What is a Sound Wall and Why Should You Use One in Your Classroom? (2023)

This post is the first in a two-part series on using sound walls in the classroom. Here I share general information about phoneme sound walls, discuss how a sound wall is different from a word wall and how sound walls help students learn to read, write and spell. Looking for more information on sound walls and how to implement them in the classroom? Take a look at my NEWSound Wall Course!

Sound walls…. It’s likely your literacy coach has mentioned them, you’ve seen talk of them on social media, or you may even have a colleague who has started using one! Maybe you’re curious about sound walls but unsure where to start, or you know a bit about them but are nervous to ditch the comfort of your word wall to try something totally new!

I understand! Change can be hard! But I think once you get to know more about sound walls and the value they bring, you’ll see it’s a change worth making!

What is a Sound Wall and Why Should You Use One in Your Classroom? (1)

To help you out I’ve decided to create a two-part blog series all about sound walls. In this first post, I’ll share general information about sound walls, discuss their benefits, and how they are different from word walls. The second post will focus on how to set up and use a sound wall in your classroom. I hope you’ll find it all to be useful info that will help you get more comfortable with the idea of using a sound wall in your classroom!

So without further ado….

What is a Sound Wall?

A sound wall is a way to organize and display the different sounds (or phonemes) we hear in speech. Similar to a word wall, a sound wall is a place for students to reference when they are spelling and reading words. But UNLIKE a traditional A-Z word wall (where words are grouped by their beginning letter), words on a sound wall are grouped by their sounds. Curious to learn more about the different sounds? Take a look at this post where I explain the 44 phonemes in English.

What is a Sound Wall and Why Should You Use One in Your Classroom? (2)

Because sounds cannot be written, we use letters to represent the sounds. A grapheme is the written representation of one phoneme, or sound. A sound wall matches our speech sounds (phonemes) to the letters (graphemes) that represent those sounds.

When you see a sound wall you will often find pictures of mouths next to each sound. This helps students better understand what their tongue and mouth are doing when they produce a sound and encourages them to pay attention to the way their mouth feels, looks and acts when they produce different sounds. Mouth pictures are a great support to help students connect the sounds they hear with the print that represents them.

What is a Sound Wall and Why Should You Use One in Your Classroom? (3)

There are usually two parts of a sound wall – a consonant sound wall and a vowel sound wall. They’re organized separately and in different ways. Let’s talk about the consonants first…

Consonant Sound Walls

A consonant sound wall is organized by the manner of articulation (how the sound is being formed) and the place of articulation (wherein the mouth a sound is occurring).

What is a Sound Wall and Why Should You Use One in Your Classroom? (4)

There are five major categories of consonants based on the manner of articulation. In his book Phonics from A to Z, Wiley Blevins describes the categories as:

  1. Stops: formed by closing or blocking off the airflow and then exploding a puff of air. Place your hand in front of your mouth and produce the sounds /b/, /p/, /d/, /t/, /g/, /k/. Do you feel the burst of air? These are stops.
  2. Fricatives: formed by narrowing the air channel and then forcing air through it which creates friction in the mouth. /f/, /h/, /v/, /th/, /z/, /s/, /zh/, and /sh/ are fricatives. Affricative is a subgroup of fricatives. It is a sound produced by the sequence of a stop followed by a fricative. Examples of affricatives include /ch/ and /j/.
  3. Nasals: formed when the mouth is closed, forcing the air through the nose. /m/, /n/, /ng/ are nasals.
  4. Liquids: formed by interrupting the airflow slightly, but no friction results. /r/ and /l/ and liquids.
  5. Glides: sometimes called semivowels because they are formed in similar ways as vowels. /w/, /y/, /hw/ glides.

Finally, consonants can also be grouped as voiced or unvoiced. When you produce a voiced sound, your vocal cords vibrate. An unvoiced sound produces no vibration.

I realize it can be really hard to fully understand and envision all this info about sound categories just by reading about them.

This video does a great job providing more clear examples and explanations of each one. It’s worth taking a look for a deeper, more clear understanding!

Vowel Valley Sound Wall

A vowel sound wall looks different than a consonant one. It is organized by the place of articulation. It is visually represented in the shape of a V or a valley to mimic the change in position of our mouths and shift in our jaw when we produce the different vowel sounds.When we make the first vowel sound, /e/ our chin starts very high, and as we move down the v, our chin lowers.

What is a Sound Wall and Why Should You Use One in Your Classroom? (5)

Then there are some vowel sounds that are outliers and aren’t placed along the “vowel valley”. Outside the valley you should also include /oi/ and /ou/, as well as the r-controlled vowels (ar, or, ur, and ir).

Check out this video for more information about the vowel sound walls. It really helped me envision what it looks like and how I would use it in my classroom.

Additionally, this video does a great job showing the differences in the position of the teeth, tongue and lips for each sound category. I think it is helpful for both teachers and students!

The Benefits of a Sound Wall

The more I read and learn about sound walls, the more they make sense to me. Here are a few of the main benefits I see to using a sound wall in the classroom:

Sound walls are based on the science of reading! Research tells us that readers make the connection between print patterns and phonological information that is already stored in the brain in order to then make meaning of the word they’re reading (Moats, 2010). This is why explicitly teaching phonemes is necessary before you teach sound-letter correspondence.

Sound walls approach things from the learners point of view. On a traditional A-Z word wall, words are categorized by the first letter. But that doesn’t make sense to someone who is just learning to spell! A student looking for the word phone will not naturally look to P. Putting the word knee under K is confusing to them! A sound wall categorizes words by their sounds which makes much more sense to the learner!

They allow for explicit instruction of phonemes. Kids learn to talk well before they learn to read or write. This is because the human brain is hardwired for oral language, but not for reading and writing. Students need direct and explicit instruction on how to read, write, and spell. A sound wall is a tool that allows for this valuable, explicit phonics instruction.

Do you use a sound wall in your classroom? What benefits do you see to using one?

I hope the information I’ve shared today helps you to better understand sound walls and why they are such a great resource for helping students read and write. Ready to get started? Head to my next post where I’ll share all about getting a sound wall set-up in your classroom!

Are you looking for more help with your classroom sound wall?

I’ve got just the thing for you!

What is a Sound Wall and Why Should You Use One in Your Classroom? (6)

My new course,The Science of Sound Walls, will takeallthe guesswork out of using your sound wall. This virtual course is your complete training and implementation plan for using a sound wall in your kindergarten, 1st and 2nd-grade classroom.

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What is a Sound Wall and Why Should You Use One in Your Classroom? ›

Sound walls support students with learning those tricky high-frequency words. They also support students in retaining and learning to read unfamiliar words on their own. A sound wall does the work of matching our articulation of speech sounds/phonemes to the letters/graphemes that represent those sounds.

What is a sound wall in a classroom? ›

Sound walls are speech-to-print tools used to categorize phonemes. The word cat, for example, has three phonemes, c/a/t. In the English language, we identify about 44 phonemes using the 26 letters of the alphabet. In many ways, grasping the sounds of the 44 phonemes is like cracking a code for our early learners.

Why are sound walls important? ›

It helps kids with word mapping and — of course — building their knowledge of letter-sound relationships so they can apply this knowledge to pronounce written words. You can think of sound walls as speech-to-print tools, while word walls are print-to-speech tools.

How do you explain a sound wall to third graders? ›

A sound wall is a place where the different speech sounds (phonemes) are displayed. Instead of the traditional word wall, where words are displayed on a wall organized by their first letter, you display the different speech sounds using phoneme cards and organize words based on their sounds.

Why use wordwall? ›

Why? Word walls support a language-rich learning environment. They foster word-consciousness and provide access to essential vocabulary, concepts and skills. Word walls reinforce sight-word acquisition with younger readers and build content literacy across grades and disciplines.

What means sound wall? ›

A sound wall is a helpful tool for teaching students the 44 phonemes of the English language. It is made up of two parts: a consonant chart and a vowel valley. By providing a visual representation of the relationship between speech and print, sound walls help students to see the connections between the two.

Why is sound important in a classroom? ›

Sound absorption eliminates distractions and gives children the chance to immerse themselves in their environment. According to a Euronoise study, bad classroom acoustics can lead to ill health, vocal disorders or hearing damage in teachers, and concentration and behavioural issues in students.

How effective is noise wall? ›

The effectiveness of a noise barrier depends on the distance between the listener and the barrier. For residences located directly behind a barrier, the noise level will often be cut in half. This benefit decreases as a listener moves farther away and is negligible at distances greater than 500 feet.

What are the key features of sound walls? ›

Sound walls are often organized into two separate sections - vowels and consonants. Vowel walls include the different phonemes associated with vowels and are arranged in a “valley” formation that mirrors the opening of the mouth that occurs when different vowel sounds are articulated.

Why is it important to have sound? ›

Sound is a crucial aspect of our everyday lives. Just think about it – most of us communicate verbally, and it's pretty hard to understand body language alone. This makes sound the primary source of information.

What grades need a sound wall? ›

Which Grades Should Use A Sound Wall? Sound walls are an excellent resource for struggling readers of all ages. You introduce sound walls to students using the sounds they already know. The sounds they know in 1st grade are very different than the sounds they know in 2nd or even 3rd grade.

How do you teach sound wall sounds? ›

What could sound wall lessons look like?
  1. Introduce the phoneme and anchor picture. (Hold up the /t/ card.) ...
  2. Talk about the formation of the sound. Take out your mirror and look at your mouth when you make the /t/ sound.” ...
  3. Practice forming the new letter. ...
  4. Teach the key word for the sound-spelling.

How do you use a sound wall in a kindergarten classroom? ›

It's best to display phonemes by types (stops, nasals, fricatives, affricates, and liquids). This helps students to differentiate between like sounds and find sound groups more easily. Keeping the vowels and consonants on separate walls (or in separate spaces) also helps students to differentiate between phoneme types.

How do word walls help students? ›

At its most basic, the function of a word wall is to give students constant access to the important content vocabulary for the class. Pointing out to students that key words are always available to them helps promote independence and reinforces the importance of these words in the classroom.

What is a word wall and how can it help students? ›

A word wall is a collection of words that are displayed in large visible letters on a wall, bulletin board, or other display surface in a classroom. The word wall is designed to be an interactive tool for students and contains an array of words that can be used during writing and reading.

What do sound walls look like? ›

Sound walls usually include pictures to represent what the mouth looks like when making each sound. An anchor picture is included with the mouth card. As students learn different phonics patterns that represent the sounds, these patterns (or words featuring the patterns) are added to the wall.

What are the different types of sound walls? ›

Noise wall types
  • Concrete post wood plank.
  • Wood post wood plank.
  • Glue laminated panels.
  • Concrete panels.
  • Earthen berm.

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