Here We Go Again with R


You may know by now that it seems my therapy room sees trends in single articulation errors.  I had one year that was loaded with “s.”  I had another year in which it seemed I couldn’t get a clear “th” sound to save my life.  Last year, I was swimming in “l” issues (I mumbled “tongue up” in my sleep it seemed.)  This year is looking to be “r.”

Yell, “who wants the R kid” into a crowded room at ASHA and see how quickly you find yourself alone (hmmm….something to try in the Orlando Starbucks line).  One can’t help but wonder if there’s a reason “R” in ASL looks like crossed fingers…

R in ASL

Well, honestly, I like working on “r.”  Not because I have a magical trick up my sleeve but because with hard work it can be fixed and it has such a HUGE impact on overall speech.

Here are a few tips I’ve used over the years as a starting point.  There is just no getting around the fact that you’ll need to put some serious time and attention into this sound (though I’ve had a few that once they got some momentum took off pretty fast).  I would suggest really giving one technique a shot (at least a couple of hours), before moving on to something else.


  1. The Entire World of R (disclosure:  I’ve authored two books for them and one is for R):  This is the program that has SLPs concerned about the various vocalic Rs (ie. EAR, OR, IRE).  Vowels do have a huge impact on R and there are some definite perks to folding in at least some of this approach.  You begin with an in-depth analysis of each R in each positon to determine your beginning target.  This eliminates a lot of guess work.  The disadvantage is that unless your kiddo is a decent reader, you need to have them repeat the words/sentences though this doesn’t seem to “help” as much as it sometimes does with other sounds.
  2. SATPAC:  I went to a presentation on this last year and tried it with several students for “s.”  I really like that is starts you off with nonsense syllables.  Starting with “words” they don’t have a habitual error pattern for is particularly helpful with “r.”  Tough thing here is that it takes some practice to get the hang of reading the nonsense words rapidly and I’ve had a couple kids get a little weird with them (start messing with prosody, voice, etc.)  Although it doesn’t recommend a massive time commitment on the part of the therapist, it does demand a huge number of trials in a short period of time.  Not all of my students can work that way.
  3. Pam Marshalla:  Her “Successful R Therapy” isn’t so much of a program as it is a wealth of tips for elicitation.
  4. Wayne Secord:  His “Eliciting Speech Sounds” is a great resource of elicitation techniques for all phonemes.


Some kiddos won’t really allow for a deep assessment, so you may be forced into trying a few things in the hopes something will help, even if just a little.

Blends:  I’ve had some luck focusing on “tr” words (or even “dr” words) initially.

EAR /AIR-Y words:  Many kids have a w/r substitution and the first thing we need to do is get their lips in a better position for “r.”  Because your mouth has to retract into a “smile” for “ee,”  the “ear” words tend to help.  “Air-y” has a similar impact (ie. berry, fairy, scary).

L to R:  Particularly if I’ve worked with a child on “l,” I might have them get that “l” position and then drag their tongue back and up for a “ler” type approximation.

Minimal Pairs R/W:  Sometimes having the child feel the difference between two words and realizing that they mean very different things can help.  I have a new R/W freebie you can try, here.

Because this is a time consuming sound, I think one of the biggest challenges is keeping kids engaged as you scale this mountain.

Help another R cover

So, let’s do this,  if you have a great elicitation technique or program, let us know in the comments below.  If you have or know of a fabulous R game or other material, link it below.  And please take a moment to check out my newest bundle, “Help!  Another R?!”.  It contains SIX different R activities (vocalic R variations included) at over 20% savings!  Click here for more info.

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This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Lisa E.

    I, too, am inundated with the “Dweaded Awe” this year!! I have used all the programs you’ve mentioned with the exception of SATPAC, but what has worked for me this year is the “KARLA” approach. I don’t really know if there is a more technical program name (it’s actually a lot of coarticulation) , but basically you start with having the student say “kuh kuh kuh” then say “luh luh luh”, (with the tongue further back than usual)then put them together “kuh luh ku luh” – when you place the tongue further back to make the /l/, it actually turns it into a retroflex /r/, and the student ends up saying “car-luh” (KARLA). 🙂 You then fade out the “luh” to get final /r/, then try other vowel combos, then you can fade out the “kuh” to get an initial /r/. It’s REALLY worked for me this year! I think it works, in part, because the students are so focused on making “luh” that they aren’t TRYING to make an /r/, and it just comes naturally. You can google “KARLA method” to get more info. Hope this helps someone!

    1. admin

      Lisa, I love this idea and it’s a new one to me, so THANK YOU! I’ll be trying this soon! Kim

  2. Rita Samuelson

    Not sure if you knew but Pam Marshalla is currently battling leukemia and her family has set up a website for those who would like to donate, as I gather her health insurance is not a good one:

    1. admin

      Rita, Thanks so much for sharing. She’s an absolute guru. For those who don’t feel comfortable with direct donations, please consider buying one of her books. Kim

  3. Lisette Edgar

    So sorry to hear what Pam Marshalla is going through.. I own several of her resources, and she is amazing.

    I like combining the /k/ and /g/ sounds with vocalic r to help get the back of the tongue elevated and tongue tip up too! I try cur…ly, gir…ly. (I really am a curly girl, so it works for me! 🙂

  4. Annie Doyle

    I started using SATPAC last school year and have had amazing results with it! I also stumbled upon a way of helping students understand a little more about /r/ placement. I describe the mouth as an elevator and the tongue is the floor of the elevator. If the lateral margins aren’t touching the molars the elevator passengers will fall off and nobody wants that. It may seem crazy, but it has been working miracles for me. I draw sad little stick people falling down the shaft. The boys in particular enjoy this visualization!

    1. admin

      I’m so trying this next Tuesday. Thanks!

  5. Carly

    Something for placement I always use and hope for the best is TUB.

    Tongue needs to be : T-tight U-Up and B-back

    Lips are smilely. This seems to help students remember by having an acronym.

Comments are closed.


The views expressed in this blog are my own and are intended to inspire other speech-language pathologists in their own practice. If you are a parent, teacher or other educator, these ideas are not intended to take the place of treatment by a certified clinician. Read full disclaimer here.