Speech therapy for older children with articulation disorders can be challenging. Here are some tips for assessment, treatment, and carryover.
Older students have been exhibiting their error patterns for a much longer time. They’ve become accustomed to saying and reading sounds a certain way, and their habits can be more difficult to change.
That’s not to say it’s impossible by any means. I have successfully treated older students with articulation disorders, and I know a lot of other SLPs who have as well.
In this article, I will share some strategies and resources that have worked for me. I work with upper elementary and middle school students. Don’t feel like you need to do all of these at once. Pick a few that resonate with you and give them a try.Tips for assessment and treatment with older students working on articulation in speech therapy.Click To Tweet
You might not need to assess every child on your caseload. Hopefully their previous SLPs put some specific data in their present levels and goals of their IEPs. Check there first.
I once had a student transfer from another district with an IEP goal to “produce speech sounds with 90% accuracy”. It didn’t tell me what speech sounds he was working on.
My favorite non-standardized tool for gathering articulation data is the free Articulation Screener from Mommy Speech Therapy and Little Bee Speech. It offers a quick and easy way to assess each sound in the beginning, middle, and end of the word.
Phonetic Placement Training
There are multitudes of ways to help students make a sound for the first time. I’ll share a few that I use most often with this age group.
If you work in a school district with other SLPs, you might want to create a google doc and share your favorite strategies with one another. I wouldn’t have known about a lot of the tips I’m going to share in this article if it hadn’t been for the speechies in my school district.
Since /r/ is one of the hardest sounds for students to make, let’s begin there. If you’re into videos, check out SPEECH: R set 1, by That Speech Lady on YouTube. Her /r/ demonstration is fantastic. If you like written instructions, my favorite publication is Let’s Hear It for /R/! by Dawn M. Moore, MA, CCC-SLP. Both of these resources are totally free.
Another free resource worth sharing is a visual aid that one of my colleagues made using construction paper. I took a picture of it with my phone and will post it below. Feel free to click on the picture to see it full size.
I ended up needing to use this with some students right away, and didn’t have time to make my own construction paper version. I explained it while showing them the picture on my phone, and it worked! One of my students made the best /r/ I’ve heard yet.
Begin with the tongue in the position for /l/, and then have the student practice moving the tip of the tongue up and back until the /l/ becomes an /r/.
If you’re working with the techniques above and the student still is having difficulty, you could try using Speech Buddies tools for articulation placement. I have found the /s/ tool useful, and a colleague who uses the /r/ tool told me that she has seen teenagers use it and make an /r/ for the first time. These are definitely not cheap. I purchased these by teaming up with some other SLPs in my school district, and together we successfully applied for a grant from a local foundation.
Guided Practice for Articulation
Once your students are stimulable for a certain sound, the key is practice, practice, practice. The more trials you can get, the better. The best way I’ve found to do tons of trials during a session is by using the Articulation Station Pro app on my iPad. This app is made by Little Bee Speech, the same company that made the screening tool I mentioned at the beginning of this article.
I usually do group therapy sessions with 3 to 4 students. The app lets you work with groups and take individualized data on each student. You can target the sound at the word, phrase, sentence, or story level. It also lets you make an audio recording of the student’s sound production. This is useful to play back to students and ask them to help you decide if they correctly produced the sound.
I keep all of the students in the group engaged by using the app’s built in matching game, which is similar to “memory”. I project the iPad onto my white board so everyone in the group can see it. The app’s group function allows each student have his or her own matching game, and you can toggle between each student’s game during the session. You can save the data and go back later and practice the words the student missed.
This app is not cheap by any means. I was able to get funds to purchase it from my school’s Parent-Teacher Organization.
Carryover of Articulation Skills
We all have students with articulation goals for sounds they know how to make, but aren’t consistently producing correctly in sentences or conversation. Carryover needs to be the focus for these students.
What happens in speech therapy shouldn’t stay in speech therapy. You need to involve parents, teachers, and the students themselves.
Articulation in the Classroom
One tool I made for this is speech sticky note reminders. I sell the template at my store, which you can access by clicking on the above link or the picture posted below. It’s much easier than you would think to print things on sticky notes.
These sticky note reminders just have a drawing and one word, with the target sound underlined. There’s nothing on the sticky note that says “speech therapy”. Your older students will appreciate that.
I give them to my students during therapy and ask my students to place them onto their assignment books or desks as a reminder to use their speech skills in the classroom.
I ask teachers to listen for the child’s sound and prompt the student by discreetly tapping the sticky note while walking by the student’s desk. I emphasize that the sticky notes should be visible to the student and the teacher, not covered up.
I began using these this fall, and I am noticing one of my students in particular has become much more aware of his articulation errors, and is even self-correcting!
If you have a student who is able to produce his or her sounds at the sentence level, these sticky notes might be a big help for you.
Home Practice is Essential for Articulation Progress
I created my own homework program because I had problems getting my students to do most of the worksheets and apps I had tried.
I made small homework sheets that students put into their pockets, with clear directions about what to do. Here is a link to my blog post all about speech therapy homework, with lots of info about how to start your own program.
Here’s a quick 15 second video of the homework I use:
You can find this /R/ homework on my TpT site.
My students take home the pocket-sized sheets, spend about 10 minutes working on them, have a parent sign the back, and drop them into a bag hanging on a hook outside my room.
I do a prize drawing every week, by reaching into the bag and pulling out a homework sheet. The winning student gets to pick out a prize. My prizes include pencils, pencil grips, glow bracelets, bouncy balls, hair clips, and nail stickers.
My students remind me to give them their homework now, and they turn it in most of the time. And yes, I work in a public school with real human students.
I’ve put all of my homework up in my store. Here is a link to a free sample of pocket-sized homework.