Monday, February 7, 2022


The teaching world is abuzz with sound walls at the moment and for good reason too! Sound walls are heavily aligned with the Science of Reading and are one of the most useful displays that you can have in your classroom. I’m excited to share the NEW Sound Wall that I have just created as well as more details about how sound walls work, plus reasons why all early elementary grades absolutely need them.



What is a sound wall? 

Let’s first dive into what exactly a sound wall is. The current norm is to display alphabet posters that have a total of 26 sounds, however in contrast, a sound wall organizes and displays the different sounds or phonemes that we hear in speech. For example, the phoneme ‘r’ can be represented by the graphemes r, wr, rr and rh. When sounds are organized this way, it becomes much easier for students to utilize this knowledge when reading and spelling words.


Sound walls are displayed in two sections; a vowel section and a consonants section. The sections are commonly displayed side by side.

The vowel section, known as a vowel valley due to its shape, is displayed in a particular order to demonstrate the gradual change in mouth shape as you read through the phonemes.


The consonants section is organized a little differently; the phonemes are organized by the manner of articulation which relates to how sounds are made using the mouth. For example, p, b, t, d, k and g are known as ‘STOPS’ because when each of these phonemes are said aloud, the vocal tract shuts, the air pressure builds up and is then released in a short burst.



Why are teachers using sound walls?


Are you wondering why teachers are opting for sound walls rather than word walls? Well, I have been diving into the Science of Reading and learning how our brains truly learn to read. Word walls are incomprehensive in the sense that they are organized alphabetically and provide limited examples of the ways that sounds can be represented. For example, the sound ‘n’ can be represented by the graphemes n, nn, gn and kn which a word wall fails to acknowledge. Instead, a word wall will have the word 'knot' under the letter 'k' although it makes a 'n' sound. This can be phonetically confusing for students. A word wall also generally relies on memorization of single sight words whereas a sound wall helps students develop a completer understanding of phonology which goes beyond memory recall and helps them read and spell unfamiliar words too. There are numerous other benefits of sound walls; they allow teachers to consistently review sounds, they provide a visual reference for students, they can be used independently, and they improve both reading and spelling.


Furthermore, one of the greatest components of sound walls are the mouth articulation images that accompany each phoneme. These images provide prompts for students in regards to how to position their lips, teeth and tongue when saying a sound.


How to use a sound wall 

The most important aspect of effectively using a sound wall in your classroom is to start slow, and there are a couple of ways that you can do this:


1.    1. Begin with an empty board and gradually add phonemes/graphemes as your students learn them. This means that your students will not become overwhelmed with all the different elements on the board, and it is also a more student-centered approach.

2.    2. Put together the entire board but use locked cards to cover all the graphemes not taught yet. This also helps to ensure that students do not become overwhelmed with all the different phonemes.



You can get your students really involved with the sounds by using mirrors to see what their mouths looks like when making the sound. And, you can use picture cards and cues to help them master the phonemes. You have to explicitly teach your students to hear each individual phoneme to correctly place words onto a sound wall.


Individual Student Sound Walls

My sound wall packet also includes an individual sound wall for students that is the EASIEST thing to put together. All you need is a file folder! The individual sound wall is a great little reference tool for students to use while they're writing or reading. It's also a way to use sound walls in your classroom or home if you don't have space to display a large version on a bulletin board or wall. You can purchase the individual sound wall separately here:

Individual Student Sound Wall

On a final note...

Remember, we learn to read through what we hear. So, it’s so important that we spend time teaching phonemes to help students grasp the sound-letter relationship, and explicitly teach them that some graphemes don’t match their letter. With a word wall, it’s really really hard to explain why “write” doesn’t go in the R section! But, with a sound wall, it all starts to make sense to your students in a way that makes categorizing so much more natural.


I know this transition into using sound walls have many of us feeling a bit lost. Trust me, I loved my word walls, too! But don’t worry, you can still incorporate boards that highlight “word of the week” or themed vocabulary, but it's just important that you don't use them to teach phonics!

If you’d like to check out the sound wall I have available in my store, click the link below:

No comments