Tips and Tricks for the /Z/ Sound


How to Teach the Z Sound

Today I am here to offer some tips and tricks for teaching fricative sound: /Z/.  This one is a LOT like the /S/ sound.  The main difference is turning on your voice.  There are different errors that kids make for the /Z/ sound.  One is called “stopping”, where they use a “stop” sound like /D/ instead of /Z/ (example “I see a debra!” instead of zebra).  Sometimes a child has a lisp: a frontal lisp is when the tongue comes out in the front of the teeth and a lateral lisp is when the air comes out the side.  You can work on the /Z/ sound with your child at home (and in therapy with a qualified speech provider).

There are several levels of teaching sounds: isolation (only the sound), at the word level (ex.”zebra”), in phrases (ex. “striped zebra”), sentences (“I see a striped zebra.”), and finally in conversation.  

This may take some time.  This is normal.  Try to be patient and don’t put too much pressure on your kiddo.  

Isolation Level

One of the fastest way to get that /Z/ sound is to use the “bumble bee sound” (buzzzzz).  I usually teach this by having a child make a big smile, making sure their teeth are together.  You can use a mirror (or your phone in photo mode) for practice.  I use verbal cues like “keep your teeth together” and make “skinny air” and turn on their voice. Some kids can do the /Z/ sound right away when you do this…some cannot. If they can’t quite do it yet, don’t worry.  Keep trying.  


Tips and tricks: 1) First… show them and tell them how to keep their teeth together.  You might model it yourself.  Using a mirror (or the picture mode on your phone) may help too.  Another trick is to put an object or picture of an object that starts with “Z” by your mouth while you model the sound.  This helps to draw attention to your mouth. 2) Next, they need to make “skinny air” come out of the front of their teeth.  They can hold their hand in front of their mouth and/or your mouth to feel the air. 3) Last, they need to turn on their voice to make /Z/ instead of /S/.  They can feel your throat or their throat to find that buzzing feeling.  Try to be as patient as possible and keep it fun..we don’t want our children to be stressed about the way they sound.  Just before the word level comes syllables.  This is where you add in a vowel.  Examples: zo, zee, za, zi, zu, iz, ez, uz

Word Level

Once we’ve got isolation and syllables down, we can move to practicing in words. Some kids do better starting at the beginning of the word, some do better with the middle or end of the word.  You can determine this by trying some words.  I often start with kids where they are successful (this may sound backwards…but saying sounds wrong can get frustrating, so kids are excited when they get them right).  In speech therapy, we call this “stimulability” (if a child is “stimulable” for a sound….they are saying it right! yay!).  

Beginning Words (initial position)

Initial Z: zip, zipper, zoo, Zack, zit, zillion, zone, zero, zebra, zigzag, zombie, Zeus, zodiac, zucchini, zookeeper, Z, zinnia, zinc, xylophone, zamboni

Middle Words (medial position)

Medial Z: dressed, zigzag, buzzer, fuzzy, wizard, dessert, noisy, magazine, Thursday, scissors, pizza, freezer, raisins, razor, closet, daisy, music, puzzle, museum, dozen, cozy

Ending Words (final position)

Final Z: buzz, potatoes, toes, nose, rose, peas, stars, freeze, hose, maze, keys, eyes, cheese, clothes, pigs, prize, bugs, noise, boys, girls

Once you figure out which of these positions is easiest, practice those words.  You can model the sounds for your child, emphasizing the parts with /Z/  in them…cheering for them if they get it right, but not scolding them if they get it wrong. 

Once your child has mastered the word level (consistently getting 15-20 words correct at least 75% of the time), you can try some phrases/sentences.  


I like to use this visual set to cue which part of the word we are targeting.  


Phrase/Sentence Level

We can sometimes use the same sentence to practice lots of words: 

Example: I see a _____. (zoo, rose, zucchuni, buzzer)

Or you can make up sentences for each word.  

Again, make your /Z/ sounds louder (we call this exaggerated modeling…Zip), encourage your child, but don’t scold.  Also, don’t do this practice all day every day….just a few minutes here and there is fine.  We don’t want kids to become sensitive about their speech. 

Conversation Level

This can be used from the start in modeling of your own /Z/ sounds in your conversation (for a few minutes here and there).  Once a child has consistently mastered sentences (75% or more correct), you can start providing gentle reminders in conversation.  “Don’t forget your /Z/ sound”, “oops, I think you meant “buzz”…right?”  Don’t stress your child out….but remind them gently (some of the time).  


One of the best ways to model the /Z/ sound is by reading stories.  You can read stories to your child that have a lot of /Z/ sounds in them and exaggerate that sound for them while you read.  Here are some examples of books that have /Z/ in them frequently.  If your child is old enough to read, you can practice with them reading too!

Kiki Looks for Zack by Elizabeth Hepler

Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! I’m off to the Moon! by Dan Yaccarino

Put me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire

The View at the Zoo by Kathleen Bostrom


Click on the image below to check out an Interactive Book for Articulation: Kiki Looks for Zack .


Free Articulation Printables are in the Freebie Library.  Join the Ausome Speech Club below to get the password. 

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    My name is Elizabeth Hepler and I’ve been a practicing Speech-Language Pathologist since 2005.  I am the mother of four great kids. Our household is neurodiverse: ADHD, Autism, Gifted, and more!

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