What is a Sound Wall and How Can It Be Used in a Kindergarten Classroom?

Thursday, July 23, 2020
Maybe you've heard about a sound wall from your literacy specialist or while browsing a Facebook page.  And you've seen other teachers making the switch from traditional word wall to a sound wall but you aren't entirely sure why or where to start.  Maybe you're still wondering what is a sound wall?  Then this post is for you.  Here you'll learn some of the basics of what a sound wall is and why you should use it in your kindergarten classroom.  

Learn all about what a sound wall is and how to use a sound wall in the primary classroom.


Recently I've learned a lot about the science of reading and how our brains actually learn to read.  (By the way, if you ever get a chance to attend a LETRS training, you should!).  It's truly fascinating.  As a kindergarten teacher, one of my biggest takeaways was that kids learn to speak before they can match the print.  That sounds silly, right?  Until you think about the way we teach reading in kindergarten.  Where do you start?  Introducing letters, right?  Maybe in alphabetical order, maybe in a certain order dictated by your phonics curriculum, but we traditionally start by introducing letters.  So we teach all the letters, slap them up on the word wall, and start adding words so kids can use them when they are writing.  

But what about the kids who haven't mastered their letters yet?  Then there's the kid who wants to spell phone and goes to the letter F to find phone only to later learn it's hiding under the letter P.  This is where a sound wall can be transformational.  On a sound wall, the words funny and phone would be with the same phoneme and students can more easily find the spelling patterns they need to spell words. 

What is a sound wall?


In short, a sound wall is a way to organize phonemes and spelling patterns for students to reference when spelling and reading words.   Words are grouped by phonemes and NOT beginning letters.  

 There are 44 phonemes in the English language.  Some we explicitly teach in kindergarten, some we don't.  A sound wall is a tool to organize these phonemes in a way that helps students to make sense of spelling patterns that make different sounds.  

How does a sound wall work in kindergarten?


A sound wall works when you explicitly teach the phonemes.  Before putting the phoneme or sound cards on the wall, you need to teach students the sounds.  With young children, it's helpful to teach them what their mouth looks like and feels like when they make the sound.  Get out mirrors and allow kids to look at themselves making the sound.  Encourage them to explain what it feels like, tell if their voice box vibrates, does air come out, can they see their teeth, etc.  This is especially helpful to give students a multisensory approach to learning sounds.  If you opt to use mirrors, you can have students keep their mirrors in their toolboxes so they can pull them our while they are writing.  This will help when they get stuck on a sound they can see their mouth and try to match the sound to the sound wall.  These mirrors from Amazon are an option (affiliate link). 

Learn all about what a sound wall is and how to use a sound wall in the primary classroom.


Giving a picture cue for the sound is another great strategy to help kindergarten students to remember the sounds.  The picture clues do NOT have to be for beginning sounds.  For example, you may use fish for /f/ but you could use feather for /th/.  This is especially true for vowels.  It's often easier to find a medial letter that best matches the sound than a beginning letter.  Like the short e sound in bed may be more helpful than a beginning short e sound in egg.  After you have taught the sound and the picture clue, you can introduce the spelling patterns (or letters) that make the sound.  Then display the sound card on your sound wall. 

Learn all about what a sound wall is and how to use a sound wall in the primary classroom.


The phonemes are not displayed in alphabetical order on a sound wall.  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.   If you are short on wall space, you may want to consider a portable sound wall.  Click here to read more about that.


When can I fit in sound wall instruction?


Incorporating a sound wall does not need to take away from your precious instructional time.  You can easily incorporate the instruction in your phonics block.   In my kindergarten classroom, our sound wall routine in kindergarten was about 10 minutes long.  I always paired it with our Heggerty (phonemic awareness) lesson at the beginning of our ELA block.  This helped me to stay consistent with instruction.  When teaching phonics, you can introduce the phonemes in the order your district or curriculum dictates.  The important thing is to give students a chance to really explore the sounds and master them so they can use the sound wall effectively. 

I'm ready to start a sound wall...now what?

There are a few great options out there for implementing a sound wall but unless your district is going to purchase them for you,  they are expensive.  You can absolutely create a sound wall using they letter sound cards you have with your phonics curriculum, but some of the phonemes may be missing.  I've seen great sound walls done with Fundations cards for example.  These FREE phoneme group labels will help you to organize your sound wall. 

If you'd rather purchase the cards you need to create a sound wall,  I have lots of resources in my TPT store.  Click here to check out my sound wall bundle.  It has everything you need to implement a sound wall this year!  

If you'd like more information about the science of reading and A great professional development book about what teachers need to know about teaching reading and writing is Speech to Print Language Essentials for Teachers by Louisa Cook Moats (affiliate link). 

what is a sound wall and how can it be used in kindergarten?

1 comment:

  1. Awesome ideas for promoting phonemic awareness and literacy skills in beginning readers/writers. I’m actually going to adapt your ideas for my Grade One French Immersion class. The phonemes are different but the principles are the same. Thanks for a great article :)

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