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Written by Rachel Betzen   

PreLiteracy.com History

How the Speech Cue Pre-Literacy Program Developed

For many years speech-language pathologists have used hand cues to represent different sounds as a way to help their clients learn and practice new speech skills. In my own private practice I found this concept to be especially helpful with children that had apraxia or phonological disorders. They have also been particularly helpful for children who have mastered targeted sounds in isolation, but have trouble producing these sounds in words and sentences.


Pre-school children and toddlers as young as two and a half were able to successfully use these cues during speech therapy to address the speech sounds in words, and different word positions. When these children became older and struggled with phonological awareness, a crucial pre-reading skill, I used these same speech cues on picture cards with them to address sound awareness in a multi-sensory manner. All of the children who had a history of speech and language problems made progress with their reading skills using this method, and several have completely learned to read with the speech cue cards.


If this system could work for children with a history of speech and language problems, then why couldn't it be used with typically developing pre-school children to help them develop pre-literacy skills, and be ready for reading when the time comes? To answer this important question the pre-literacy program needed to be tested with larger groups of children, and be used in actual pre-school classrooms.


During my time in private practice part of my job was to create and implement language and literacy programs for toddler and pre-school children at the Dallas Day School. This provided a perfect opportunity to test the speech cue program over an extended period of time. The Dallas Day School is an inclusion school, with children that have special needs integrated into their early childhood classrooms. It was thus very important for any program I developed to be adaptable and easily used with children that had differing skills and abilities.


Over the course of about three years I made changes to the pre-literacy program based on how the children responded to the instruction and how quickly they learned key pre-reading skills using the program. I also found ways to make it more fun! It was very important to make sure that all the activities were as developmentally appropriate as they were interesting to the children. Over time I added to the language component of the program, until we were spending roughly equal amounts of time working with phonological awareness skills and letters as we were on foundational language skills.


The children loved acting out stories, and would hold a picture of the character they played as they re-created the story with their peers. Adding journals and personal booklets to the classes made them much more popular and the students began to eagerly look forward to the time we spent together. They enjoyed following directions in a sequence to create art projects, which they labeled with speech cue words and their own writing. The language activities gave added meaning to what we were doing with the entire program, and made the learning process come alive for my students.


With the equal emphasis on language activities during the weekly classes the children's language skills exploded in growth. The many who seemed to have stayed in the same place developmentally for some time, now were showing a surge in skills such as narrative development, following directions, and understanding sequences. Amazingly, they were also beginning to now move forward with their phonological awareness skills and word recognition. It turned out that roughly equal time spent on language skills coupled with a persistent, multi-sensory sound awareness program was the combination that made the biggest difference in the shortest amount of time for my students.


One of the many blessings of chronic illness is that I have had time to share this information with others so that many more young children may benefit. It is my hope that through sharing easy-to-use information that parents, teachers, tutors and therapists will have more tools for making a difference in the reading crisis our nation faces today. Thank you for doing your part on behalf of our young learners!





Dallas Reading and Language Services

Rachel Betzen MA, CCC/SLP


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(214) 274-7455


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