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: