Introducing S to Your Client

By Pam Marshalla

photo of 4-year-old girl by stuandgravy on flickrQ: My 4-year-old client has no strident sounds and I was thinking about starting with S. Is this right? And how should I teach it?

Whether or not to start with S as your first strident sound depends entirely on the client.

Here is advice to get you going:

Expand Your Horizons

Don’t just look at the strident sounds (S, Z, Sh, Zh, CH, and J). Look at all 11 fricatives and affricates together—Th, Th, F, V, S, Z, Sh, Zh, Ch, J, H. Call them the “hissing sounds.” Whatever your client is doing on the stridents he probably is doing on the entire group of hissing sounds.


Stimulate him for all 11 hissing sounds, and determine which one(s) are easiest for him. Phoneme S often is the most difficult of the entire group because it is the most refined in terms of oral control.

  • H may be easier because all that the child has to do is open his mouth.
  • F may be easier because it is the most visible, and it is easy to push his lip up into position.
  • Sh may be easier because it requires more gross tongue grooving than S.
  • Th may be easier because all he has to do is stick out his tongue and lift his jaw.

Use Multisensory Input

Show him how to say the target sound, talk about it, give him a gestural cue, write the letter on paper, watch phoneme productions in a mirror, use auditory bombardment, and so forth. Give him many ways to conceptualize the phoneme.

Teach in Cycles

If he is missing all the hissing sounds, consider working on each phoneme one-week-at-a-time in cycles (Hodson and Paden, 1983, 1991). 

Teach Gross Before Fine Motor Control

If you do begin with S, keep in mind that his early productions of this sound may be grossly produced, meaning that it may sound and look more like Th or Sh. Accept these. Establish the phoneme in isolation and in words in one of these gross forms at first, and gradually help him make it sound and look more like S. This will require more ear training and mirror work.



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