The /r/ sound can be tough for some children to pronounce. It’s a voiced sound, produced by the vibration of the vocal cord. If it’s at the beginning of a word, the tongue pulls back a bit and raises at the tip, without touching the roof of the mouth. But if /r/ is elsewhere in a word, the tongue raises in the middle. Basically, it arches.

One reason why the /r/ sound can be so challenging is that it can be pronounced eight different ways, depending on the letters with which it is combined. If you consider the positioning of all the variations of /r/ in a word – at the beginning, in the middle and at the end – you wind up with a total of 21. Those eight basic vocalizations include:

  • /ar/;
  • /air/;
  • /ear/;
  • /ire/;
  • /or/;
  • /er/;
  • /rl/; and
  • the simple /r/ all by itself.

Shaping R

How can you help your students to master individual /r/ sounds and then incorporate them via correct word pronunciation? One technique is to work on shaping the sound from those of other letters.

  • Shaping /r/ from /l/. Tell your student to make the /l/ sound. From there, have them slide their tongue along the top of their mouth. This will get the tongue into the proper position to say /r/. You may want to assist them by gently pulling their lower jaw downward.
  • Shaping /r/ from /oo/. Have a child say /oo/ as in “book.” While they say the /oo/ sound, have them move their tongue back and up, slowly. Using your hand to demonstrate this movement may be helpful.
  • Shaping /r/ from /z/. Have your student prolong the /z/ sound. Then, tell them to move their tongue back slowly while opening their jaw slightly. Remind them to keep the back sides of their tongue against their upper teeth.

Make it Fun

Here are some simple ways to make practicing /r/ fun:

  • Have a student imitate animal sounds. You can use a cat purring (“purrrrrrr”) or a tiger growling (“grrrrrrrrr”). To shape /r/ from silent /k/, have a child open their mouth and make a silent /k/ sound. Then have them attempt their growling sound.
  • Eliminate the /w/. If a student is using a /w/ sound for /r/, tell them to smile. You can’t make /w/ while smiling.
  • Sing a song. Sing songs with your student to emphasize the /r/ sound. For instance, use “Row, row, row your boat …”

As your new school year gets under way, stay in touch with Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services for the latest resources and ideas. And, let us know if our clinical managers can help advance your SLP career. We’re therapists ourselves, so you can feel confident in our clinical knowledge and market intelligence. Contact us today to learn more.

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