Can I be really honest with you all? When I first started hearing about sound walls I wasn’t sure if they were just going to be the newest trend. There was so much hype about moving away from our beloved word walls and replacing them with new shiny sound walls. I will admit I was slow to jump on and see the benefits, but let me tell you- now I am SOLD! The impact of sound vs word walls blew me away and I want to share it all.
And I’ve done the research for you so you can know all the benefits and why this isn’t just some hot new trend. Sound walls will bring so much great information into your classroom AND your students’ brains!
So let’s learn about how!!
What is the Difference?
I, probably like many of you, had a word wall in my classroom for many years with great success. When sound walls became all the rage, I sat and asked myself why would I make the transition when I’ve had so much success with word walls over the years? So of course I went and did A LOT of research and determined some differences between the two. Not surprisingly, I found out many great benefits to students. So what are the differences between sound and word walls?
Sound walls are focused on phonemes that individual letters represent. The wall is organized by phonemes, instead of the letters of the alphabet. There is also a specific visual focus on mouth formations and voice intonations. This helps students develop a greater understanding of how sounds are made. They also learn how to connect speech sounds to written words.
In contrast, word walls are organized by the sequential order of the alphabet. This reinforces that words are acquired through visual memorization. Students rely on searching for words under the letter, instead of the sound. It ultimately influences students to try and memorize words by sight. This can cause challenges for students when words follow an irregular pattern like ‘ph’ making the /f/ sound.
As you can see, the difference is the focus of each wall. Do you want students to be able to recognize words by sounds or by sight? I think in the long run, the sound walls will prove way more beneficial for our students.
Building Your Wall
Of course, you can get as creative as you’d like with decorating your wall, but some key components will ensure the effectiveness of this resource. Also, remember this sound wall is an active display that grows as your students learn new sounds. This gives you the freedom to build it as you go or create the entire thing and uncover sounds as you learn them.
As a primary teacher, I like to break the sound wall into vowels and consonants like pictured below. There are four key components to your sound wall that are crucial to its success.
- Mouth Formation: These picture cards show the formation of your mouth when speaking these sounds. It’s a great visual aid for students when remembering how to pronounce a sound.
- Phoneme: These cards show students if the sound is voiced or unvoiced. When a sound is voiced, your vocal cords are active when making a sound. I like to have students touch their neck when saying the sounds /b/, /g/, and /j/ so they can feel their vocal chord vibrating. Those are voiced sounds. If the sound is unvoiced, the vocal cords are NOT active and air is simply passing through. They can feel the difference when saying the sounds /p/, /f/, and /s/. I also “hide” phoneme cards if they haven’t been taught. You can either put them up backwards, leave a placeholder, or simply cover the cards with a picture of your choice.
- Key Image: These picture cards help students connect to and remember the sound.
- Spelling: The final component are your cards that show the graphemes. It’ll show students all the different ways the sound is spelled.
When transitioning to a sound wall, you’ll see a WORLD of difference with your students, especially your EL learners. They will be able to see what their mouth should be doing when saying each sound and notice the different feeling in their throat between voiced and unvoiced sounds. Not only will their decoding skills greatly improve, but so will their spelling! This is a highly researched, student centered approach that will support ALL your students.
Making Them Interactive
Of course with anything new, you’ll want to introduce and teach your students how to use the wall. Just like with word walls, we want our sound walls to be interactive and helpful for students. The idea is for this wall to become a point of reference when reading and writing. We want students to learn how to utilize this important tool to help them. Make them portable and interactive with a binder ring and Velcro dots. Students can use them as they work independently or to support them during small group time.
After building your wall, you’re going to explicitly teach sounds the way you usually do with your students and have students see what they notice about the new sound. We discuss patterns in sounds and spelling, and students will gain a different connectedness when it comes to learning new words. We love our “sound detective” covers for parts of our wall as a way to excite students about new sounds. When we unlock new sounds and their components, they can also add it to their individual sound walls too! We learn how to reference them when needed and students can add their own pictures that will help them remember. It really becomes a truly individualized tool for students! Grab your individual sound wall FREE below!
Grab this free resource now!
You can also make a game out of the sound wall too! Students can go for a hunt for specific sounds and add them to the sound wall or find ones already displayed. You can have students read words from the sound wall and then draw a picture of it. Partner classmates together and let them play “I Spy” using the wall! Challenge them to practice blending sounds together from the sound wall to see what words they can make. There are SO many different ways to make this space interactive. Let your creativity come out. It really will become one of your favorite tools that will support students as they read and write!
Do you want a ready to go, completely SoR aligned resources that will help all your students become master readers?? I’ve got you covered! Grab my GROWING bundle that is loaded with resources to help your kiddos practice crucial skills while freeing YOU from stress! You’ll get a complete sound wall, with an editable version to make it fit every students needs’, decodable readers, and countless literacy activities that will bring FUN and knowledge. And since it’s a growing bundle, you’re locked in for any and all the resources that will be added later, for FREE. Just go back and redownload all your new goodies to enjoy! So what are you waiting for? Grab it HERE!
I hope you enjoyed learning all about sound walls and why I’ve made the transition to them! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the Individual Sound Wall FREEBIE! You will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
To follow me on TPT and get all the latest updates on HALF OFF new products, click HERE!
Love these ideas but don’t want to lose them? Don’t forget it, PIN it below!