Have you considered making the switch from a word wall to a sound wall in your classroom? Or maybe your administration is pushing for the change to sound walls? I’m here to tell you that it is worth it and your students will reap the benefits.
Using a sound wall has transformed my phonics and writing instruction and has made my students better decoders, encoders, and generally better spellers. It’s certainly a big shift in the thought of how we approach using a traditional word wall but it makes sense.
Why You Should Switch to a Sound Wall
When you think about how we learn and child development, kids learn speech (or how to talk) long before they learn to put print with their speech. We learn from speech to print. Brain research is telling us that kids need to master phonemic awareness skills before they are ready to match the sounds to print, and then they need phonics instruction to begin to decode text. We know this, but yet we are still using tools like word walls. A traditional word wall requires students to find the print and match it to their speech. This turns into a guessing game of find the word. If a kid wanted to spell the word phone, he’d look under the letter F, but he would never find the word because phone is hiding under the letter P.
How To Implement a Sound Wall
Using a sound wall is more about instruction than it is about slapping letter sounds on the wall and organizing words. Teachers need to explicitly teach each phoneme (there’s more than 40!). You can find lists of phonemes in a quick google search. When introducing sounds, we use small compact mirrors like these(affiliate link) on Amazon. Each student gets a mirror to practice making sounds. The students noticed how their mouths looked, felt and what their tongues are doing to make each sound. We also talked about recognizing when the voice box is turned on or off based on vibrations.
In kindergarten, we don’t get to all of the phonemes and spelling patterns but I end up posting most of them because my higher kids are usually ready for them by the end of the year.I posted cards with more graphemes than I teach in kindergarten and I covered the graphemes I didn’t teach with a post-it so the kids would not be overwhelmed but could lift the post it to check if they wanted.
As I introduce the sounds, I add them to the sound wall. Consonants are grouped by the type of phoneme (stops, nasals, glides, affricates, fricatives, and liquids) and the vowels are put in the shape of a V based on how your mouth looks and feels as you make the sound from closed at the top of the V, to open at the bottom, to round at the top right. Then diphthongs and vowel-r words are put together, too.
Learn more about implementing sound walls in the classroom in my video mini-course, Successful Sound Walls.
The Challenges of Implementing a Sound Wall
There are different, affordable programs out there that can help with the order to introduce the phonemes, how to arrange the graphemes on a sound wall, and more. It can be tricky to try to use this approach and to mold it to your phonics or big box reading series. It becomes especially difficult if your phonics series has poor choices for picture sounds like elephant or egg for short E (really?). If you’re like me and want things to be more visually appealing or fit with your classroom theme or you need pictures/sounds to match your phonics program, you can check out my sound wall kit in my TPT store here.
The next challenge is finding the time.I carved out 10-15 minutes per day paired with our phonemic awareness instruction (we use Heggerty). It fit pretty seamlessly and only took a few minutes of additional instructional time. The results are more than worth 10 minutes a day! During writing time you’ll find kids walking around with mirrors trying to find the sound that matches their mouth. Using a sound wall helped me to be a better teacher and helped to give my students a better foundation in phonics that they will need to be successful readers and writers.
Do you have more questions about Sound Walls? The Successful Sound Wall Course may be for you! Read more about it here.