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 the 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. 

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 picture/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. 

How to Use Visual Schedules to Help All Students to Be Successful in the Elementary Classroom

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Looking for a way to streamline your classroom management and keep you and your students on task throughout the day?  A class visual schedule is a simple and very effective tool for teachers to use to support all the students in an elementary school classroom.   Posting a daily visual schedule in your classroom can go a long way to calm an anxious student and can help students who have trouble transitioning between jobs to feel more comfortable.  Using a class schedule helps non-readers, ELL students and students in need of special education to know or anticipate what is coming next. 

When used consistently, a daily schedule can provide visual support, predictability, and structure that many students need to feel successful at school.  Teachers can use something as simple as a few picture cards to completely change the flow and organization in their classrooms.  The best part is that schedules are pretty easy to create and simple to implement!

Using a Class Visual Schedule

Use visual supports to help your kindergarten students to be independent in the classroom

A visual schedule is a simple way to provide the consistent structure your students crave.  It can also be a great way to keep yourself on track, too.  The days’ tasks are not a secret but rather a should be predictable and routine schedule.  Using kid-friendly visuals will help all students.  When students are familiar with the schedule, they will remind you what is coming next.  By the end of the year, your students can probably help you to put the schedule up every day.  The challenge is putting the time in to create the cards and to be consistent in utilizing the schedule and to be intentional about sharing the schedule with your students. 

To prepare a visual schedule, teachers need to consider what subjects and activities they do regularly.  For example, a kindergarten teacher will likely need a picture card for read aloud, math, guided reading, phonics, and centers.  Teachers will need cards for lunch, recess, special classes, and special events.  You can use something simple like a star for special events to cover a wide range of topics.  You can take pictures of the students in your class doing these activities, find clip art to use, or even draw pictures (if you’re a better artist than me!) for your schedule cards.  In my classroom, I use these class visual schedule cards.  This pack even has a few editable cards so you can add your own activities or tasks. 

Using Individual Schedules

Use visual supports like visual schedules to help your kindergarten students to be independent in the classroom

Some students may need mini-schedules or individual schedules to help to stay on track.  These are especially helpful for students with autism or difficulty completing tasks without behavior outbursts.  Typically, individual schedules use smaller picture cards that can be moved and manipulated by students as tasks are completed throughout the day.  These smaller cards can match the class schedule cards or be more specific to match the needs of your student. 

You can print and laminate these cards and put hook & loop (like Velcro) on the back to make them easily used by a student.  These schedules do not have to fancy or complicated.  A simple strip of Velcro on a piece of paper with a space to put finished jobs is all you need.  In the morning, put the student’s activities in order down the strip of Velcro and as the student completes each task, he can move it to the done space.  This can be easily linked to a behavior plan or reward chart as tasks are completed.  The possibilities are endless! 

You can keep individual schedules as simple or as complex as you need.   Some students may need mini-schedules throughout the day.  Mini schedules help when an icon for library class is not enough.  A student may need to see, return book, sit on the carpet, listen to a story, do craft, choose a book, check out a book.  First, then charts are also helpful for students who are overwhelmed when looking at the schedule as a long list.  If you are interested in creating individual schedules for your students, check out my pack here.  Just print, laminate and you’ll be all set!

Use visual supports to help your kindergarten students to be independent in the classroom

Something as simple as posting a visual schedule to follow in your classroom can completely change your classroom management.  Check out this post to learn more about using visual direction cards with your students.  What other ways are you using schedules to support the students in your classroom? 

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