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Written by Rachel Betzen   

How to Use Speech Cue Cards to Teach Name Recognition

One of the first printed words that young children learn to recognize is their own name. It is not uncommon for high quality early childhood classrooms to have children's names posted in multiple places, along with many other printed labels. Young children will recognize the first letter of their name and sometimes the shape of the word before they will come to learn all the letters needed to spell their name. Some children may learn to spell their names through exposure to it at home and school, while others will need more time with direct instruction.


I have included an example of how I used speech cue cards to teach a child with mental retardation how to read, spell and write her name. Use this example as a guide for practice as you work with your own child, or those in your classroom who may still be struggling with name recognition.

(The client's name has been changed below to protect her confidentiality, however the difficulty level of the name used below is similar to the client's actual name).


How Stephanie Learned to Spell her Name

Stephanie's History

Stephanie is an eight year old student with a history of mental retardation and a severe speech disorder called apraxia of speech. This meant that Stephanie had trouble coordinating the movement of her lips, teeth and tongue to create speech sounds, making her speech very hard to understand. Developmentally she is about on the level of a four and a half year old. Stephanie is a very active child, and struggles with attending at home and school. Stephanie's family is also bi-lingual English/Spanish, and she speaks mostly in English with Spanish words interspersed. She attends special education classes at school, where she has been working on basic pre-literacy skills such as learning her letters and sounds.


Beginning the Speech Cue Program

Stephanie had been working on learning to read and learning to spell her name correctly for nearly two years at school, when she began using the speech cue program to further work towards these skills. Stephanie used speech cues in therapy to correct her speech sounds in different word positions. She especially found these to be helpful for placing ending sounds on words and learning initial blends. As she began using the program to improve beginning reading skills, we devoted time each week for the first few months to learning her name.


Preparing the Name Cards

To begin, I made special sets of cue cards for Stephanie that spelled out her name. Like many children's names, hers needed extra letters to be added to the cards so the name would be spelled correctly. To do this, you need to figure out which sounds represent those letters, and change the letters only for that sound. Say each sound in the child's name slowly and find the matching cue card, then determine what letters need to match that speech cue picture if they do need to be changed.


For Stephanie's name, I changed the /f/ card to a “ph” and the /ee/ card at the end of her name to the letters “ie”. Cut out the printed letters that you need and paste them on the cards. I then printed her name on a large index card (without the speech cue pictures) for each set, which you will also need to do for your child.


Presenting Stephanie's Name

Stephanie was very excited to receive several sets of cards which spelled out her name, along with her printed name on large index cards. One set stayed at home with her for practice with her family, and another two sets went to school for her to practice with teachers. I showed Stephanie her name spelled out on a large index card, and then showed her how we could figure out the spelling based on hand cues. We flipped the card over, so she could no longer see her written name.


Together Stephanie and I said her name slowly, making the hand cue for each sound. She looked at all the cards and found the right one based on the matching hand cue. She repeated or said each of the sounds and letters on the cards as we put them in the right order. Stephanie then copied the letters which spelled out her name. Finally, she flipped over her name card to check her work, and success! Showing Stephanie the hand cues for each sound allowed her to feel and hear that sound, and match it by herself. The next step was to work towards independent sequencing of the sounds in her name.


Working Towards Independence

Stephanie was excited to be spelling her name, and was motivated to practice and learn more with the speech cues. Once she was able to successfully match all the hand speech cue sounds with the cards, she needed to improve her sound awareness skills so she could sequence those sounds on her own. To work on this I incorporated some other activities that we used after we had spelled her name with the cards together. I would say one of the sounds that was in her name with the hand cue, and Stephanie would find the matching card.


We practiced this skill over time, until she could find the right card without me providing her the hand cue. We also played matching games, a sound bingo game with the letters in her name, and a “fix it” game, where she would have to tell me if I made the right sound or not to match with a certain letter or hand cue. Stephanie also practiced at home and school, where having her name printed on a large index card allowed her to practice and check her work independently.


Stephanie's Learning Mistakes Along the Way

Stephanie was often impulsive with her work and as an active child, was easily distracted and would lose her place in the middle of spelling her long name. The speech cue cards helped her to keep track of where she stopped and when she was finished, knowing that she had to use all of them.


The cards also helped Stephanie learn the order of letters for spelling her name. She commonly switched the last two letters in her name, writing “ei” at the end instead of “ie”. Seeing the speech cards with the letters in the right order as she copied them helped to further reinforce the correct spelling for her.


Stephanie also made mistakes with the vowels at first, the “e” sound (as in “pet”) is similar to the “ee” sound (as in “feet” but spelled with “ie” in her name), and as she was first learning she did not differentiate between the two. With the above sound awareness games and consistent sequencing practice, Stephanie did learn to both hear the differences and identify which letters were needed to spell each vowel sound. We also had to use these strategies to help improve her perception of the “uh” sound in the middle of her name (spelled with an “a”). Helping children learn vowel sounds often takes gentle and consistent practice, but stick with it and the time you spend will pay off for that child.


It's My Name!

Stephanie showed that she was able to learn to read, write and spell, despite her mental retardation and severe speech disorder. Using the speech cue cards she began reading three letter words and showed that she understood what they meant. After a few months of working with Stephanie on her name during her therapy sessions and at home and school, she was able to independently spell her name without looking at any cue cards. More importantly, Stephanie knew all the sounds in her name and could identify where those sounds were and what letters were needed to spell them. This knowledge goes far beyond memorization of how a name is spelled, and will further help her as she continues to develop beginning reading skills.





Dallas Reading and Language Services

Rachel Betzen MA, CCC/SLP


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(214) 274-7455


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