Articulation therapy techniques

Articulation therapy is one of the types of speech therapy that helps people who have difficulty saying certain sounds correctly. It’s usually done with a speech therapist who specializes in articulation.

boy doing speech therapy

During the therapy, the therapist will start with teaching the person how to say the sound correctly by itself and then gradually move to saying it in syllables, words, phrases, sentences, and even in conversation.

The goal of the therapy is for the person to be able to say the sound correctly without even thinking about it. This can take some time, and the therapist will work with the person regularly to improve their speech.

Speech Therapist Techniques

During articulation therapy, the therapist may use of of these approaches:


This approach involves teaching the child how to produce a specific sound by breaking it down into more manageable parts. The therapist may use techniques such as auditory discrimination, imitation, and drill practice to help the child learn the correct placement and movement of the articulators. 

Phonetic Placement Approach

Phonetic placement involves teaching the correct position and movement of the articulators to produce a specific sound using verbal instructions, visual aids, and physical/tactile strategies.

Metaphonological Approach

Metaphonological cues and metaphors are techniques used in speech therapy to assist clients in producing target sounds. Speech therapists use metaphonological cues by giving verbal prompts that provide information about a specific aspect of the target sound. For instance, if a client mispronounces “cat” as “tat,” the speech therapist might say, “I noticed that you made the sound in the wrong part of your mouth. Try saying the ‘k’ sound using the front of your mouth instead.” 

Metaphors Approach

Metaphors use figurative language to describe sounds or prosodic features, providing a creative way to discuss and define target sounds. For example, the sound [r] can be described as a “growling sound” and demonstrated by the therapist by making a gesture of scratching their throat.

Contextual facilitation

It is a technique used by speech therapists to help clients produce a sound correctly by identifying a phonetic context in which the sound is pronounced accurately, even if it is usually mispronounced in other contexts. For example, the word pair “penny-canyon” can be used to facilitate correct production of the “k” sound, which might otherwise be pronounced as a “t” or “g” sound. This approach builds on the client’s existing speech production skills and helps shape and establish the production of the target sound in a meaningful context.

Auditory stimulation or imitation

It is a technique used in speech therapy where the clinician provides a target sound model for the client to imitate. The level of difficulty can be adjusted by changing the time between the model and the child’s imitation. Simultaneous imitation is when the clinician and child produce the target at the same time, mimed imitation is when the clinician silently mouths the target, and immediate imitation is when the child repeats the target immediately after the model. Imitation in successive repetition involves the child producing the target several times without an additional model, while delayed imitation involves the child producing the target with additional linguistic information after several seconds of the clinician providing the model.

Dynamic Temporal and Tactile Cueing Approach (DTTC)

This approach uses a combination of auditory, visual, and tactile cues to help the child produce sounds more accurately. The therapist may use a combination of touch cues, visual cues (such as mouth movements), and auditory feedback to help the child produce sounds.

But in this post, we will focus on traditional articulation therapy.

7 Steps of Traditional Articulation Therapy

During articulation therapy, the therapist will typically use a traditional approach and move through a series of seven levels to help your child improve their ability to say specific sounds correctly. These levels include:

Step 1: Isolation

In the initial stage of articulation therapy, the focus is on practicing the production of individual sounds in isolation. The speech and language therapist will demonstrate the correct production of the sound and practice saying it repeatedly with your child. The therapist will choose sounds that are appropriate for your child’s age and development. Once your child can produce the sound accurately in isolation, they can move on to the next step of therapy.

Let’s say that a child is having difficulty producing the /s/ sound. The speech and language therapist will begin by demonstrating the correct way to create the sound and then have the child practice saying the sound by itself, without any other sounds or words around it. The therapist will give feedback and guidance to help the child produce the sound as accurately as possible. Once the child can make the /s/ sound accurately in isolation, the therapist will move on to the next step, which might involve practicing the sound in syllables, words, phrases, and so on, until the child can use the sound accurately in conversational speech.

Step 2: Syllables

During the second step of articulation therapy, the speech and language therapist will work with your child to practice saying the target sound in different syllables. Syllables are made up of a consonant and a vowel, and the therapist will add different vowels to the target sound to create syllables such as ‘ba,’ ‘be,’ ‘bi,’ ‘bo,’ and ‘bu.’ The therapist may also use real words and pictures to help your child practice. Once your child is able to accurately produce the target sound in syllables, they are ready to move on to the next step.

Step 3: Words 

The next step in articulation therapy is practicing the target sound in words, typically at the beginning, middle, and end positions. For example, if the target sound is /s/, words to practice may include “sun,” “bus,” and “fossil.”

Some speech therapists may choose to focus on one position at a time and practice the sound in phrases and sentences until the child can produce it with around 80% accuracy before moving on to the next position. Others may practice the sound in all positions before moving on to the next step.

Step 4: Phrases and Sentences 

In the fourth step of articulation therapy, the speech therapist will guide the child to practice the target sound in phrases and sentences. Initially, the child may begin with a carrier phrase, such as “I see…” or “I should…” and gradually progress to unique sentences that contain multiple target words. Here are some examples of unique sentences that include at least three target words with the /s/ sound in various positions:

“Sally sells seashells by the seashore.” 

“Susan saw seven slithery snakes.” 

“The silly sister sang a sweet song.”

Step 5: Stories

In the fifth step of articulation therapy, the focus is on incorporating the target sound into stories. To achieve this, we provide stories with lots of letters LS, and R sounds and encourage the child to practice reading them aloud. By repeatedly reading stories with lots of target sounds, the child can become more confident and accurate in saying the words.

Step 6: Conversation

Step 6 of articulation therapy involves practicing the target sound in conversation. During therapy sessions, the speech therapist will engage in normal conversations with the child while monitoring their consistency with the target sound. Parents can help improve their child’s speech sound production at home by providing gentle corrections during the conversation. This can be done by correctly repeating the word with the target sound and emphasizing the sound. This approach will help the child learn to produce the sound correctly without feeling self-conscious or discouraged.

It’s important to remember that children may still make errors, and that’s okay. If a child is consistently struggling with the target sound during conversations, it’s essential to let their therapist know as they may need additional practice at the sentence level. Patience is key, as it takes time and training for a child to progress from saying a sound correctly in isolation to using it accurately in conversation.

Step 7: Generalization

The last step in the articulation therapy process is generalization. After a child has mastered the target sound in words, phrases, sentences, stories, and conversations, it is critical to observe if they can consistently produce the sound correctly in all settings of their daily life. 

If you notice any errors, inform their speech therapist, as additional practice may be required at the conversation or sentence level to ensure the carryover of correct sound production.

Are they the same as Van Riper?

Van Riper traditional articulation therapy and traditional articulation therapy are very similar in many ways. Both approaches focus on helping clients produce speech sounds accurately by using repetition, feedback, and reinforcement to promote motor learning.

The main difference between Van Riper’s and traditional articulation therapy is their underlying theoretical frameworks. Van Riper traditional articulation therapy is based on the idea that speech sound disorders are primarily motor-based and that therapy should focus on developing accurate speech movements. 

Traditional articulation therapy, on the other hand, is based on the idea that speech sound disorders can be caused by various factors, including structural or phonemic issues, and that therapy should focus on the specific underlying cause of the disorder.

What is Van Riper anyway?

Van Riper traditional articulation therapy is a widely used approach to treating speech sound disorders, particularly articulation disorders. Charles Van Riper, a pioneer in speech-language pathology, developed it.

Van Riper traditional articulation therapy is based on the principle of motor learning, which involves repeated practice and feedback to help a client develop accurate speech production. The therapy typically involves four stages:

  • Identification and isolation of the target sound
  • Establishment of the sound in syllables and words
  • Transfer of the sound to conversational speech
  • Maintenance of the sound

The therapist usually begins by identifying which speech sounds the client has difficulty producing and then works to help the client isolate and produce those sounds correctly. This is typically done through a series of exercises and drills that focus on the production of the target sound in isolation, then in syllables and words, and eventually in connected speech.

Written by: Sittie Ashia Said

Edited and Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Juhairah Magarang-Said