Apparently, I'm not the only SLP who struggles with the /r/ sound! In my last "Quick Articulation Tip," I shared how I started using dental floss picks to help students find the appropriate tongue placement for the /r/ sound.
This tip helped several of my students, but several still struggle with the rest of the tongue position for the /r/ sound, especially the amount of tension required in the tongue. I think a big problem with this sound is that it is just so hard for kids to grasp what exactly they have to do with their mouth, even when they have a verbal description or picture example.
Yesterday morning, I decided to grab a can of Play-doh off my shelf, and see what would happen if we made a model of our mouth and how it moves for the /r/ sound.
I started out with a piece of paper, so my student could see roughly where I was talking about in the mouth. I made a few "teeth" to demonstrate how the tongue has to push against the back top teeth for the /r/ sound. Then, I made a "tongue" out of the Play-doh, and we talked about different ways the tongue can move for different sounds. First, I demonstrated some very "visible" sounds like the /th/ sound, and we looked in a mirror while we made the sound, then made our Play-doh tongues show the correct placement for the /th/ sound.
After this, we talked about the different ways we can make the /r/ sound - the bunched /r/ where the tongue goes up in the back of the mouth in a bunch or hump, or the retroflexed /r/ where the tongue is more flat in the mouth, but the tip is lifted and curved towards the back of the mouth. (This is a hard one for me, because I think I do both in my normal speech without thinking about it!) We moved the Play-doh tongues to show the different ways the tongue can move for this sound.
Then, I had my student try putting his own tongue like the Play-doh examples and try an /er/ sound. To my surprise, I heard a great /er/ from a student who had never said it correctly before! I had him say it ten more times like that without moving his mouth position, and it was beautiful! (I don’t know about you, but hearing the perfect /er/ after months of trying with a student is music to this SLP’s ears!)
I quickly grabbed my iPad, turned on the camera app, and recorded him while he said it correctly, and then had him explain what he was doing with his tongue while demonstrating with the Play-doh. My goal was for him to not only put his “Eureka” moment into words, but also for him to be able to watch this video next week to remind himself in his own words how to make a good /r/ sound. It is so much more meaningful when the student is able to explain it, rather than just me.
I am definitely going to continue using Play-doh with my stubborn /r/ cases, but I think I will also start using it when I am introducing any new sound to a student. What do you think? Do you think it is something that might help your students, or have you tried this before?