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Get to Know Your Speech Sounds: /s/
How is the Sound Produced?
  • /s/ is typically made with the tongue tip touching the alveolar ridge (the bony ridge behind the teeth). You can also touch the tongue tip to the lower front teeth.
  • Teeth are together.
  • Lips are apart with the corners pulled back, almost like a smile.
  • Air is flowing over the tongue through the front of the mouth. /s/ is a fricative, so the air flows for a longer time.
  • The voice is off; the vocal cords are not vibrating.
When Does the Sound Develop?
  • 50% of children produce the /s/ sound by age 3. This is when the sound is emerging.
  • 90% of children produce the /s/ sound by age 8. This is when the sound should be acquired. If the child is not producing the sound by this point, speak with a speech-language pathologist.
Common Errors*
  • The /s/ sound is one of the most commonly used consonant sounds in English; this makes someone’s speech tricky to understand if /s/ is misarticulated.
  • The /s/ sound can be misarticulated with a frontal lisp. This is when the tongue comes out in front of the teeth when it should stay behind, making a “th” sound.
  • /s/ has a “slushy” sound quality when someone has a lateral lisp. Air escapes through the sides of the tongue rather than being directed through the front of the mouth.
/s/ is impacted by some phonological processes:
  • Stopping — Fricative sounds that should be made for a long time are substituted for a shorter sound (e.g., “see” becomes “tee”). This process should be gone by age 3.
  • Cluster Reduction — /s/ is often in consonant clusters, which is when two or more consonants are put together. The /s/ sound is taken away in the cluster during cluster reduction (e.g., “stop” becomes “top”). When the cluster contains the /s/ sound, this process should be gone by age 5.
Tips for Cueing**
  1. Verbal
    • “Teeth together!”
    • “Tongue behind your teeth!”
    • “Big smile!”
    • “Make the snake sound. Sssssssss!”
  2. Visual
    • Model how the sound “looks”. Keep your teeth together, tongue behind your teeth. Or, show the student the picture above.
    • Have the child make the /s/ sound in the mirror. Ask the child if they saw their tongue. Were their teeth closed?
    • Close the hand before a word with an /s/ sound to remind the child to keep their teeth together.
    • If a child is making the /s/ short (stopping), bring your fingers together then pull them apart to remind the child to stretch out the sound.
  3. Tactile
    • Use a lollipop, toothbrush, or clean tongue depressor to tap the bony ridge behind the teeth to show the child where to put their tongue.
  • Spelling can be confusing! Many letters can represent one sound; /s/ can be made with the letter(s) “s”, “c”, and “ss”. The letter “x” is actually a /ks/ cluster. Many words have the letter “s”, but the word is pronounced with the /z/ sound (voice on), as in “dogs”, “was”, and “closet”. “Sh” contains the letter “s” but does not make the /s/ sound. Even though a word may end with another letter, if /s/ sound is pronounced last, it is considered an /s/ final word (e.g., case). The /s/ sound is underlined in these practice targets.
Phonemic Awareness
  • Name each picture. Point to the pictures with the /s/ sound.†
  • s-s-s
  • ssssssss
  • s-s-ssssss
  • see-see-see-see-see
  • ice-ice-ice-ice-ice
  • isa-isa-isa-isa-isa
  • see-sa-see-sa-see-sa
  • see-sa-say-so-see-sa-say-so
Initial Final Medial Recurring Blend
Seal Bus Fussy sass skip
soap across baseball saucer crispy
sandwich furious eraser Mississippi pest
  • on the ceiling
  • chase the cat
  • cherry blossom
  • toss the baseball
  • assemble the see-saw
  • the slow snail
  • She drove a silver car.
  • The teacher arrived to class late.
  • My dog is a messy eater.
  • Yes, the dinosaur was silly.
  • We had recess at sunset.
  • Slone can spin the basketball.
Structured Language
  • Tell a story about a super loud, silly sound with your best /s/.
  • Draw a picture of a castle. Explain your picture using the words “castle”, “sign”, and “princess” with your best /s/ sound.
  • Pick out a page in a book and mark the words with the /s/ sound with sticky notes. Read the page with your best /s/ sound.
Unstructured Language
  • Talk about a vacation using your best /s/ sound.
  • Explain how to play your favorite game using your best /s/ sound.
  • Read a page of a book with your best /s/ sound (unmarked).
*These milestones are based on monolingual, native English speakers. If a child speaks more than one language, acquisition of English sounds can be influenced by the other language(s). These differences do not necessarily indicate a speech sound disorder. Please consult with a speech-language pathologist.

**Not all cues are appropriate in all cases. Please consult with a speech-language pathologist before cueing.

***Ask your child’s speech-language pathologist which targets are appropriate to practice.

† “Mouse”, “sail”, and “lasso” contain the /s/ sound.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.) Age of Customary Consonant Production. (Practice Portal). Retrieved August, 16, 2022, from
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.) Selected Phonological Processes. (Practice Portal). Retrieved August, 16, 2022, from

*Handy Handouts® are for classroom and personal use only.
Any commercial use is strictly prohibited.

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