Step 1: Isolate
The first step in articulation therapy is practising saying the sound on its own/in isolation. For example, if your child has difficulty with the /f/ sound, their speech and language therapist would show them how to produce the sound and then practise saying it with them many times in a row.
Speech and language therapists will work on sounds that are developmentally appropriate. For example, if your child is 3 years old and they have difficulty saying the R sound, it is unlikely that the speech and language therapist would work on this speech sound with them as it is typically acquired by children at a later age (age 6). See our Speech Sound Development Chart for more information on the ages at which children typically learn to produce different sounds correctly.
Once your child is able to produce the target sound or sounds in isolation with a high degree of accuracy, they are ready for step 2 in articulation therapy.
Step 2: Syllables
The second step in articulation therapy is practising the target speech sound in syllables, by adding a vowel sound. The vowels in English are ‘a’, ‘e’ ‘i’ ‘o’ and ‘u’. For example, if the target sound is /t/, a vowel sound would be added at the end to make syllables e.g. ’ta’ ‘to’ ‘ti’ ‘te’ ‘tu’. To practice the target sound in the middle position, vowels would be added before and after e.g. ‘otu’. To practice the target sound at the end, the vowel would be placed at the beginning to make the syllables ‘ut’ ‘at’ ‘ot’. The target sound would be practised with different vowel variations.
When practising at syllable level, speech and language therapists will often use picture materials that contain real words (consonant + vowel). Examples of consonant and vowel words when the target sound is /t/ include ‘tie’ ‘two’ ‘toe’ ‘tea’.
When a child is able to produce the target sound in syllables accurately, it is time move on to step 3.
Step 3: Words
At word level, the target sound would typically be practised at the start of words (in initial position), in the middle of words (in medial position) and at the end of words (in final position). Examples of the /t/ sound in initial, medial and final positions are as follows:
Initial position /t/: ‘toys’
Medial position /t/: ‘guitar’
Final position /t/: ‘feet’
Some speech and language therapists will initially practise the target sound in a certain position in words (initial, medial or final). For example, let’s say the therapist has started practising the target sound with the child in initial position in words. When the child is able to say the target sound in words in that position with approximately 80% accuracy, they would then practise it in the initial position at phrase and sentence level, before practicing the target sound in another sound position in words (medial or final positions). Other speech and language therapists may practise the target sound in all word positions before moving on to the next step.
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Step 4: Phrases and Sentences
The next step in articulation therapy is phrase and sentence level practice. A phrase is basically a short sentence. Children, especially younger children will often find it easier to start with a carrier phrase e.g. a phrase that stays the same while only the target word changes. Examples of carrier phrases include “I see a …”, “Look at the …”, “I have a…”.
Unique sentences that include additional words with the target sound are usually more challenging. When there are two, three or more target words (words that have the target sound), the child has many opportunities to practise saying their target sound in a specified position. Examples of unique sentences with at least three target words with the /b/ sound in initial position include:
- “Bella is a beautiful baby girl”
- “This is the best bacon in Baltimore”
- “Ben gave the bag to Bonnie”
When a child is able to say target words in unique sentences with at least 80% accuracy, it is time to move on to the next step.
Step 5: Stories
The next step in articulation therapy is practising the target sound in stories. There are many different stories that will have the target sound appearing frequently. It is often a good idea to read the same story with a child many times, until they are able to say the target words with at least 80% accuracy. Older children will usually be able to read the story aloud as part of their practice. Younger children would benefit from hearing you reading the story for them and emphasising the target sounds in words.
Ask the child to retell the story. When doing so, they will likely need to say some of the target words with the target sound.
If the child is able to accurately say the target sound in words when retelling a story and if they have mastered the sound in each sound position (initial, medial and final) in words, sentences and stories, the next step is conversation.
Step 6: Conversation
In a speech therapy clinic, the therapist may have normal discussions with your child at the conversation step. They will be monitoring your child’s consistency when saying words in conversation that have the target sound. They may also talk about specific topics or use cards and pictures.
When at home and out and about, you will naturally have lots of conversations with your child. It is often a good idea to have a specified time to focus on the correct production of the target sound during conversation. Let your child know that you will correct any errors during this time. At other times, you can indirectly correct them by repeating the word with the target sound correctly. Emphasise the target sound when doing so.
If your child has been through the previous steps in articulation therapy, we would want there to be at least some carryover into everyday conversation. In other words, we would want them to be saying the target sounds in words correctly when having a conversation. If you are still hearing frequent errors, let your child’s speech and language therapist know as they may need further practice at sentence level.
Note: If your child is an early stage in the articulation therapy process, you can still correct errors in conversation by repeating the words correctly and emphasising the target sound. However, it is important to be patient. It does take time and practice before a child can go from saying a sound correctly in isolation to saying it correctly in words in conversation.
Step 7: Generalisation
Generalisation is the final step in the articulation therapy process. When a child has mastered a target sound in words, phrases, sentences, stories and in conversation, it is time to watch out for carryover/generalisation across all areas (e.g. in the car, at mealtime, at the playground, at the movies). If you find that they are not producing the target sound accurately in daily speech in different contexts, let their speech and language therapist know. They may need some more practice at conversation or sentence level.