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Written by Rachel Betzen   

How to Use Speech Cue Cards for Reading Remediation

For children that use the speech cue system to build sound/letter awareness as literacy skills or to learn specific sounds in speech therapy, they naturally adapt to using the hand cues and cards as part of a reading program. I have successfully used speech cue cards to teach reading to children that have speech and language delays/disorders, and mental retardation.



I believe that using speech cue cards as part of a reading program is typically best suited for younger children, but experiment with your own child to see what works best. There are many good multi-sensory reading programs for children with dyslexia that are effective, however they are often too abstract and difficult to adapt for younger children or children that have mental retardation. Using speech cue cards to teach beginning reading is a good way to fill in this gap for beginners who have shown difficulty learning to read.


As you work with the child adapt as necessary, she may need to spend more time working in one area, or may get stuck with a particular concept. That is okay; part of the challenge of teaching young children is in adapting to their specific learning needs. Let the child play with the sounds and have some fun with the hand signs and overall program as well. Create games with the cards: matching games, identification games, or guessing games. Act out the stories you read and add speech hand cues to the script. Learning should also be fun!


In each case it is imperative to find the threshold where the child is performing at and use the cards as a tool to help build the foundational steps to reading. This process will look a little different with each child. You will want to know the answers to questions such as, “Does the child know all the letters of the alphabet and their sounds”? “Can he identify sounds in words”? “Can the child blend sounds together in words”? “Does he recognize any words, especially his name”? “Can he recognize the number of syllables in words”?


To illustrate the teaching process I have included an example of how I used the speech cue program to directly remediate reading difficulties in a young child. Use this example as a guide, and let the child set the pace as you learn together. If you as a teacher are open to learning from that child, you will be able to better estimate where his learning threshold is and adapt to that level. You will also improve your skills as a teacher, through developing an understanding of how to adapt to a child's learning needs as they change over time.

(The client's name below has been changed to protect his confidentiality).


How Ben Learned to Read

Ben's History

Ben is a Kindergartener who has a history of a speech and language delay, and who showed a type of speech problem called a phonological disorder. This means that the rules he was using for putting together speech sounds to make words were different from the rules of our language, which resulted in his speech being very difficult to understand.


Ben's Problem

In January of the school year, Ben's teacher and his mother were concerned that he was not making sufficient progress with reading skills. While Ben could “read” a few familiar memorized words such as his name, he was not able to identify separate sounds in words or blend sounds in words. While Ben knew all the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they made, he could not put these together to begin reading, as most of his Kindergarten peers were now starting to do.


Starting the Speech Cue Program

Ben had the advantage of using the speech cue system in therapy, and made very good progress with improving his speech skills using this and other therapy techniques. Starting from here, I dedicated about thirty minutes each week to reading remediation with Ben, and provided a set of cards and instructions for home use.


We began by laying out an array of speech cue cards, and identifying both the hand cue and correct sound. He easily learned to match each sound or each hand cue to the correct card. Once Ben could do this, we worked on him finding the beginning sounds in words. He matched these initial sounds on the cards to pictures that began with that sound, and then copied the short words. Sometimes Ben did this as a separate activity or game, and sometimes he worked at this level as we made themed booklets with pictures and speech cues that spelled out the word labels.


Where does the word End?

The next step was to identify ending sounds in words, which feels like a major leap for many children. This is where the multi-sensory component was particularly helpful, as the hand cues reinforced what he was doing and feeling in his mouth in order to produce final sounds. Again, Ben enjoyed identifying and filling in the final sound of a word to complete a booklet page or separate project. He really liked making simple speech cue word labels to place around the therapy room and his own home. We made all sorts of crafts such as a kite, bird feeder, and flag with speech cue words on them and Ben's own writing where he copied those words.


Vowels As Stumbling Blocks for Ben

Ben then was able to begin working with and identifying the vowels. Vowels are very confusing for young children, the concept is much more abstract than consonants, as vowels have different sounds in different word contexts. Also, there are some vowel sounds that will feel the same when they are made in the mouth because the differences between mouth shape and tongue height for many vowels are subtle. You will notice that there is the same hand cue for many vowels, such as “ee”, “i” and “e”. Do not worry about this, if needed you may show the child that the hand cue is the same because our mouth is doing close to the same thing for all those sounds.


Ben just had to learn that the “ee” and “i” sounds are different and spelled with different letters, and this part takes gentle and consistent practice. To help him with this task, we also played vowel games where I said a word and Ben had to identify which vowel was in that word, either with hand cues, speech cards only, or eventually without the use of any cues.


Putting It All Together

After Ben was able to identify sounds in the beginning, middle, and final positions of short words, he was ready to start working on sequencing sounds. This is where he was having the most trouble in school, and was his major roadblock for beginning reading. Ben chose a picture to label, whether in a booklet page or as a separate project. He would say the word, identify the hand speech cue and check how his mouth felt for each sound, and find the matching cue card. We would work through each sound of the word in this way until completion, and then Ben copied the word.


It is important to have the child copy each word they spell if possible. Not only will this reinforce the sound to letter matches they are learning, but also makes the process more dynamic and will help the child better remember what he has learned. Copying words also allows the child time to practice fine motor skills and learn strokes needed to form different letters.


Still Tripping over the Vowels

At first Ben omitted the vowel sounds during the sequencing exercise, finding only the beginning and ending sounds in words. This is a common mistake that children make in this stage of practice. Vowels are not as easily recognized, and feeling, listening to, and identifying different vowel sounds will come in time with repetition. Ben was encouraged to say the word very slowly, making a hand cue for each sound.


If your child is having trouble in this area, say the word with him and lengthen the vowel sound, making it easier for the child to perceive and discover that sound and matching letter. At first, you may need to show him the vowel hand cues as you say the word and have him find the matching card from just two different choices. As Ben practiced and improved, he was able to independently make the hand cues for vowels in words, and name the matching letter on his own.


Climbing to the Top: Reading Success!

Ben started the Speech Cue program for reading remediation in January, and before the end of May he had made significant progress. Ben was truly reading, able to independently blend sounds into novel words and show an understanding of what those words meant. He was able to read short sentences in books, and re-tell the story or answer basic questions about it.


His mother was very proud of his accomplishments, and his teacher was ecstatic to report that Ben was now reading on grade level. With a lot of work in that thirty minutes per week and home support, Ben had caught up to his peers in just five months, and was ready to move on to First Grade with strong beginning reading skills on which to build his further learning.


Every Child Has Great Potential

Ben is not the only child who has learned to read using speech cues, and there are many children like him. In my private practice I have worked with beginning readers using speech cue cards, and used other programs with many older children who have greatly struggled with reading, some as old as twelve or thirteen.


If your child is struggling as a reader, please get outside help or make the needed changes to his reading instruction that will allow him to experience success. Every child deserves a chance to learn, and learning to read is an essential skill for moving ahead in school, work, and everyday life.


For teachers looking to make their classroom "literacy rich", visit our Questions to Ask when developing a Pre-literacy Curriculum page





Dallas Reading and Language Services

Rachel Betzen MA, CCC/SLP


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(214) 274-7455


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