Sound Wall Kit for alphabet learning by Ready Reader Decodables

Sound Walls: An Instructional Tool Aligned with the Science of Reading

The rising popularity of the science of reading has brought many instructional shifts, and one that has taken the forefront of the SOR conversation is the transition of a wall consisting of words (word wall) to sounds (sound wall). 

So, what exactly is a sound wall?

A sound wall is an instructional tool used to visually represent the 44 phonemes of the English language and their corresponding graphemes or spellings. 

What does a sound wall look like?

Traditionally, a sound wall would have two major components: consonant sounds and vowel sounds. This visual feature in a classroom would replace the slightly antiquated word wall and be posted on a wall or bulletin board that is easily seen by students. As the teacher provides direct instruction with the graphemes (spellings) and their corresponding phonemes (sounds), the taught grapheme is listed under the corresponding phoneme. So, for example, once a teacher explicitly taught the -ck digraph as a common spelling for the sound /k/, the -ck would be listed under the /k/ phoneme. Students can then use it as a reference as they spell words. 

What’s wrong with a word wall?

A word wall primarily targets only the initial sound in a word and lists it under its corresponding letter. Identifying initial sounds is important, but it is a phonological skill that should be solidified by mid to late Kindergarten.  This also does not account for the 200+ graphemes that represent the sounds in the English language.

Overall, a sound wall takes a “speech to print” approach. We know from the extensive work of researcher Dr. Louisa C. Moats, that this theoretical shift in our approach to reading and language instruction supports the notion that learning to speak is natural, while learning to read is not. By teaching our students that letters represent the sounds that come out of our mouth and make up words, we are promoting a speech to print understanding. In addition to targeting students’ proficiency with phoneme-grapheme correspondences, a sound wall can also address articulatory features of letters and sounds, which enhances a students’ ability to correctly form the phoneme. 

Many sound walls utilize the “vowel valley” which specifically places the location of the vowel sound in relation to where it’s formed in the mouth. A Vowel Valley encourages students to be keenly aware of their mouth formation, which further reinforces their automaticity with the sounds.

Sound walls address key components of foundational reading skills, such as:

a) articulatory features of phonemes

b) phoneme-grapheme correspondence

c) support with orthographic processing

Is this level of detail necessary? 

According to Dr. Louisa T. Moats: Yes, “Because young students with underdeveloped phonological awareness often confuse the speech sounds that share features.” (LETRS Training Manual).

In short, the addition of a sound wall to your classroom provides your students additional pathways to develop and secure their foundational reading skills. 

Want to add a sound wall to your classroom?  Click here or on the image below:

Colorful letters of the alphabet

Letter Names vs. Letter Sounds: Are Both Created Equal?

There is no denying the importance of letter and sound identification for developing readers, but are
both skills of equal importance? For many students, the ever-popular Alphabet Song is their first real
exposure to the alphabetic principle. But a quick analysis of the song reveals some missing components:
letter sounds. Do the letter names really matter? Let’s take a quick moment to consider the association
between the letter name and the phoneme (sound) it most commonly represents. Of the 26 letters,
here are the 14 consonants that include the phoneme (sound) in the actual name: B, D, F, J, K, L, M, N, P,
R, S, T, V, Z

The 5 vowels will only include the phoneme (sound) in the name when they represent their authentic
“long” sound as seen in the following words: a, I, she, cute, and open.

The research of Dr. Linnea Ehri confirmed what many of us suspected: students must learn the names,
sounds, identify both upper and lower case, and the formation of all 26 letters. These foundational skills
are a prerequisite for the development of automatic word reading (Ehri & Roberts, 2006). So what
comes first? The chicken or the egg? Or rather: does the evidence indicate a preferred order for
teaching letter names vs. sounds?

Let’s look at a few summarized points from the research of Dr. Theresa Roberts (2021):

  • Learning letter sounds (LS) was not dependent on first learning the letter names (LN) (Roberts,
  • 2021)
  •  The authors were surprised to find that children could learn the LS and LN together in the same
  • lesson (Roberts, 2021)
  •  No effect was identified teaching LN before LS (or vice versa) (Roberts, 2021)
  •  BUT teaching LS first produced greater letter sound learning for groups receiving the most PAL
  • (Paired Associated Learning) instruction and practice. (Roberts, 2021)

So where does this leave us as reading instructors?

In addition to the above evidence, Dr. Ehri also found that students who received Letter Sound and Leter
Name instruction using Embedded Pictographs (the name of each picture begins with the sound of the
letter and the pictured objective helps secure the letter-sound association in memory) were more
secure with their LS and LN knowledge. This information is clearly impactful to reading instructors who
historically, have posted Anchor Pictures for the alphabet with a key picture that starts with the letter
sound BUT whose shape is unrelated to the letter. This seemingly simple adjustment in our instructional
practice could have key benefits for our developing readers.

Luckily, Ready Reader Decodables has got you covered. Our Alphabet Letter Sounds: Embedded Picture
Mnemonics Bundle has over 300 pages of activities that promote the Alphabetic Principle. Perfect to
print and post in your classroom, this product contains flashcards of each letter with the key word’s
illustration embedded in the shape of the letter. Developed with the scientific evidence in mind, this
bundle is a great addition to a pre-k, K, 1 st , or 2 nd grade classroom. You can access the link to download

Thankfully, leading reading researchers have done the legwork for us as we consider the particulars of
our Letter Name and Letter Sound instruction. And though the Alphabet Song remains as many
students’ starting point for letter acquisition, we now know that embedded mnemonics certainly hold a
key place, as well.

Ehri, L.C., & Roberts, T. (2006). The roots of learning to read and write: Acquisition of letters and
phonemic awareness. In D.K. Dickinson & S.B. Neuman (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (Vol.
2, pp.113-131). New York, NY: Guilford.
Ehri, Linnea. (2020). The Science of Learning to Read Words: A Case for Systematic Phonics Instruction.
Reading Research Quarterly. 10.1002/rrq.334.
Roberts, T.A (2021). Learning Letters: Evidence and Questions From a “Science of Reading” Perspective.
Read Res Q, 00(00), 1-22.