QUESTION: “In school I work with several children with speech sound difficulties, who all need a different speech sound programme. How can I save time when working through a programme, so I can fit them all in?”

Answer: This is a very common quandary in schools; we never seem to have enough time to squeeze in all the work we’d like to do with children. Of course, it is rarely the case that the children are working on the same sound and at the same level! This means we need to get creative with our sessions and use our multi-tasking skills.

It is possible to work with children who have different speech sound difficulties in pairs or possibly even threes (provided they work well together). However, it does mean the person running the group will have to work a bit harder.

  • Be organised with the appropriate materials for each different sound. Give each child a sound card representing their target and begin your session by reminding each of them of their special sound.
  • At each child’s turn, make sure they remember their target sound and the level they’re working at, e.g. “Luke, remember you’re working on ‘s’ (direct his attention to his sound card and provide a clear model). You’re listening out for this sound in words – ready to listen?”
  • If the other child/children in the group can produce their peer’s sound accurately, have them take turns with each other’s sounds too. This means each child not only has an adult model, but a peer model too. While a child may struggle with one particular sound, they may have no difficulty with someone else’s target sound; this reminds them that different people have different strengths.

It’s important that we are sensitive to our pupils’ feelings about their speech, and that everyone in the group feels it is a supportive environment to practise speech sound skills.

QUESTION: “I have been trying to teach a pupil the difference between words like ‘rough’ and ‘smooth’ but he keeps confusing the two. Have you got any suggestions?

Answer: Have you ever met two people at the same time and then struggled to remember who was who the next time you saw them? I know I have! Unless we make a conscious memory to establish the correct name for the correct person, it’s all too easy to associate both names with each person (think Ant and Dec). It’s the same when teaching concept vocabulary to children with speech and language difficulties. Although it’s tempting to teach concepts in pairs of opposites, like hot and cold, fast and slow, etc, we risk the child associating both words with each concept and becoming confused with the vocabulary and the meanings.

When I work on concepts with children, I start by categorising objects and pictures by those which demonstrate the target concept, and those which do not, e.g. ‘soft’ and ‘not soft’ (avoiding ‘soft’ vs ‘hard’). This helps build awareness of the concept without confusing the child with extra vocabulary. You can vary the range of activities and games you use to build a deeper understanding of different concepts. Remember to work on the child’s use of the word too, so that they can add the word to their everyday spoken vocabulary.

Once a child’s knowledge of a concept is developing well, you can introduce additional concepts. Avoid working on antonyms (opposites) until later, when the child has a secure understanding of the first concepts taught. This should help them to avoid confusing which word describes which concept.

It’s more important to learn a smaller number of concept words really well, than to try to introduce too many, too quickly.

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