My 6 BEST Tips for Eliciting the S Sound

Today we will be focusing on tips and tricks for eliciting /s/. There is much to say concerning the different error patterns for /s/ and I don’t like long blog posts (reading or writing them) so I’m reserving tips and tricks for the lateral /s/ as a separate entry. We will focus solely on the Lateral /s/ in next week’s post.

How to produce the /s/ sound. The correct production is made with the teeth nearly closed in a natural bite position and the lips parted as though smiling. The sides of the tongue are raised against the upper side teeth. The tip of the tongue may vary as to the position, but is usually raised to approximate a place behind the upper front teeth. The tongue should form a groove down the center, through which the breath is directed in a continuous stream. (Judy Kuster, A Collection of Approaches to the “S” Sound).

Tip #1– Be careful how you label sounds.

The /s/ is most commonly referred to as the “snake” sound, but for some of your students this may actually hinder the correct production. Take for example a little boy (or girl) who is really into reptiles and knows more about them than any of us would want to know. They will argue with you that the tongue should protrude while you hiss. This is not good if you are trying to correct a frontal lisp (th/s). I have also read some SLPs call it the ”Mad Cat Sound,” but I use that label for teaching /f/ not /s/. There are other ways to make an association for the /s/ that will be effective at conveying the idea of a hissing sound. One that I particularly like is the “Flat Tire” Sound. (This label came from an articulation program I was using several years ago.) There is no one particular universal label, so use what works for you, but give thought to what that particular label might be implying.

Tip #2—Tell the child to smile.

That may sound like a no brainer, but sometimes that one little adjustment will make a world of difference in the quality of the production. Smiling broadly moves the lips off the teeth and gives a little tension to the lips. Usually the three step direction, “Put your teeth together, smile real big, and blow” will result in correct production.

Tip #3— Where is the tongue tip?

The /s/ sound can be made with the tongue tip in one of three positions, up, down, or in the middle. If I took a poll of everyone reading this blog it would probably be evenly distributed among those three positions. There is not a preferred position. Use what works best for that client.

You can alter the tongue tip position to eliminate some of the more minor problems encountered with /s/. If the child is “dentalizing” the sound (letting the tongue touch his teeth when producing the sound), have him place the tip down below the bottom teeth or up towards the alveolar ridge and that will eliminate that problem. Odds are, the child’s tongue tip is in the middle, so moving it up or down will get it off the teeth. If a child is creating a whistle on the /s/ have them lower the tongue tip to the middle or down below the teeth. I have had success with fine tuning the tongue tip position.

Tip #4—Prolong the sound with tactile cueing.

Sometimes we encounter kids who appear to have insufficient breath support for the /s/ when in reality they do have the breath support, they just aren’t controlling it effectively. Rather than go into all the exercises for breath support, I first try this little trick. Have them take the index finger of the right hand and draw it slowly up their left arm as they say /s/ going from the wrist to the shoulder. Works like a charm! Once they have the desired /s/ in isolation you can shorten the length or speed of the tactile cueing or simply fade the cue.

Tip #5—Eliminating Stop Sounds

Carolyn Bowen has a wonderful aspiration trick on her website.
It works very well for those children who “stop” the /s/ by saying /t/ for /s/. (i.e., “tun” for “sun.”) Often you can get them to correctly say the /s/, but then they insert “their” preferred sound afterward. Now, instead of saying ‘tun,” they’re saying “stun!” To help them eliminate the stop, have them insert /h/ (or aspirate) after they say the /s/. It will sound something like this: “sssssss”+ “hun.” Some others are “soap” = /s/ + “hope, “see” = /s/ + “he.” Using the /h/ prevents the insertion of the stop. There are numerous pages available on Carolyn’s website that have this concept already illustrated, so you don’t need to create your own!

Tip #6—Teach /s/ blends first

Barbara Hodson, is a big believer in teaching consonant blends first to the child who omits s-clusters when doing a phonological cycles approach. (This is not for substitutions or distortions.). She recommends adding the /s/ to a consonant the child already produces. The clusters typically taught would be /st/, /sp/ and /sm/. She also suggests adding word final (e.g., /ts/, /ps/) after the child can produce the word initial s-clusters. This would usually be by the 3rd cycle. To incorporate the /ts/, the simple phrase “It’s a _____.” can be used. For the /ps/, you might use “Cups of ____.” or “Hops on ____.”

I have some specific recourses for the S sound in my TpT store:
A workbook:
A card deck: 
Phrase Cards:
Interactive inferring activity:

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3 thoughts on “My 6 BEST Tips for Eliciting the S Sound”

  1. Thanks, Lisette. If I can help one other SLP with this series then it is worth writing them. I know I can't remember all the things I've learned, so I find a good refresher post beneficial.


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