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Tips for Producing the /s/ Sound by Chicago Speech and More

boy smilingIs your child having trouble producing the /s/ sound?  If so, they’re not alone. The /s/ is a very tricky sound. It typically emerges around three years of age although is not generally mastered until seven or eight.

The /s/ sound is produced with the tip of the tongue just behind the front teeth.  The tongue is close to the palate, roof of the mouth, but does not touch it. The sides of the tongue are elevated and touch the upper side teeth. Because of the tongue position, a groove should form down the center of the tongue providing a passage for continuous air stream. The teeth should be nearly closed in a bite position. The lips should be parted, in the position of a smile.

Saying “th” for /s/ is a common error amongst kids.  This is typically the error pattern people think of when hearing the word lisp. Some children substitute other sounds for /s/. Other children completely omit the /s/ sound, especially when it occurs in a blend (“pider/spider, cool/school, led/sled”). Not to harp on my nephew (see steps for producing “th” for more stories) but this story is too great to miss.  When my nephew was 3 years old (now 6), he put on a white blanket and started running around the house saying “look Tami (Sami), I’m a cary goat”.  I knew he was trying to say scary but I couldn’t understand why he would want to be a scary goat.  My sister clarified that he was in fact trying to be a “scary ghost.”

*If your child still has difficulty with the /s/ sound by 8 years of age it is recommended that you seek guidance from a trained and licensed speech-language pathologist. *


It doesn’t hurt to practice at home with your little ones.  Here are some tips from Chicago Speech and More for helping your child to produce the /s/ sound.

Speech Therapy Hierarchy- from sounds to conversations

Sound Level

As with most sounds, it’s best to start at the sound level.  Production of /s/ has some visual components– grab a mirror. Have your child watch as you make the sound (make sure to hold /s/ for a few seconds). Then haave him watch himself in the mirror making the sound, continue to produce it with him. Sometimes it is helpful to tell your child to “smile with their teeth closed”

Sam the Snake

“Sam the Snake”

or “pretend to a bite an apple” to help them get their articulators in the right position.  I have had great success using the “hissing snake method”.  I typically introduce my pointer finger to my students as “Sam the Snake”. I move my finger in a snaking ess on the table or desk in front of us while vocalizing “s-s-s-s-s-s”.  The child then gets to name their “snake” (finger) and move it along while producing the sound.  The “snake” works as a great tactile reminder throughout the speech hierarchy.

Syllable Level

Once your child has mastered the ability to produce the /s/ sound, move to the syllable level.  Try adding a vowel to the end or beginning of the sound (sa, see, soo, say, or ess, oss, iss). While most children find it easier to produce syllables when the target sound occurs at the beginning (sa), this is not always the case. Try out both positions to see what works best for your child and work on the one they are most successful with. Remember to incorporate any cues your child found helpful.

Word Level

When you child can say syllables, move onto the word level.  If it was easier for your child to produce syllables beginning with the target sound, use words beginning with the sound  (sun, santa, sail).  If your child had more success when the sound occurred in the final position, begin with words ending in /s/ (lace, class, fox).  Begin with whichever position your child is more successful with and progress throughout all word positions (initial, medial (bracelet), final). I have found it beneficial to continue using a mirror at this stage and of course “Sam the Snake”.

Phrase/Sentence Level

Once mastery is achieved at the word level, begin to add these words into phrases and then sentences.  Using carrier phrases such as “The ______” (phrase level) or “I see a ___________” or “Sometimes Sally says______” (sentence level) can provide additional opportunities to use the target sound. Try coming up with different carrier phrases. Don’t be afraid to get a little silly with your children.

Paragraph/Short Story Level

Following accurate production at the sentence level, move onto paragraphs. The easiest way to do this is to create a simple story containing your target sound (/s/) and have your child retell it back to you.

Conversation Level

The last step in our hierarchy is to practice the /s/ in conversations.  Although there might be occasional speech sound errors, your child should be producing /s/ correctly most of the time.

Speech Therapy Activities for /s/ Sound

Let’s face it- kids just want to have fun.  Practicing speech sounds is no exception. There are plenty of fun activities to incorporate into your speech therapy.  Here are a few of Chicago Speech and More’s favorites:

  • Picture cards are great and can be used to play memory or go-fish. These games can be used at various levels in our speech therapy hierarchy.  (Word level -child simply labels the card. Phrase level- “the ________”. Sentence Level- “I picked the___________”, “Do you have the ___________”, etc.).
  • Have your child create their own /s/ picture cards.
  • Make a sun (or any word that has an /s/ in it) out of construction paper and have your child glue various /s/ pictures on the sun.  Model the phrase “(target word) on the sun”. *Double /s/ opportunity when you include “on the sun”.
  • Go through a magazine and cut out different pictures of items that have the /s/  sound in them. Make a collage with the pictures.
  • Play games like “I Spy” and find words containing the target sound /s/. *Double /s/ opportunity when you include carrier phrase “I spy”.

*Click on the link for /s/ initial pictures. Print out 2 copies and cut apart to use for Memory or Go-Fish.

s initial picture cards

The possibilities are endless- just remember to have fun.


Categories : Sam's Blog, Tips

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