Choose Your Highlighter

Acoustic highlighting is a key strategy in Auditory Verbal Therapy.  By changing the way that we present verbal information (for example, adding emphasis, repetition, or intonation), we can help children tune in to specific aspects of the signal, such as a new word or missed speech sound.  There are many different ways to acoustically highlight, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking they’re all equally good in every situation.  Just as you carefully choose colors to fill in a coloring page, be careful to choose the right highlighter for the job.   Learning that acoustic highlighting exists is just step one.  Here are some thoughts on how to take your highlighting skills to the next level!


Whisper to devoice noisy vowels that get in the way of hearing voiceless consonants.  If a child is missing the final /t/ in “but,” repeating the word with increased volume and emphasis will just “amplify” the /b^/ part of the word, making the /t/ even harder to hear. In this case, the wrong highlighter gets you farther away from your goal, causing both you and the child lots of frustration.


Pause before a missed word to draw attention that something is there.  We adults speak way, way too fast (I am certainly guilty!).  Small children who are curious about exploring the world sometimes seem like they never sit still.  Combine the two, and you have the perfect recipe for missing words.  Take a breath, add a pause — you’ll catch their attention and help the child pick up on a new word in a way that another acoustic highlighting technique may not.


Emphasize a vocabulary word at the end of a sentence.  Put the key word at the end of a known phrase (e.g. if you are working on food vocabulary, have a restaurant where each person can use the carrier phrase “I’d like a…” and then fill in the blank with the new word).


Repeat a new phrase to make it stick.  “That gingerbread man is boasting!  Can you believe it?  He is boasting!  He boasted about being faster than the baker.  He boasted about being faster than the woman.  He even boasted about being faster than the dog!”


Sing to capture the child’s attention.  Singing, or even just adding a tiny bit of intonation and melody to your voice (naturally!  don’t fall into the dreaded “Teacher Voice,” an inappropriate sing-song-y pattern).  If we’re working on asking questions with “where + NOUN?” I might sing, “Oh no!  Where’s Mommy?”


There are no hard-and-fast rules for “In X situation, use this type of acoustic highlighting.”  Instead, it’s a process of thinking deeply about why these strategies work and what exactly they do to the acoustic and linguistic properties of the speech they’re highlighting.  You have a pack full of brand new beautiful highlighters, choose wisely!

10 thoughts on “Choose Your Highlighter

  1. Excellent as usual!! Thanks Eliz for being so clear and refreshing topics. Juliana

  2. I love this message! Reminds those new to using highlighting that it is not one type fits all situations or listener. Thanks Elizabeth. I appreciate your posts and your delightful writing style.

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