Principles of Motor Learning

For Speech Therapy

I have always been fascinated by psychology, anatomy, and motor learning. So, it is natural that I gravitate towards the principles of motor learning for speech therapy.  

For me, articulation therapy is just like a puzzle and I LOVE A GOOD PUZZLE!

  • First, I have to figure out the problem (evaluate & diagnose).
  • Then, I  have to create a treatment plan that works best for the child (considering the evaluation results, learning styles, comorbidities, family dynamics, etc…another puzzle)!
  • As the child progresses, I adjust my teaching techniques, feedback, and goals to move this new motor pattern to procedural/automatic memory.

It’s fascinating, right?!  Keep reading to learn how to apply motor learning to articulation therapy. 

Principles of Motor Learning For Speech Therapy

For all articulation therapy, I consider and apply the principles of motor learning. These include:

  • What targets do we use (simple or complex)? This will vary depending on the child!
  • How much do we practice (a lot or a little)? I’m going to jump in and say we need A LOT during the initial learning phase. Edeal & Gildersleeve-Neumann, 2011 agree with me!
  • How often should we practice? Lots of practice in a short amount of time (mass practice) or practice spread out over time (distributed). What you choose will depend on the child and their needs. Usually, mass practice is needed to initially learn a new motor skill though.
  • How do we practice, blocked vs random? Block practice is all about repetitive drills for the same stimuli or sound. In random practice, you mix things up! You might practice a series of different words or sounds in a random order.
  • How do we give feedback? This is crucial. Do you comment with right or wrong (knowledge of results) or do you give detailed feedback (knowledge of performance, i.e, "great job not rounding your lips"). I always prefer knowledge of performance.
  • How often do we give feedback? Do you offer it right away, with a delay, on every production, and/or after variable productions? What you do will depend on the child and where they are in their learning. More on this later. 

How Much Do We Need To Practice? A LOT!

Today, I wanted to discuss my tips on practice amount (the second principle). Edeal & Gildersleeve-Neumann, 2011 and I both think we need A LOT of practice.

Based on the principles of motor learning for speech therapy, these are my best drill ideas to get a lot of practice easily!

Earn pieces to a game

Have the child say a sound, syllable, and/or word before earning a piece to a larger game. This is very motivating since the child knows that after the work is done, they get to play the game. Also, they can visually see how much more practice they need until the drill is over. 

Some ideas include earning:

  • Magna tiles
  • Lego pieces
  • Kerplunk, Yeti My Spaghetti, Don’t Break The Ice, or other games that have a lot of pieces needed for set up. 
  • Puzzle pieces

I show the child a no-print flashcard. They practice and earn a piece to the game. Easy!

Drill Counters for 50-100 trials

These are visually motivating since a child can see how many more trials they need before finishing the task. This is a VERY quick way to get a lot of practice. At Speech Therapy Talk Membership, I have a few options.

Dot Marker Sheets/Smashmats

These worksheets can be blank or have words/pictures within each circle. After saying a syllable/sound/word, the child can cover the circle by either: 

  • Smashing playdough
  • Filling them with a magnetic token
  • Coloring or dot marker stamping
  • Filling them with foam pieces or small toys

Hidden Pictures

This is a quick one that works for teletherapy as well.

After a child names a picture, you click on it and it disappear to reveal a larger silly or seasonal picture. At Speech Therapy Talk Membership, I have 6 slides with 15 pictures each for every sound for all seasons! You can get a LOT of quick drill practice.

Google Drive Drill Games

These games are visually motivating for students who need a bit of an extra push. After a child says a word, you click the screen and something happens such as collecting flowers, building a snowman, filling a candy jar, or watching a frog jump. 

Active Games 

Many kids need an active game to get through drill. After saying a sound/syllable/word, they may:

  • Throw a dart at a dart board
  • Pop a popper ball
  • Play catch
  • Blow up a balloon with a pump and then release it to watch it fly around the room (after saying 10 words). This one is my favorite!

Speech Therapy Materials

I hope you enjoyed a review on principles of motor learning for speech therapy and drill therapy tips! If you want to access the materials referenced here, I got you covered.

  • For Speech Therapy Talk Members, please click on the links to check them out. Don't forget to check out the new 100 Spring trial worksheets.
  • For those who are interested in joining the membership, please click this link to learn more. After joining, you will have instant access to all 3,500+ materials!
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