pair the sound with a vowel sound. For example, for children learning how to produce the “m” sound, I will introduce them to syllables such as “ma,” “me,” or “mo.” I may also put the vowels at the beginning of syllables (e.g. am, em, um). Once children master the sound in syllables, they are ready to move onto the word level!
Word level -
First, I will teach your child how to say the target sound in the beginning of words. For example, if your child is working on the “k” sound, I will teach your child how to say words like, “cat,” “cup,” and “cow”. Then, I will teach your child how to say the sound at the end of words (e.g. duck, bike, cook). Finally, your child will learn how to say the sound in the middle of words (e.g. bucket, soccer, taco).
Phrase level -
After your child has mastered the sound in all positions of words, I will combine each target word with one (or two) words to make a phrase. For example, if your child is learning how to produce the “s” sound in phrases, I will ask your child to say phrases like, “wet sink,” “my big house,” or “play baseball”.
Sentence level -
Next, I will teach your child how to say the sound in sentences. I may start with a “rotating” sentence where only the target word changes each time. This is especially helpful for children who cannot read yet because they can memorize the sentence or use visual cues to help them read the sentence aloud while rotating through all of the target words. Then we will practice “unique” sentences, which change every time.
Reading/Story level -
For children who can read, I will introduce them to books and have them read aloud to me while continuing to produce the target sound correctly. For children that cannot read yet, I will ask them to make up stories or retell me a story that I have told them. At this level, your child may start by reading a short paragraph before moving on to reading several paragraphs at a time or short stories. Children will have to remember to say the target sound correctly in all positions of words while reading or telling stories.
This is the last level that children master in the articulation therapy process, and I find that this level typically takes the longest to master because your child must remember to use the sound correctly ALL the time in ALL language contexts. At this level, children may need reminders to use a “good __ sound”, but they should make very few speech sound errors when having a conversation with someone.
It’s important to remember that there is no set time period that your child will spend at each level. Children may learn how to produce the sound by itself in the first or second session, but they may not master the sound at the sentence level for several sessions. Also, your child may not need to go through each level. For example, sometimes children will skip the phrase level. The amount of time your child will need to be in therapy also depends on a variety of factors.