Making Minimal Pairs Therapy Fun: S-Blends

Making Minimal Pairs Fun

When your caseload consists of a lot of excitable 4 year old  boys who groan at the sight of minimal pair cards you don’t really have a lot of choices. Sure, you can persist and drill ‘pin-spin’ while you’re under the table (because ultimately, that’s where your kid will be) OR you can engage them with things they like to do… like playing games.

Now you might not have these exact games. You may have a variation or it might give you some more ideas with things that you do own. But the one thing that you have to do for this to be successful is to explain what you want them to say and why.  This is how we tap into their motivation!


Now I still DO use minimal pair cards, because the error word – the one that they are probably still saying – that is the one that I want to slide over the table to them when they reduce that ‘s’ blend. I want them to find that card boring so that they will be even more motivated to use that cluster.

Here’s an example of how to use these in play situations:

  • WORD LEVEL: ‘spin’
  • PHRASE LEVEL: ‘I want to spin’/’My spin’/’Your spin’/’Can I spin?’
  • SENTENCE LEVEL: ‘Can I please have a spin’/’It’s your turn to spin Rebecca’/’I hope I spin the legs’.

SP BLENDS: Target words ‘pin-spin’. This one should be easy as all you need are games that have a spinner so you can target the word ‘spin’. I always have a pin in my office, so this works well using a real object. If they reduce the cluster then I act all surprised ‘Pin! Why do you want that for? I thought you wanted to spin? I’m going spin though. Spin. Spin. Spin’…. and then I give them the pin and I’ll spin. Pretty quickly they learn that if they want to have fun and play, they have to say the word.

SL BLENDS: Target words ‘lice-slice’. This is great for hands-on play and super flexible. Most therapy rooms have play dough and so we might roll a long ‘snake’ and the child can slice it… which can get a ton of repetitions the longer you slice it! I regularly use wooden food that stick together so that you can slice it. Or, a personal favorite (especially for those older kids) is the free app called Fruit Ninja. You slice fruit with your finger and so I might build up a few repetitions and then play the game.

cluster reduction can be fun

SK BLENDS: Target words ‘can-scan’. Everyone has a little shopping kit in their therapy room, right? It’s like a staple for early intervention. Play shop and letting the child scan items if they say it correctly or (much more fun than giving them a can) OR use a phone/iPad to scan things like QR codes.

ST BLENDS: Target words ‘tick-stick’. Look for games with sticks (Kerplunk, magnets with sticks) or games where you can stick things in (lots of reinforcer games such as Pop up Pirate). I usually have either a picture of a tick or a plastic bug that I call a tick to give my kids if they make an error.

cluster reduction games for carryover

SW BLENDS: Target words ‘wing-swing’. The game Tumblin’ Monkeys or even Barrel of Monkeys is great for ‘swing’ practice. We might also practice physical activities swinging things such as hula hoop (swing the hoop around), ring toss (swing the ring with your arm). I personally love the physical side and getting up for my phono therapy and it really works for those wiggly kids!

IF YOU NEED some bright and bold minimal pair cards for ‘s’ cluster reduction then I have a set as part of my Teach Phonology: Cluster Reduction series.


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  • Hi Rebecca,

    You have great ideas! Just wanted to let you know that the font you have chosen for your website is very difficult to read because it is presenting VERY light. If I was publishing a website, I would want someone to tell me 🙂

    • Oh thanks for that! On my end it comes up dark, but it must be the theme my web designer chose. I’ll contact her and see what we can do.

  • Hi Rebecca do you have any good ideas for eliciting the /r/ sound? I have a child who replaces the /r/ with an /l/ sound in all words row = low , bread = blead and she is reluctant to produce an /r/ in isolation. do you have a good tricks for teaching the /r/ sound ?

    • I like to use facilitative sounds such as /kr/ and /gr/ blends. I don’t usually work in isolation for /r/.

  • Thanks Rebecca, your resources, website and ideas are so practical. Very keen to bring these tips into my therapy room. Thanks again!


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