Core Words: The Best Way to Practice Speech Sounds

The Core Words approach is the most powerful way I have found for parents to work on speech sounds at home. Practice becomes meaningful and change starts to happen.  Because you are working on carryover from the very start your child learns how to make the sounds correctly in their everyday speech.

The basic idea is to pick a short list of functional meaningful words for your child to practice every day.

Start by picking a sound you want to work on. Your child needs to be able to make the sound at least in broken words without too much difficulty. An example of a broken word for the F sound would be “F…an” or “Cal…f”. It is important that your child is able to get the sound “right” either by himself when focused or with a bit of help. If he isn’t able to make the sound yet you need to work on establishing the sound first.

Start with one sound. If needed you can add more but I wouldn’t work on more than 3 at one time.

If you are working on individual sounds pick 2 words that have the targeted sound at the start, 2 in the middle and 2 at the ends of the word. Watch out for the sounds in the middle of words – these can be much harder. You may need to wait to work on these. If sounds in the middle are too hard just leave them out for now.

If you are working on groups of sounds such as “Noisy Sounds”, “S Clusters” or “Sounds at the Starts” pick 4 to 6 words that have these types of sounds in them.

Choose words that would be important or meaningful for your child, ones that would come up often during the day. It is even better if your child can help choose the words.

Find a picture to go with each word – photograph, something off the internet, etc. Remember that he needs to be able to say the sounds right in the words. It doesn’t matter if he needs help, breaking the word apart, you saying it first, watching in a mirror etc., as long as he can get it right most of the time. If frustration is a factor make sure to choose words that are as easy as possible.

Put the pictures on on a piece of paper or in a scrap book. If you are using a book arrange the pictures so that each page is for a different sound. If appropriate use different pages for the sounds at the start of the words, for those in the middles and for those at the ends of words. Write the word under each picture.

Practice these words at least once a day. Say the words over and over again. Five times each is a good start. If you are using pages put the page someplace where everyone will see it – on the fridge is a great place. Try to set up routine times that you practice the words. Before a meal, first thing in the morning, before a bed time book, etc.

Watch for these words as they come up in everyday speech. When you hear them help your child to go back and “fix” them as much as possible.

Once you start to hear the target sound right in one of the practice words almost all of the time in every day talking, then put a check by that word and add another word to the list. Occasionally review the words that have checks by them to make sure they are still doing well but don’t “practice” them. Focus on the other words.

If you are working on more than one sound practice one for a few days up to a week and then switch and work on the next sound. It is best to be focused only on one sound for those few days. You can’t work on everything at once

I hope this helps.  Let me know if you have any questions. You can reach me at

Madison Garvi