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A Trick for Eliciting the 'S' Sound in Speech Therapy

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Sometimes, all we need is a new trick to get that target sound in speech therapy

As a veteran speech therapist, I still find that the beginning part of articulation therapy can feel a little precarious sometimes.


After I’ve determined which speech sound(s) I need to work on (and have done some differential diagnosis for articulation errors, phonological errors, apraxia, dysarthria, hearing issues, and structural issues), it is often the case that the kiddo is not yet stimulable at all for this new speech sound.

Sometimes, all it takes is a little modeling and verbal prompting and they get it and I always breathe a sigh of relief when it happens easily like this!

Don’t you wish all cases would go like this?

But other times (dun dun dunnnn), it takes some (or a lot!) of trial and error before our students can produce their target sound correctly and consistently.

As speech and language therapists, I think we probably all have certain speech sound errors that give us hives because we know they’ll probably be tough to correct (post-vocalic /r/, anyone?) For me, a lateralized /s/ is one of those hive-inducing sounds, because I don’t feel 100% confident that I’ll be able to elicit it quickly and I don’t want to frustrate my student or make them feel bad. (Check out this post about giving students escape hatches for when speech therapy feels too hard!)

Recently, I had a speech therapy student I needed to elicit a nice, crispy, clear /s/ from, but he was lateralizing it (cue my hives). I tried repeatedly with models and verbal prompts to no avail. I tried co-articulation tricks, but no dice. I tried a mirror, but it didn’t help. I tried initial, medial, and final word positions, but no luck. My hives were multiplying.


I then referred to my trusty The Marshalla Guide and found this cool trick with a straw:

  1. Place a straw in front of your student’s front teeth.

  2. Require the student to produce a /t/ (you can remind them that we make a /t/ by touching the front of our tongue to the alveolar ridge), directing air flow into the hole of the straw.

  3. Do this again and require the student to lengthen the /t/ sound (even though it’s a stop) by blowing more air into the straw after producing /t/ (it should start to sound like “tssss” and will encourage the student to direct air flow out of the front of their mouth, rather than off the sides of their tongue.)

  4. Encourage your student to keep the air flow moving forward, and to not allow their tongue to actually contact the alveolar ridge. For my student, this was the trick he needed to get that /s/! Yahoo!

We’re now up to working on it at the sentence level and my student is proud of himself and enjoying his speech therapy sessions!

Straws for use in speech therapy

Have any speech sound errors you find tricky or any hacks that have helped you in your own speech therapy sessions? Please share your experiences and wisdom in the comments!


Did you enjoy this blog post? Subscribe below to get the latest blog posts, which feature lots of speech therapy ideas for busy SLPs who want to provide fun, impactful, and meaningful speech-language therapy.

Have you heard? StoryWhys now offers the Speech and Spell series of resources. I am always trying to tie articulation work and spelling together in my therapy and I've never found any good resources out there to help me do this. So I made my own! Many more speech sounds and spelling rules to come. They'll be 50% off for 48 hrs when new resources are added to the StoryWhys store. Find them here.

Did you know book companions can be among the best speech therapy materials for elementary students? Explore all of the StoryWhys book companions for speech therapy in my store. You'll find comprehensive book companions that target many different language skills or Spotlight Series book companions that focus on one type of skill, all using high-quality, beloved storybooks.

And get your FREE, 71-page book companion for speech therapy on the Special Offers page.


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