Children learn to say sounds correctly by listening to and hearing the people around them speak. Sounds, sometimes called phonemes, are acquired and mastered at all different ages. For instance, the /p/ phoneme develops early for children, and we often hear it as they babble; whereas, the /s/ phoneme develops much later. For example, it's perfectly normal at the age of 3 for a child to say "tat" instead of "sat." As a child grows, they should learn to say and use their sounds correctly. For some children, learning to articulate their speech sounds correctly isn't that easy. A child may have difficulty producing a few sounds, or they may have trouble producing many. These children are considered to have a speech sound or articulation disorder. ASHA defines an articulation disorder as "the atypical production of speech sounds characterized by substitutions, omissions, additions or distortions that may interfere with intelligibility." (ASHA, 1993)
When a child presents with an articulation disorder or deficits with speech sound production, articulation skills, and phonology, we conduct articulation therapy. I am going to come out and say it. Articulation therapy is repetitive and redundant (and sometimes a bit boring). I know I am not the only speech-language pathologist who has had a child say something like, "Are we done yet?" or "How many more words do I have to say?" However, as an SLP, we know that those repetitions of correction sound/phoneme productions are crucial to our client or student's success.
My goal during articulation therapy sessions is a minimum of 100 trials. Trying to achieve the 100+ trials during a session can be challenging. We have to contend with a child's motivation, attention, and willingness to participate in our repetitive tasks. I keep myself engaged and therefore the child I am working with engaged, by Playing With Purpose. In this context, PWP refers to the fun games or activities I use in my articulation therapy sessions to stay productive and achieve my goal of 100+ trials.
Here are my favorite Playing With Purpose activities for articulation therapy:
(contains Amazon affiliate links)
I got this first idea from a teacher friend who used Jenga as a tool for her students practicing their spelling words. Take your classic plain, wooden Jenga game and write numbers on each of the blocks in permanent marker. The lowest number I have written on mine is 5, and I go up to 12, leaving some blocks blank for a free turn. Then you play the game as you typically would. I get out my word lists for the target phoneme, and each time it’s the child’s turn, they say as many words as the number on their block indicates. You can do this with a phoneme in isolation, in words, phrases, or even formulated sentences.
The Uno card game is a favorite of the children I work with. Play the game as the rules intended, but whatever card the child lays down, that is how many times they have to practice their speech sound. Get creative with the rules you have for the special cards like the Draw 4. I like to have kids practice 20 words with this card, particularly if they have had a series of lower numbered cards. This tip holds up with most other board games where a child has to move a specified number of spaces per turn. Chutes and Ladders is a good one for the younger children. In addition to articulation therapy, you can also address turn taking or other pragmatic language elements.
If you are not familiar with a toy called a ball popper, then this one is going to be a treat for you and your kids. Ball poppers come in a plethora of characters/animals to suit the child’s interests but note this toy has small parts, so it’s for children over the age of 3. “Target practice” is a fun ball popper game I play in articulation therapy. Draw a target on a piece of paper and stick it up on any door. I use 2 points in the center, 5 for the middle, and 10 in the outside ring. Then hand over the ball popper to the child to shoot the soft, foam balls at the target. Again, whatever number the ball hits closest to dictates how many times your child practices their target sound. I shared more PWP tips specifically for the ball popper toy on my blog back in September if you’d like to use the toy to address other skills.
The ‘Race to 100 Game’ comes to us from fellow school SLP blogger Felice of The Dabbling Speechie. She created a quick game board with 100 squares and used a die to get her students engaged and practicing their target sounds. The child rolls the die, and then they get to color or check off that number of spaces as they practice their speech sound. School SLPs are often doing group therapy, so it can become a competition; whoever gets to 100 first is the winner. In my individual therapy, I have children work for a small prize. Along a similar line are these “Roll, Say, Color” activities from SLP blogger Hallie of Speech Time Fun.
I use technology in therapy when it’s appropriate and, I am always careful to follow the same lesson I teach to parents about technology for speech therapy. The technology is meant to be used together with the child so that I can add language to their experience. During articulation therapy, my role is to help monitor and correct productions of the target sound. My clients and I love the game Artic Scenes by Smarty Ears Apps. It includes all the consonant sounds of English in the initial, medial, and final word positions. This game has 4 different levels which makes it usable for kids at many different ages and levels. I use level 1 with my younger kids working at word level practice and use level 4 with my older kids or when addressing carryover of speech sounds. Additionally, the app includes data tracking and homework sheets you can email to parents.
For the crafty children on my caseload, I like to use Dab and Dot Markers in a variety of paper-based activities. I own the workbook Dot Articulation by Say it Right which has premade worksheet for 19 commonly misarticulated sounds. I always sneak in extra words with these sheet by having children produce 2-5 words per dot instead of just one before making a dot. When working on a phoneme in isolation, I will draw or print out a large, block letter outline. Then the child has to work on coloring in the letter with the dot marker by correctly producing their new sound. Lastly, you can find many printable coloring sheets online and in books for dot markers. Again, as the child produces their target sound or words, they get to dot and color in the photo.
Remember, articulation therapy does not have to be mundane for you or your students and clients. No matter what repetitious activity you choose for sound production work, be sure you are Playing With Purpose!
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (1993). Definitions of communication disorders and variations [Relevant Paper]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.