How Using a Sound Wall Can Transform Your Reading Instruction

Friday, June 21, 2019

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?  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 a thought of how we approach using a traditional word wall but it makes sense. 

Learn how to improve your phonics instruction in the kindergarten classroom by using a sound wall.  Replace your word wall with these sound cards and organize your sound wall by using vowel and consonant phoneme cards instead!

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.  The 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. 

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 picture/sounds to match your phonics program, you can check out my soundwall 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. 

What other questions do you have about sound walls?  I'd love to hear how sound walls are working in your classroom.  Feel free to reach out to me!  


  1. Do you post words on the vowel sound wall or only the consonant one? I am wondering if the same words would be posted on both walls.

    1. You could put them both places or whichever makes more sense for your students. I tend to put words on the consonant wall by beginning sound (probably because that's what I'm used to with the traditional word wall) and I have fewer words on the vowel wall. I am very intentional with which words I put on the vowel wall. For example, I didn't put every "oo" word I could think of up there. But kids often want to write about books, so I made sure that was on the vowel wall. I hope that makes sense :)

  2. This is fantastic! How do you sequence the sounds? I have used a synthetic phonics program for the past three years and have followed that to teach sound order (for example, /s/ /a/ /t/ /p/ /i/ /n/). Could you approach it according to how each sound is classified (i.e., liquid, affricates, etc) or does it not really matter? It's my first time using a sound wall and would like to execute it as best I can. Thanks! :)

  3. Hi Kathryn! We follow the KidLips program and do the order they suggest. The sound order is similar to what I was familiar with from traditional phonics order, except s is introduced a bit later. We start with a combination of the stop sounds and vowels. The biggest difference is that long vowels are introduced early.

    However - I think you can totally make a sound wall work using your the order that your phonics program uses. It's just all about focusing on producing sounds correctly and teaching kids to hear sounds not look for letters. I hope that helps :)

    Good luck!

  4. I think using sound walls sounds like a great idea! I very interested to learn more! Do you happen to have any research articles about sound walls?

  5. Hi there -
    Here is a link to an article about orthographic mapping that supports the move toward sound walls.

    Most of the research to support using sound walls comes from the latest brain research on how we learn to read. There is a book called Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene. If you google him, you'll find some interesting videos as well. Maryanne Wolf is another name leading the way in reading and brain research. She has a book called The Reading Brain.


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