Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a blog post that originally appeared on Speech Room News.
Preschool and elementary students might have all expected speech sounds in their sound inventory, but still don’t speak clearly. For lack of a better description, they mumble. They demonstrate reduced intelligibility in conversational speech, a situation that might effect their success in the classroom. I worked with quite a few mumblers over the years and found success with the following approaches.
I usually start by recording the students participating in a casual conversation and show them what they sound like to others. Awareness of their reduced intelligibility is a big part of the issue. Grab your smart phone and let them listen to their speech.
Next, introduce and explain mumbling. I love this Flinstones example! Although a bit exaggerated, it gets students’ attention.
Up next—play the mumbling game! I play this video and ask students to try it. It’s a fun way to start listening to your own voice. I make sure to emphasize how mumbling occurs when speakers don’t open their mouths wide enough.
Next, I use animal comparisons to focus on students’ rate of speech. Start by talking about which animal moves the slowest versus the fastest. Pick a sentence to say, such as: “Once upon a time there were three bears who lived in a house in the woods.”
Ask students to say it as fast as they can as “cheetah” speech. It’s too fast. Now instruct them to say it as slowly as possible for “slug” speech. It’s too slow. Now they say it slowly, but evenly and clearly. It’s just right! That’s “turtle” speech. We always want to use turtle speech. If someone gives us a clue—confused facial expression, saying “huh” or moving closer—we need to change to turtle speech.
Help make your students aware if they start to mumble again by picking a nonverbal cue you can use without calling too much attention to them. You might cup your hand to your ear like you didn’t hear or tap your finger to your lips. This signal alerts them without interrupting and also reduces any embarrassment about being corrected in front of peers.
Jenna Rayburn, MA, CCC-SLP, works with elementary and preschool children in a school district near Columbus, Ohio. She also works in a private clinic. Rayburn blogs at SpeechRoomNews.com. SpeechRoomNews@gmail.com