Preschool and Elementary students often have all the expected speech sounds in their sound inventory but still can’t be understood. For lack of a better description they are just mumbling! They have reduced intelligibility in conversational speech and that can have a big impact on their success in the classroom. I’ve worked with quite a few mumblers over the years and thought I’d put all the strategies I use in one place.
I usually start by recording the student chatting in conversation and show them what they sound like to others. Awareness of their reduced intelligibility is a big part of the issue. Grab your iPhone and let them listen to his/her speech.
Next, introduce and explaining mumbling. I love this Flinstones example!
Although a bit exaggerated it will get his/her attention.
Up next play the Mumbling Game!
I like to play this YouTube and then play then try it! It’s a fun way to start listening to your own voice. Emphasize that you are mumbling because you don’t open your mouths.
Play this video and talk about how the mumbling is different! Did you notice that she had her mouth open? What was the problem? I think she was talking too fast and her words were running together.
Perspective Taking: Go back and watch the mumbling reporter video again. What do you notice about the way the people being interviewed feel? How can you tell they are uncomfortable? How does it feel if you can’t understand someone talking to you? If you’re talking and someone doesn’t understand you how will you know? Talk about eye contact, facial expressions, and verbal indicators.
Turtle Speech: I use an animal example to bring attention to rate of speech in my students. Print out the animal chart. Start by talking about which animal is the slowest and which is the fastest. Pick a sentence to say as fast as you can. “Once upon a time there were three bears that lived in a house in the woods.” That’s cheetah speech. It’s too fast. Now say it as slow as you possibly can. That’s slug speech. It’s too slow. Now say is slowly and clearly. That’s just right! That’s turtle speech. We want our speech to be turtle speech. If someone gives us a clue (facial expression, saying “huh”, or moving closer) we need to change to turtle speech. These sentence strips are available to download in this packet.
Pacing Board: Print out the pacing board included. Tap each turtle as you say a word. Highlight for your student that you are pausing a short bit between each word.
Now that you’ve broken it down and identified the difference between clear and mumbled speech, talk about how you will use this in the course of a regular day. Highlight times it is important to speak very clearly. Those might include: when on the phone, when speaking with adults, when talking in front of a class.
Lastly, pick a nonverbal cue that you’ll use to help your student in the future. You might cup your hand to your ear like you didn’t hear him/her or lap your finger to your lips. Now when you want to remind your student that he/she is mumbling, you can use the nonverbal cue. This will keep them alert without interrupting the message and also reduce any embarrassment they might have about being corrected in front of peers.
You can download the free pacing boards and turtle speech charts in my TpT shop. I hope they help improve your mumblers! Leave me a comment below and let me know if you’ve had success with similar ideas.