Top 5 Tips for Targeting "R"

If you're a speech therapist, you've likely treated a few tricky "r" sounds in your career. Here are five favorite tools in my toolbox!

  1. Let's Talk About It: Rather than jumping straight into practice, I find it helpful to first establish a foundational understanding of tongue anatomy and movement. You can use a tongue diagram, mouth model, or play dough to do this! Talk about the different parts of the tongue, how we move it, and how we produce "r." You can let your student know that there are two ways to produce the "r" sound: the retroflex "r" (or as I call it, the "flippy r") and the bunched "r." Identifying which way your student naturally produces their "r" sound is a wonderful place to start!
  2. Get Your Growl On: For some of my students, growling like their favorite animal, be it a lion, tiger, or bear (oh my!) can help facilitate the "r" sound. Be silly animals together as you say "grrrrr!"
  3. Use Your Strengths: If your student has initial "r" but struggles with vocalic "r," you can use the initial "r" sound to help. Choose a facilitating word, such as "red," and a word with the "er" sound, such as "mother." You can then put them together to help facilitate the "er" sound by having your student drag out the "r" and say "motherrrrrrrrrred." Eventually, your goal would be to discontinue the use of the initial "r" sound altogether. This can start with fading the initial "r" sound by having the student whisper the "ed" when they drag it out
  4. Paint With Your Tongue: For vocalic "r," if your student makes a retroflex "r" sound, it can help them to pretend to paint with their tongue to get it all the way back into the necessary position. Have them start with their tongue behind their teeth, touching their alveolar ridge. Then, have them "paint" the roof of their mouth all the way to the back, where they will eventually say the "er" variation.
  5. Meet Your New Friend Karla: Because of the way the name "Karla" is produced, saying "Karla" can help facilitate vocalic "r." You can try this by having your student say "ka" over and over again, then have them say "la" over and over again. You'll then have them put those two sounds together and say "kala." Finally, they'll add in the "r" sound by saying "Karla." Eventually, they'll look to fade the "la" sound, and just say "Kar:" first by whispering the "la" and then discontinuing it all together.

As always, not every trick works with every student! The most important part is to play "detective" and keep working with your student until you find what works.

-Erika Baldwin, M.S., CCC-SLP