Get the Most out of your Speech Therapy Sessions

My next Thursday morning session with a first grader will be our last.  She has mastered her r-sound.  Here’s the crazy part.  We have only had three speech therapy sessions.  To be honest, I am shocked.  Typically, it takes a few months to see such progress.  I will say that, after a decade and a half of practice, I have expedited the process by doing a few key things.   First, let me say that the 6-year-old came into the assessment not stimulable for pre-vocalic and vocalic r-sounds.   Based on the assessment, the examiner recommended two, 45-minute sessions weekly.  Due to scheduling, we were only able to provide a session per week.  As I was speaking to the child’s mother last week, I got to thinking about what made this happen.  And, here are the 5 steps for dismissing a child sooner rather than later:

1. What does she like?

Before all of my first speech therapy sessions, I find out what’s important to the child.  I call the parents, introduce myself, ask about the caretaker’s biggest concerns and then say, “So, tell me, what does Gabriel like?”  Remember, treating the whole child goes a long way.  Our children and clients are not just their disorder.  Honor what’s important to her, and she will work, work, work.

2. Let me tell you why you’re here.

The second I pick up a child for his first session, I say, “So, why do you think you’re coming with me?”  Since I often go into schools to support SLPs for short periods of time,  I am continually shocked at how often a child cannot tell me why he comes to speech.  It’s hard to make progress when one is unsure of the task at hand.  So, before doing speech and language tasks, SLPs, start with teaching the child his goal.  Check out our Goals Rap.  It works and it’s fun.

3. It’s all about muscle memory.

Once the child knows that his speech therapy sessions will be spent working on R/S/TH/L sound, then it’s time to give a brief Anatomy 101 lesson.  I talk about muscle memory and how it exists in the tongue.  Now, I know what you’re thinking…are kids really going to get this?  The answer is yes, yes, yes.   I start by bringing up an example that the child understands.  “So, what happened the first time you rode your bike? (Let child answer) Yes, you fell off.  It’s because your arm, leg and core muscles were learning how to ride a bike for the first time.”  Then, I say, “What if I were to take your bike a way for a whole month?  Do you think your body would remember how to ride?  It would!  Your muscles remember, and that’s exactly what we need to do with your tongue.”  And, each time the child says the sound, we drill, drill, drill to build muscle memory.   Speech Therapy Sessions

4. Here’s your homework.

So, let’s talk numbers.  As an SLP, we typically spend 30 hours with a child during the course of a year.  There are 8,730 hours left in the year when you cannot be with your client.  And, the research says that 5-7 minutes of daily articulation therapy is best.  So, what do we do?  Give homework.  Better yet, send a video of a strategy to the parents so they know exactly what to do.

5. I like spending time with you.

Last, it’s important to like your student.  When you find ways to like someone, you start building trust and rapport.  All of this goes a long way.  Our children know when they are valued.  So, take the time to build this relationship.  When there’s a solid partnership, the speech therapy happens more easily and with great success.

So, there you have it.  A few strategies that get the most out of your SLP-time during speech therapy sessions.  Also, check out this online learning module for therapy planning.  These training modules, initially geared for SLP-Assistants, provide the most comprehensive (and free!) information for all SLPs (e.g., Clinical Considerations, Therapy Planning, Treatment for Speech Sound Disorders & Language Intervention)

Written by: phuonglienpalafox

18 Comments on “Get the Most out of your Speech Therapy Sessions”

  1. March 31, 2016 at 6:18 pm #

    Great post!

    • March 31, 2016 at 9:51 pm #

      Thanks, Ruth. We’re glad it was useful for you.

  2. Kristin Immicke March 31, 2016 at 9:22 pm #

    Great tips! My struggle is actually getting parents/students to do the 5 min of speech homework. Most do not. Great post!

    • March 31, 2016 at 10:04 pm #

      Kristin, thanks for your feedback. Homework can make a difference in progress; however, I understand that it may not always happen. This is when I send short videos of my students working on their strategy. Parents love watching videos of their children, and they get to “see and hear” what to do. I do not do this for every session, and, to me, parents are responsive. Of course, sometimes, homework does not get completed. And, in those moments, I honor that the lack of intent is not purposeful, and I find ways for the client or student to generalize their sounds outside of the speech room (e.g., talking to the teacher, setting up systems for child to track his own speech progress). Good luck, Kristin. Here’s to more awesome speech-language therapy!

  3. April 1, 2016 at 6:48 am #

    This is a great post. I have heard of an slp encouraging the child’s teacher to choose a partner for them and a time for them to practice the sound in class for 5 minutes also, I thought thus was a great idea for additional pratice, esp. for those kids who struggle completing homework. Thanks again, keep the great info coming!

    • April 1, 2016 at 7:11 am #

      Lindsay! Thanks so much for the feedback and tip. Time working on the sound outside of the speech room is important and beneficial. In the past, I have coordinated “speech buddies” for my students on days when he/she does not attend speech. So, during a time when direct teach is not happening in class, my speech student and a (very) supportive peer will work on his sounds. Of course, I only did this when the student was able to 1) produce the sound on his own but may not yet generalize it and 2) self-monitor his own progress. This also works for students who are very self-driven. I collaborate with the teacher to find a time to set aside for the student to work on his sounds during the school day. Here’s to more successful speech therapy. Thanks, Lindsay.

  4. April 6, 2016 at 8:33 am #

    I love these ideas, Phuong! Especially sending videos to parents.My issue is that I work at schools with a very transient, low SES population. I have found it incredibly difficult to get in contact with parents. Often their phones are disconnected and any kind of paperwork is difficult to get returned. I have always assumed that they didn’t have much access to email, but maybe I’m wrong. What have been your some successful strategies you’ve used to connect with parents in this type of setting?

    • April 8, 2016 at 8:49 am #


      Thank you for your feedback. You ask a really good and important question. I have been in your shoes, and I always say that we do the best we can to reach parents. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to not have consistent access to commuication outlets such as telephones and internet access. I will say that, in this case, I try my best to find ways to build rapport with my parents. Maybe it’s having a short and positive conversation when parents pick up the child from school? I was also at a campus that did a welcome walk at the beginning of the school year. We walked to every student’s home. The meeting was brief; however, it made us more accessible to families. I also like to collaborate with my campus parent liason–she usually is my gateway to my parents. Last, know that the work you do, makes a difference. Parents all play a role in differentiated capacities, and, as service providers, we can still do a great job with the continuum of participation levels. Thanks, Amanda.


  5. Luke Smith February 27, 2017 at 7:59 pm #

    Thanks for the tip about talking about anatomy and how the muscles of the mouth work instead of just telling children what sounds to practice. I can see how they may be interested in this, and it could also give them important context to help them make the sounds. Anything that can keep a child interested in the exercise they are doing would probably help the session be more effective in the long run.

    • March 1, 2017 at 2:25 pm #


      Thanks for your feedback. In my experience, children love knowing about how their bodies work. It also makes speech therapy transparent. The best part is when they start talking about “muscle memory” when they begin to generalize their sounds. This helps out so much with personal accountability. Again, thanks!


  6. Alexandria Martinez August 22, 2017 at 8:23 pm #

    My brother’s son struggles with speech and they are thinking of finding a language development service for him. I like that you talked about the importance of muscle memory and practice. That seems like an important part of the whole process.

  7. Sariah October 12, 2017 at 1:38 pm #

    I’m planning to enroll my kid in speech therapy sessions to help her with articulation. The article gives an insightful tip to find out what’s important to my kid first before treating her. Thanks so much!

    • October 13, 2017 at 9:45 am #

      Sariah, I am glad the post was useful to you. Take care, Phuong.

  8. Kyle Wayne December 6, 2017 at 4:44 pm #

    Teaching a child their goal is such a great tip! My niece is struggling with learning to speak so her mom is looking to get her into speech pathology. I think I’ll talk to her about making sure the professional helps her understand the goal.

  9. Kyle Wayne February 15, 2018 at 2:47 pm #

    I love that you talked about how important it is to like and enjoy spending time with your student. My sister is looking to find a speech-language therapist job but is looking for tips on how to improve. I’ll be sure to talk to her about working with a professional in order to improve and find a job but to also sincerely like her future students.

    • February 15, 2018 at 3:20 pm #

      That’s great. We also have a new program starting soon called SLP Impact. It is a monthly subscription with professional development opportunities each month as well as Q & A calls, materials, and resources. Keep an eye out for it in our blog.

  10. Eli Richardson December 28, 2021 at 5:00 pm #

    I’m glad you talked about speech therapy sessions and how to identify a quality one! Recently, my sister said she’s thinking about finding a speech therapist for her son’s needs. My sister wants to help her kid with his communication skills, so I’ll be sure to share your tips with her! Thanks for the advice on how a qualified speech therapy must care about your child’s progress and learning skills.

    • December 29, 2021 at 2:24 pm #

      Yes, most people who go to a speech therapy session have never seen one before so they have nothing to compare to. Thank you for sharing the information with her.

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