Addressing Speech Difficulties During Reading Instruction

Tips for Helping a Child Pronounce Specific Sounds


Some students have limitations in their ability to say or pronounce certain sounds. These are speech development issues, not reading issues. This is where the student, for various reasons, is not saying specific sounds correctly. Some of these children have physical limitations and others are physically capable but just have not learned to say certain sounds automatically. There is also a normal expected progression of speech development related to age.   If a student has a speech difficulty, talk with a speech pathologist for specific recommendations.


If a student is facing speech difficulties they need to be evaluated by a professional. Most school districts have screening processes and speech specialists who help identify and assist students with speech difficulties or recommend necessary assistance.  Background information on speech development issues can be found on the internet. The National Institutes of Health NIDCD “Speech and Language Developmental Milestones” fact sheet provides general information and links to other resources at or you can order a hard copy of this free government publication (NIH publication No. 00-4781).  Another source of general information is the website established by a non-profit Scottish Rite Masonic organization under a program to help children with speech and language disorders. This parent-friendly website contains general background, informative articles and links to resources. Their article Speech Language Home Activities: Teach Specific Sounds to Your Child and additional articles on individual sounds provide activities you can do at home to develop specific sounds.


Reading instruction does not replace the need for speech assistance. However, the individual attention and work on specific sounds provides an opportunity to supplement and assist students. As you work on specific sounds both in isolation and with reading words, you can sometimes help the student learn and practice correct pronunciation. Obviously this informal work on sounds is most helpful for students who do not have physical limitations and just need to learn how to make the sound.  When you are working with a student with speech difficulties, the best option is to talk with the speech specialist for recommendations to help the individual student. These specialists can usually provide specific tips for the student’s unique situation.  


The following list shares some general information and tips that a parent, teacher or reading tutor may be able to use to help a student say specific sounds.  However, these informal tips should never replace consultation with a professional. 


General Information and Suggestions for Speech Instruction: 


·         Use a small hand mirror, so the student can ‘see’ how they are making the sound. For example, to make the /th/ sound the student needs to ‘stick out’ their tongue.  With the mirror, the child can see the correct position.  The phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ or in this case ‘a reflection is worth a thousand words’ applies to speech instruction. A small hand mirror is an effective tool.







Tips and Suggestions for Helping a Child or Student Say Specific Sounds:













Remember, speech difficulties (difficulty saying a certain sound) are NOT considered reading errors.  When reading with a student who has a speech difficulty, inability to say a sound or mispronunciation due to a speech difficulty is NOT a reading error.  If the student correctly identifies and attempts to say the sound, don’t correct mispronunciation as a reading error. To help the child learn proper pronunciation, the instructor should repeat the word pronounced correctly and help the student practice how to correctly make the sound but do not consider it ‘incorrect’ from a reading standpoint. For example: If the student has difficulty pronouncing /r/ and says /stwing/ for ‘string’ the student read the word correctly even though they did not pronounce it correctly.  Do not correct these types of pronunciation errors as reading errors. In contrast, if the student misses the /r/ sound altogether and says /sting/ you would stop him and have him re-read the word picking up the ‘r’ even if he mispronounces it.  


Information, articles and resources on teaching children to read proficiently can be found at the Free Reading Information page of the Right Track Reading website.



This article was written by Miscese Gagen, a mother with a passion for teaching children to read proficiently by using effective methods. She is also a successful reading tutor and author of the reading instructional programs Right Track Reading Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons. The purpose of this article is to empower parents and teachers with information on teaching children how to read. We CAN improve reading proficiency, one student at a time!  More information is located at   ~ Copyright 2007 Miscese R. Gagen