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Speech Sound Disorders and Spelling Skills: Combining Articulation Therapy and Literacy Development

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

Targeting articulation disorders and spelling together can be a powerful combination in speech therapy!

As elementary school-based SLPs, we are usually the only professionals in our schools who are fully qualified to assess and treat students with Speech Sound Disorders (SSDs).


a child working on spelling in speech therapy

What is Speech Sound Disorder?

SSD is characterized by difficulties producing, or articulating, specific speech sounds. SSD can have roots in either phonological processing, oral motor functioning, or both; however, as Farquharson (2, references are below) suggested, creating a sharp dichotomy between a “phonological disorder” and an “articulation disorder” may be over-simplifying things.


Regardless of the nuances around determining the specific causes of SSD, there is a heap of research (1,2,3,4,5) that has found that children with SSD often have difficulties with literacy-related skills, such as phonological awareness, word decoding (reading), and encoding (spelling).


This is because speech sound production (articulation) and literacy skills are both often highly related to phonological processing.


What is phonological processing?

Phonological processing refers to a broad set of skills that allow us to perceive, recall, and produce specific speech sounds. To learn more about phonological processing (and its different components including phonological and phonemic awareness), see this blog post.


Phonological processing is a foundational skill in both the correct articulation of speech sounds, as well as in phonics and spelling.


What has this looked like in my own clinical work?

Over the years, I’ve had many students who have had difficulties with both articulation and spelling, which is consistent with what the research says. (Don't you love it when stuff you read in journals shows up IRL?) And there is no question in my mind that these two skills are highly related for many of our students.


I also believe that when you improve one of these skills, it can have a positive effect on the other.


Here are just a few examples of times I’ve observed a symbiotic relationship between articulation and literacy in my own work:

  • I had a student that was having a really tough time producing the /ch/ (ʧ) phoneme in words like cheetah, watching, reach, etc. While she could auditorily discriminate this sound, she just could not produce it correctly, despite a great deal of repetition, many different attempts at verbal and visual cues, and modeling. One day, I simply wrote "TSH" (she could already produce /sh/ correctly) on a paper, and my student immediately produced the sound correctly. Incredulous, she asked, “Why don't they just write it that way?!”


  • Many of the younger kiddos I’ve seen for articulation therapy have progressed rapidly once they develop letter-sound correspondence. Recently, I was working with a four year-old who is gliding his /l/ sound, and he produced the word lunch as “yunch.” Since we’d already done some work around minimal pairs (see my blog post all about contrastive intervention approaches for speech therapy here), as well as classifying words according to their initial sound, I was able to write YUNCH and LUNCH for him, and he was able to see that this word requires him to produce his new sound for /l/ at the beginning of it. He then produced “lunch” correctly. I loved being able to show this kiddo why it's important for him to use his new sound!


  • I’ve observed that having my students with SSD who are starting to spell words with their target sounds (e.g., having a child who has difficulty articulating /r/ write words containing the letter R) allows them to practice saying their target sound, to practice encoding that target sound (which provides both visual and motoric feedback), and to practice decoding that sound after they've written it.


How can we combine articulation and spelling skills in speech therapy?

As Overby et al. (5, p.1664) stated, “it appears that treatment for both preschoolers and elementary school-age children with SSD, which typically focuses on improving articulatory accuracy, should include intervention that emphasizes skills that support spelling.”


And as an SLP who is always trying to provide therapy that targets as many functional skills as possible, I knew I needed speech therapy activities that would help me to work on both speech sound production and decoding/encoding at the same time.


Frustratingly, I wasn’t able to find any materials out there that are specifically designed to target articulation disorders and reading/spelling together.


So I made my own!


Creating and using the StoryWhys Speech & Spell resources has allowed me to target the skills that many of my kids with SSD and literacy issues need to work on.


Here’s an example:


I have an older student who has SSD and dyslexia, and who is still having difficulty producing the /th/ (θ and ð) sounds. We used a Speech & Spell activity to practice the “drop e” spelling rule (a rule he had already “learned” in class but was having difficulty retaining) featuring words containing his target sound, /th/. (You can find this specific activity here.) During our session, my student got to practice encoding words with this spelling rule while also articulating and encoding the “th” digraph. I must have gotten 50-75 productions of his target sound, and he got some much-needed practice using this spelling rule. He also learned some novel vocabulary to boot.


I was a happy SLP!


StoryWhys Speech & Spell resources target common spelling rules that are taught in elementary school, and target the speech sound errors I see most often in this population.


You can try them for yourself here:


LEVEL UP YOUR SPEECH THERAPY ACTIVITIES WITH STORYWHYS

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, research-based, and meaningful speech-language therapy.


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 free download page.


Enjoy!

link to StoryWhys homepage








References:

1. Cabbage KL, Farquharson K, Iuzzini-Seigel J, Zuk J, Hogan TP. Exploring the Overlap Between Dyslexia and Speech Sound Production Deficits. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch. 2018 Oct 24;49(4):774-786. doi: 10.1044/2018_LSHSS-DYSLC-18-0008. PMID: 30458539.


2. Farquharson, Kelly. (2019). It Might Not Be “Just Artic”: The Case for the Single Sound Error. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups. 4. 76-84. 10.1044/2018_PERS-SIG1-2018-0019.


3. McNeill BC, Wolter J, Gillon GT. A Comparison of the Metalinguistic Performance and Spelling Development of Children With Inconsistent Speech Sound Disorder and Their Age-Matched and Reading-Matched Peers. Am J Speech Lang Pathol. 2017 May 17;26(2):456-468. doi: 10.1044/2016_AJSLP-16-0085. PMID: 28475658.


4. Moxam C. The Link Between Language and Spelling: What Speech-Language Pathologists and Teachers Need to Know. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch. 2020 Oct 2;51(4):939-954. doi: 10.1044/2020_LSHSS-19-00009. Epub 2020 Jul 15. PMID: 32692636.


5. Overby MS, Masterson JJ, Preston JL. Preliteracy Speech Sound Production Skill and Linguistic Characteristics of Grade 3 Spellings: A Study Using the Templin Archive. J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2015 Dec;58(6):1654-69. doi: 10.1044/2015_JSLHR-S-14-0276. PMID: 26380965; PMCID: PMC4987032.

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