R is the Most Menacing of Sounds

“‘R’ is the most menacing sound in the English language. That’s why it’s called ‘murder’ and not ‘mukduk.’”

Dwight Schrute speaking directly to SLPs everywhere

Raise your hand if “R” is your least favorite speech sound to treat?! Me too. Addressing “R” in articulation intervention is almost always a long road.

Why is “R” so hard?

First, accurate placement for “R” requires a complex sequence of lingual, lip, and jaw movements, which are often challenging for young children to see and execute. Second, the shape and sound of “R” is influenced by the surrounding vowels and consonants making it kind of like a shape-shifter. Third, “R” is generally regarded as one of the last developing sounds, which often translates to intervention being delayed.

When should I intervene with the “R” sound?

There are many considerations involved in eligibility decisions, including age, sound inventory, intelligibility, and stimulability.

Generally, I begin intervening for “R” sound errors by mid-first grade, around 6-6.5 years old.

How to Make the “R” Sound..

I find that multi-sensory instruction is extremely helpful when eliciting “R.”

Auditory Discrimination

I always begin with the auditory discrimination tasks to ensure that the child can perceive the sound. Can the student distinguish between the target and the error sound? If they cannot hear the difference, they will not be able to self-monitor. There are two ways that you can practice auditory discrimination. You can read a list of target words aloud and have the student identify whether you said the target sound correctly or with the error sound. For example, saying “wabbit” and seeing if the student identifies the production as an error. Alternatively, you could use minimal pairs and ask the student to hand you the target that they heard you say. For example contrasting “ring” and “wing.”

Visual & Kinesthetic Training

I am about to share my go to “R” trick, and it almost always works!

First, I ask the student to show me their muscles by flexing their arms. Next, I explain to them that their tongue is really just a big muscle, like the muscles in our arms. Just as we can flex our arms to show our arm muscles, we can flex our tongue to show our tongue muscles. Now, I am ready to model the sound. I stretch my arm out straight and begin modeling “ah” with my tongue flat on the bottom of my mouth. Then, in slow motion I carefully show the student how I curve my arm up and back toward my head and I do the same with my tongue.

I think the key to this being successful is practicing the tongue and arm movements absent of sound at first. I will usually carefully explain and model the tongue and arm movements to parents, and encourage them to practice 10x morning and night. I give them the visual below to tape to the bathroom mirror to help them remember. You can download a PDF of this visual in my freebie library.

Proprioception

To increase proprioception, I always begin with practicing in a mirror for visual feedback and I often use Dum-Dums for increased proprioception. You can rub the Dum-Dum on the sides of the tongue to help the student match up the sides of their tongue to the roof of their mouth. More often though, I have the student place the Dum-Dum in their mouth and carefully bite down on the stick. Then I instruct them to curl their tongue behind the Dum-Dum to ensure they are retracting their tongue far enough back into the oral cavity.

Fine Tuning Tips

If the student is curling their tongue back sufficiently, but the “R” does not sound quite right consider jaw height and lip retraction. I always tell my students to smile, because practicing “R” is soooo much fun. Increasing lip retraction can improve sound quality. We also play the jaw game. I teach the students that when we open our mouth all the way that is like eating a giant cheese burger, when we open it slightly that is like nibbling a slice of cheese, and when we open our mouth just right for “R’ that is like eating a french fry. We will practice opening our jaw to different heights by calling out hamburger, cheese, french fry and matching our jaw opening to the food called.

Combining all of these tips is successful for so many of my students. Hopefully, your student has found this successful too. If these tips worked, your student is now successfully producing “ar.”

Transitioning to Other “R” Variations

Once you have “ar” the other vocalic variations are easy to target. Using visual and auditory feedback, I show the student that “R” sounds different based on the vowel that precedes it. To change the sound you begin with the target vowel and transition to a flexed tongue position. I have my students practice transitioning from the vowel to a flexed tongue position slowly at first and then we speed it up, before we transition to words.

Generalization

I always have the hardest time planning generalization tasks and in my experience “R” takes forever to generalize!!

Story Retell

Read sound loaded picture books to your student and have them retell the story using their best speech. Check out this Road Map to R resource from Ashley Rossi at Sweet Southern Speech. It is a free download (when you sign up for her email newsletter) that includes a list of books and corresponding bookmarks with the list of R targets for each book.

Explanation Videos

Check out The Dr. Binocs Show by Peekaboo Kidz on Youtube. They have tons of kid friendly, animated informative shorts about things animals can do, how human biology works, what causes inclement weather, the story of modern day inventions, and the history of holidays. I like to watch a video with my students and then have them summarize the information we learned from the video using their best speech.

Conversation Starters

Choose a conversation starter and give the student a tally clicker to keep track of how many times they use their sound in the conversation.

News Anchor Role Play

My absolute favorite way to target generalization in speech sessions is by using the Newscaster Articulation App by Erik X. Raj. The app lets the student select a target word to build a breaking news story around. Then, the student records themselves telling their breaking news story and the app generates an awesome clip with a really cool breaking news opening sequence.

Before recording our breaking news story, I always discuss the important role News Anchors play in informing people. We discuss why it is important for listeners to understand the news. For example, when a storm is coming or if there is a dangerous animal loose.

After the student selects their target word, we write out their news announcement. Depending on the student’s level of generalization we may highlight words with their target to reinforce accuracy. Once the student records their video, we carefully watch it tally how many times we noticed the old sound or challenges with intelligibility.

Do you have any favorite generalization activities for “R”? Comment them below!

Thanks for reading!

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