How to Teach /k/

The /k/ sound can be a tricky one for some kids to learn because it’s hard to see what speakers are doing with their tongue at the back of the mouth. Plus, the phonological substitution pattern of fronting, where children make a /t/ sound instead of /k/, is pretty common in young children. So, what do you do when that error persists, or when other mistakes are made? Here are a few things to try.

If the child is fronting:Keep the front of the tongue down by opening the mouth wide or using a tongue depressor to hold down the tip of the tongue while the child opens their mouth and makes the /k/ sound.Tell them to lift the back of their tongue up to the roof of their mouth to make the sound, while keeping the front tip down by their lower teeth.

Shape the /k/ sound from a cough.Have the child do a few pretend “coughs” and see if they can make the /k/ sound “in the same place” as the cough.

Occasionally, there are errors on /k/ production where the sound is made too far back, either with the base of the tongue against the back wall of the throat as a pharyngeal stop, or even farther back, such as a glottal stop, where the vocal folds are forcefully brought together. In these situations, the above methods can actually make the error worse, so different methods are typically helpful.

If the child is backing:

Use high front vowels as a facilitating context to help them keep the placement forward.For example, words like “key” and “kite” encourage more anterior tongue placement, while target like “coo” and “cook” are likely to be more challenging.

Some children also get confused between /t/ and /k/ productions, and can benefit from working on minimal pairs activities, where the task contrasts words that differ only by whether they have a /t/ or /k/. For example, pairs of words such as “tea” and “key” highlight the important meaning that the distinction between the two sounds brings with it. Having children work on these contrasts can help to achieve that “aha” moment which lets them understand why they’re working on these sounds in speech therapy!

Looking for free /k/ flashcards? Head over to our free downloads resource page!