Z words can be very challenging for kids to produce, but by 4 to 5 years old, most children can make this buzzing bee sound.
If a child has difficulty articulating the /z/sound, it’s important to first look at what happens when he or she tries to produce the sound.
One common error children show when attempting this sound is applying the phonological process known as stopping. Stopping occurs when a child replaces a fricative sound (such as /z/) with a stop consonant (such as /d/). This pattern of sound errors typically resolves by age 3 ½.
Children who have trouble producing the /z/ sound may also have a lisp.
Those with a frontal lisp make the /z/ sound with their tongue tip excessively forward, often between their teeth. This can sound like a /th/ when the child attempts to make the /z/ sound.
A frontal lisp can occur when a child develops a tongue-forward posture from prolonged use of a sippy cup or pacifier, or thumb-sucking behaviors.
Some children have a lateral lisp, which affects how they produce the /z/ sound. The air slides over the tongue and out of the sides of the child’s mouth. The excess saliva can sound “slushy” when a child tries making the /z/ sound.
It can be challenging for children in Speech Therapy to learn to produce the /z/ sound. Luckily, If you’re an SLP with clients on your caseload who have been struggling to articulate /z/ words, help is here.
Here are some tips and effective therapy exercises to try with your clients to elicit the /z/ sound. You can also use our list of /z/ words to work on /z/ across different word positions. Your clients will be buzzing around in no time!
Exercise #1: Sculpt /z/ from /d/
One way to elicit the /z/ sound? If the child can already produce the /d/ sound, try starting with this, then sculpting it into a /z/ sound!
- Step #1: Model the /d/ sound. Ask the child to make the /d/ sound, and then leave his or her mouth in the same position when their tongue drops after touching the alveolar ridge.
- Step #2: Explain how, in order to make a /z/, the mouth stays almost in the same shape and position as this.
- Step #3: Have the child produce the /d/ sound multiple times successively (/d/, /d/, /d/, /d/, /d/…).
- Step #4: At the end of the sequence of producing multiple /d/’s, ask the child to prolong or “stretch out” the last /d/ into a sustained /z/ sound! It will sound like this: /ddddddzzzzz/.
Exercise #2: Start with /s/
The /z/ sound and /s/ sound are made with the mouth in the same position. What differentiates the two sounds is that /z/ is voiced and /s/ is unvoiced.
Can your client already make an /s/ sound? Or, is he or she more stimulable for /s/ than /z/?
- Try starting with production of the “snake sound”, /s/. Then explain to the child that to make a /z/ sound, your mouth stays the same as with /s/, with your teeth slightly apart and your tongue back with the sides touching the roof of their mouth. But to pronounce a /z/ word, you “turn your voice on”.
- Ask the child to produce other voiced sounds like “b” and “g” as they touch their throat to feel the vibrations of the vocal cords.
- Next, touch your own throat as you make an /s/ and then shape it into a /z/ by turning on your voice. Encourage the child to do the same to articulate /z/ words.
Exercise #3: Use Visuals to Teach a “Teeth Together” Position
Another effective way to teach the /z/ sound is to provide your client with some very specific visuals. This can be particularly helpful if the child has a lisp and has a tongue-forward production of the /z/ sound.
Modeling the /z/ sound can help the child understand how to position his or her teeth and tongue to produce the sound.
Try using a mouth puppet to show how the tongue stays back, inside the mouth and the teeth are together or just slightly apart, to pronounce /z/ words:
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 mouth when making the /z/ sound. It can also provide the child with visual feedback so they can more accurately correct their own production of /z/ words.
Exercise #4: “Bee” Creative with Activities
Using a fun, familiar association can help a child stay focused on their articulation of a sound. Try calling the /z/ sound the “buzzing bee sound”! It’s a great way to help them remember the pronunciation of /z/ words.
Share your screen to play engaging virtual activities over teletherapy to help your client articulate /z/ words. Or, play games live during in-person sessions or by using your camera during teletherapy sessions to help your client with /z/ words.
The Game Zone Honeybee Tree game is a great way to work in several trials of your client’s production of /z/ before taking turns.
Keep articulation therapy and /z/ word pronunciation fun with an activity like the Fisher-Price Backyard Beekeeper Pretend Beehive Play Set. Target /z/ in isolation, and check out our /z/ word list for other ideas to target while playing with the bees!
Word Lists for /Z/
- K words
- P words
- Online speech therapy games
- Cluttering speech explained
- The Ultimate Insurance Billing Guide for Therapists
- The Ultimate Teletherapy E-book
SLPs working with individuals who have a /z/ word articulation disorder or phonological disorder can utilize TheraPlatform for helpful resources. TheraPlatform provides an exclusive suite of games and apps to help SLPs save time on session preparation and keep clients engaged.
If you own a private practice or are considering starting a private practice, you can use TheraPlatform to manage several aspects of your practice, from scheduling to documentation to invoicing. Consider starting with a free trial of TheraPlatform.