The Rocky Road to "R"


Do you groan inside when you get a student with an ‘R’ problem on your caseload? Don’t worry, there’s help to be had!  It is a difficult sound to correct, but the more ‘tricks’ you have under your belt, the better your chances are that you will find something that works.
There are quite a few blog posts by SLP’s about how to achieve placement for the /r/ sound. One that I have found to be extremely helpful is from Katie at Playing with Words 365. I would definitely check it out!

Another link to check out: Judy Kuster has compiled an amazing list of techniques that have been used to elicit the /r/ sound. Something in this variety may be helpful to you!

Although we all give a big cheer (or a sigh of relief!) when our student has finally achieved a tongue placement for the /r/ that produces an acceptable sound, our job has really just begun. Although that is true for any articulation error, I think that, as SLPs, we feel it more strongly with the /r/.
This is my theory. The “R” sound is one of the most difficult sounds to make in terms of motor skills. The students at older ages who are still having great difficulty with this placement often had some mild degree of motor speech problems when they were younger, in my opinion. You may still catch hints of it when you hear them mixing up the syllables of new multisyllabic words, or if their speech clarity diminishes slightly when they speak quickly (possibly due to weak contacts for consonant placement due to the increased speed.)

When I suspect that there may be some motor planning or jaw stability issues at play, I am careful to use jaw support techniques when working on placement for the /r/ sound. My favorite way for older students is to have them prop their jaw on their hands, with elbows placed on the table. I've tried using bite blocks as well, but often this just confuses the issue even more as there is something new in their mouth for their tongues to move around. When the jaw is stabilized, however, this lets the student move their tongue more freely to try to find the correct placement.  I've had the most success by starting with production of the 'L', 'T' or 'D' sounds and having the student draw their tongue backward along the roof of the mouth until an approximation of 'R' is achieved, but try any of the methods suggested in the links above until you find one that works for your student. I don't worry about lip rounding, the most common substitution, until after a consistent tongue placement has been achieved.


If there are mild jaw stability or motor planning issues, it makes sense that we use extra caution in the steps we take to get that “R” sound from isolation to conversational speech.  At times, I’ve been afraid to vary the production that helped the student learn to produce the sound for fear of not being able to establish it again! I have learned that slow and steady wins the race. 

This is how I've done it.

Pair the R + vowel or vowel + R  that the student has achieved (the success sound) with the new production you are trying, but do it in alternation. Returning to the initial success sound on every other production helps to maintain successful tongue placement. After the sound production stays stable, you can check to see how many trials of the new sound can be made before the student loses the placement. Immediately, go back to the success sound. Then set the trial # for the new sound where he was successful.

Pay attention to the vowel placement chart when you are making your selection of what to try next. Remember those charts? For example, the “R” is generally made high in a closed mouth position, so it makes sense to try it out with “ee” or “ah” as those sounds are not far away from the place of success. The ‘ee’ sound has the benefit of a smiling mouth position, which tends to reduce the likelihood that the ‘w’ sound will be substituted. Each child is different, so try until you get success.


So, if “er” was the success sound, the drill might look like this:


 er  ree  er  ree” ”er  ree  
Repeat using drills of 10 trials multiple times throughout the session, with breaks in between, until the student can say it correctly and fluently.
Then, try to see how many times the student can say the new sound before it breaks down. You are keeping productions successful- always drop back if needed.
ree   ree  ree”   “wee”
This error tells you that you can have your student practice up to 3 productions of “ree” before adding in the success sound “er” to maintain stable, correct productions.
So, the practice would look like this.
ree” “ree” “ree” “er” “ree” “ree” “ree” “er” “ree

Continue building the number of repetitions the student can produce correctly in a row without losing the placement, and soon you will have a stable /r/ sound. Got it?
I hope I was able to make this clear! Once you are able to get past the syllable production stage, I’ve used this same co-articulation strategy at the word to sentence level in my “R” Rainy Day Game.  I loved finding words that moved from the “er” sound to the initial “R” sound that could be used in sequence together to make phrases and sentences. I even included “R” vocabulary words at the upper elementary level to help work on language skills at the same time. I just love being able to address multiple goals with one set of materials! Do you like that, too?
Don't forget to check my Rainy Day 'R' post with a craftivity and a FREEBIE!
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