“R” words or the “r” sound. As common as it is for children to have difficulty mastering articulation of this sound, it can also be difficult for Speech-Language Pathologists to teach. Even master therapists can benefit from a refresher on how to reach r sounds and the best resources to help clients clear this language hurdle.
“R” is considered a later developing sound. According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), most children can correctly articulate the /r/ sound by age 4. Other sources provide norms that state this sound can be expected to develop between ages 3 and 8 years old.
Why R sounds are difficult
There are a few reasons why the /r/ sound can be so challenging for SLPs to correct. For one thing, there are actually 32 different variations (Allophones) of /r/! Not only does /r/ appear in the initial, medial, and final position of words, but how one makes the sound varies according to the vowels that come before it in a word.
It can also be difficult for children to master this sound because it’s trickier for them to visualize how to make an r. The r sound is produced by moving the tongue in a very specific place and manner, as well as maintaining certain jaw positions. That’s certainly not as easy for children to imitate from adult models as other sounds (like /m/ or /d/) are.
If you’re an SLP with clients on your caseload who have been struggling to produce the sound, help is here!
How to teach the R sound
Here are some tips and effective therapy exercises to try with your clients to elicit and teach the r sound. You can also use our list of r words to work on the various vocalizations of r across different word positions. Your clients’ articulation will be rrrright on track in no time!
Exercise #1: Test Stimulability to narrow your target R sound
Although there are many different types of r sounds, chances are a child will have an easier time producing certain variations of /r/ than others. When introducing articulation of the r sound to a client, you can start by assessing the child’s stimulability of different vocalizations of r.
Give your client a formal screening tool that will specifically assess his or her stimulability for different variations of /r/ across word positions. The Entire World of R Screening Tool by Say It Right does just that.
You can also informally assess your client’s stimulability for production of phonetic variations of /r/, including the following:
- /er/ as in “her”
- /ear/ as in “here”
- /air/ as in “bear”
- /ar/ as in “far”
- /ire/ as in “fire”
- /or/ as in “tore”
- /rl/ as in “whirl”
- Prevocalic /r/ as in “right” or “root”
Once you’ve narrowed down a variation of /r/ that your client appears to be more stimulable for, start by working on that specific sound as a target. After that sound is mastered, select another specific allphone for /r/ by looking at the results of your assessment.
Exercise #2: Use visuals to teach tongue position
One of the most effective ways to teach the r sound is to provide your client with some very specific visuals. This can help the child understand how to position his or her tongue to produce the /r/ sound.
Try using a mouth puppet like the Jumbo Mighty Mouth Hand Puppet by Super Duper to show how the tongue is retracted, and bunched in the back, to make the /r/.
Having your client look in the mirror or at themselves on video are some other ways to help him or her visualize how to position the jaw and tongue when making the /r/ sound.
Exercise #3: “Arrrrgh!” Play off the pirate theme
SLPs are notoriously great at teaching through play, and know that children learn best when they’re motivated and engaged! The /r/ sound can be challenging, and many children continue to struggle with pronouncing it through elementary school or older. They may be aware of their articulation difficulties and can become frustrated while working on the sound.
The solution? Keep it fun!
Play off the connection between the r sound and pirates, by incorporating related activities into therapy. Kokolingo is a treasure hunt-themed digital platform for articulation therapy that can be played during teletherapy sessions. Games like memory, fill in the blank, and story time let you target the /r/, /r/ blends, and vocalic /r/, in various word positions from isolation progressing to sentences. Best of all, it’s fun!
A number of great articulation apps are also available on the App store that can help you make articulation therapy fun including Virtual Speech Center.
TheraPlatform offers the above apps in their EMR and telehealth platform as well so speech therapists have all the games and apps at their fingertips during telepractice sessions.
Exercise #4: Gargling to practice tongue and upper pharynx tension
To make a strong r sound, there should be some tension in the tongue and upper pharynx. One way to teach clients how to do this is by having them gargle water.
Explain to your client that the “tightness” in the back of their tongue and upper throat muscles when they gargle should also be there when they make the /r/ sound.
Exercise #5: Use a dental flosser to help create the r sound
The tongue can be positioned in two different ways to make the /r/ sound. Retroflexed involves rolling the tongue tip back (without letting it touch the alveolar ridge).
Another way is known as bunched. To produce the bunched /r/, the tongue would slide backward making a hump, with the sides of the tongue touching the upper back molars. After demonstrating the correct shape of the mouth, you can use a dental flosser (or have the parent or client use one, if working with the client over teletherapy) to push the tongue back into the bunched position to stimulate the /r/ sound.
A list of R Words
Prevocalic r words
Vocalic r words
SLPs working with individuals who have a diagnosis of /r/ sound pronunciation difficulties can utilize TheraPlatform for helpful resources. Check it out for free therapy worksheets, tools, e-books, videos, and handouts.
If you own a private practice or are considering starting a private practice, you can use TheraPlatform to save time managing operations like scheduling and billing so you can focus more on your clients. Consider starting with a free trial of TheraPlatform today.