Use reading tasks with clicker counters to get your students to generalize correct /r/ in their spontaneous speech in speech therapy
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I have a third grader who has done an excellent job in speech therapy; she has gone from not being able to produce an /r/ at all, to being able to produce it in all word positions at the sentence level, except for some remaining difficulties with the post-vocalic /r/ in words with ART (chart, artsy, start, etc.) Given how difficult this sound can be for many students, I am always so proud when we get to this point!
But the fact is, despite all her hard work, my student still has a ways to go. The next challenge at this stage of articulation therapy is to move a student beyond structured, drill-type tasks towards producing it more automatically and to have this sound carry over into spontaneous speech. For students whose decoding is pretty solid, an activity I love to use to help them to generalize the /r/ sound in speech therapy (or any sound!) is reading with clicker counters.
Keep in mind you won’t always be able to do this as easily with every phoneme, but /r/ is great because that phoneme is always spelled with an R – and isn’t it nice that this notoriously difficult phoneme gives us a break once in a while?!
Here’s how to use this strategy for generalization of /r/ in speech therapy:
STEP 1: Gather your materials. You’ll need two copies of a text that is ideally both at your student’s reading level and is about a topic of interest for them. My student loves the Wings of Fire book series so we’re using that. (For a quick and easy way to use ChatGPT to generate texts with specific target words and according to your student's interests, check out this post!) You’ll also need a pen and two clicker counters (see the photo).
STEP 2: Circle all Rs in the text on both copies of the text. You can do this before the session, or do it with your student. I like to do it beforehand and have my student find the Rs I have invariably missed!
STEP 3: Have your student read the text aloud. Every time they encounter a word with an R, your student should articulate it correctly AND click their counter (the novelty of using a clicker counter is very motivating!) You should also click your counter along with them. I have found that this experience of clicking the counter while articulating the sound increases students’ awareness of the sound in connected speech and really reinforces correct productions. Instances of double Rs (e.g., aRRange) get one click. Words with two Rs in different parts of the word (e.g., wheReveR) get two clicks. Words with three Rs in different parts of the word (e.g., extRacuRRiculaR) get three clicks, etc.
STEP 4: After each paragraph, compare the number of clicks you and your student have – they should be the same. Trying to make sure you have the same number on your counters encourages students to stay vigilant about counting every single R.
That’s it! I love this activity because it includes an area of interest for my student, it’s literature-based articulation therapy, it's fun and motivating, and it really helps to fill that gap between using a target sound in structured sentence production tasks and using it in spontaneous speech.
If you're interested in combining speech sound articulation with spelling, check out this post.
And if you're into using evidence-based approaches in articulation therapy, check out this post about contrastive intervention approaches. They have been a game-changer for me!
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