By now you’ve probably heard about sound walls and have been thinking about using one in your classroom but are not sure how to make it work best for kindergarten. There are many components and moving parts when it comes to implementing a sound wall and using Science of Reading to guide your instruction. While we highly recommend attending professional development sessions, we would like to provide some suggestions and tips here. Read on to find out more about using a sound wall in kindergarten!
We know that it can be overwhelming and confusing to figure out how to implement a sound wall in kindergarten. Especially if your district is still requiring a word wall or you have limited space and training! We will dive down into how to solve these issues and more here!
This activity goes well with these Simply Kinder resources:
WHAT IS A SOUND WALL?
A sound wall is a tool used to organize sounds (phonemes) and the different letters (graphemes) used to make them. These are charts that have been used in speech and language programs as well as intervention programs for struggling learners for decades. A sound wall is taking those charts and using them explicitly with your students via a WALL (or not).
Let’s think about this… there are 44 sounds in the English language and only 26 letters. Sound walls focus on instruction of those 44 sounds and the letters (or letter combinations) that make them AS OPPOSED to learning the 26 letters and THEN learning the sounds associated with them. It’s reverse from what you most likely normally do. With a sound wall, we are going from speech to print INSTEAD of print to speech.
There is lots of information out there on how to have sound walls including articles, YouTube videos, and even professional development classes. We encourage you to learn about them and balance what you know with what you are required to do by your school or district. The ideas in this article are our takeaways, thoughts, reflections on sound walls, and sound charts based on our training, experiences, and knowledge.
CAN I DO A SOUND WALL IN KINDERGARTEN?
YES. We explicitly teach phonemes in kindergarten so organizing what you teach onto a meaningful chart makes so much sense. THIS IS WHAT WE DO ALL YEAR PEOPLE – TEACH SOUNDS! Teaching students how these sounds are made is SO KINDERGARTEN. Just remember to SLOW DOWN, don’t just show your students the letter and say this says /ă/. Instead, take time to discuss all aspects of the sounds. We can talk about where your tongue is, if your voice is on or off, if there is any air coming out, and all those other characteristics that are so important. Those rich conversations make learning sounds so much more meaningful and impactful. (There, I said it).
SO WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT THESE SOUND CHARTS?
These charts are effective for ALL students because they are more supportive of decoding skills – making sounds, connecting sounds to graphemes (letters or letter combinations), and so much more. The sounds on these charts are organized and grouped strategically – placement of the tongue, the amount of air that comes out, etc.
For example, the sound /p/, /t/, and /k/ are all stop sounds where there is a quick stop of air when you make it. But we can take it a little deeper, if you make the sound /p/ you will feel it at the front of the mouth, the sound /t/ at the middle, and the sound /k/ at the back. The chart organizes these sounds together so we can learn and talk about all of those characteristics.
For more Science of Reading definitions for teachers click here.
Let’s talk about consonants. Consonants are grouped by how the sound is made and mouth placement. These could be organized into a chart so you could see which sounds are made with rounded lips, etc. But because of wall space, it may not be practical for you to create your display this way.
There are six types of consonants (well seven if you count the combos).
- Stop: Stop sounds are created by creating a quick stop of air.
- Nasal: Nasal sounds are created by having air go through the nose when the sound is made.
- Fricatives: Fricative sounds are created when there is friction from the airflow being partially blocked.
- Affricates: Affricate sounds are created when your tongue blocks the air flow and quickly releases it.
- Glides: Glide sounds glide from one sound to the next.
- Liquids: Liquid sounds are created when the tongue partially closes the mouth.
- Combo: These are technically not on sound charts but some programs recognize them. These are when two phonemes combine to make a common sound. There are 2 – /q/ and /x/.
*** Some programs will combine Fricatives and Affricates and call them Continuants.
Then with all those sounds, you have mouth placements to consider.
- lips are together
- teeth are on the lip
- tongue is between teeth
- tip of tongue is up behind top of teeth
- lips are rounded and tongue is pulled back
- back of tongue is lifted
- back of throat
With all of these details, you can really have rich conversations about the sounds. But let’s talk about space, the above chart will take up SO much room to get the right spacing and so many empty sections – it’s just not very practical in every classroom.
We are seeing many teachers arrange their consonant sound walls as above, grouping the correct sounds together and ordering them the same within that section. This is a great option if you are not able to organize your chart like the first one.
Let’s talk about vowels. The vowel chart is really cool. The letters are in a V because your jaw will drop as you make the sounds in that order. It starts with the long e sound with very wide lip placement. It goes down to a wide-open short o sound and then back up the pucker-shaped /yu/ sound. If you make the sounds aloud in that V you will feel your jaw drop and go back up.
It’s kindergarten though, and we don’t traditionally teach all those vowel sounds. Students can handle exposure to these sounds but just because you expose them to the sound orally does not mean you have to show them those spelling patterns. Keep the chart’s integrity with the articulation photos and just keep those more advanced sounds in picture form. But we have seen some just display the short or long vowels and just suggest you leave them in order if you do that.
HOW DO YOU SET UP A SOUND WALL?
This is what we suggest…
- Pick your space – and you will need lots! Your consonant chart should be separate than your vowel chart.
- Start with your mouth articulation photos only. These are the core of your sound charts. Depending on your grade level, you may want to cover them. (Keep reading for kindergarten suggestions).
- Follow the charts format. As you “unpack” your sound lessons in class you can have it all set up correctly. You will want to go in the exact order of the chart examples because those sounds are places there strategically – from the front of the mouth to the back.
- Keep your sound wall under control. Natural instinct will be to make everything nice and big so everyone in your room can see it. Reality is you are putting up 44 sounds with spelling cards and that’s a lot of space. You can go smaller and then use other tools during instruction that are bigger for everyone to see. (We give you all sorts of sizes in our Phonics and Phonemes Bundle – see below).
Decisions you will have to make (and our thoughts in italics)…
- Think about overwhelm. Overwhelm for you and overwhelm for yours students. It’s OK to tweak things and adjust things as you learn and go. Keep things simple to start and when you understand more you can make adjustments. It’s OK!)
- Consonant Chart. Consonant charts are typically arranged by different mouth and tongue placements. Doing it this way takes a TON of space because you will have lots of space where certain sound types don’t have certain tongue formations. If you want to be true to a sound chart, you will arrange it in rows and columns and place the articulation photos where they fall. But it’s OK if you don’t do that too.
- Which spelling pattern cards will you put up? (The goal here is to connect by giving the students the most common spelling patterns for each sound. It may be best to keep it as simple as possible and use the sound spelling cards for kindergarten for this. In our set we give you a TON of choices: photos only, photo and spelling pattern, photos and sample word, photo and sample word with highlights, and spelling pattern cards. To start, I would keep it simple and use the kindergarten spelling cards.) You can see photos below of some of the options we include in our Phonics and Phonemes Bundle.
- Do you want to include the letters under the articulation photos? We know they are there for the sound – but even with virgules they are still printed letter. One program we worked with very early on had the students matching tiles to the charts. Another program we have worked with suggested not showing the letters until the students had a good basis for the sounds. I would lean on your school/curriculum requirements and/or your training and understanding. You don’t want to teach them that this is the way you make the sound because in many cases this is only one way to make that sound.
Things you can add or uncover as you teach…
- Voiced and unvoiced. We would talk about if sounds are voiced and unvoiced and add those as you teach them.
- Sound spelling cards. Again we give you lots of options so you will cover them until you teach them. (you can see some below).
HOW DO YOU ADJUST YOUR SOUND WALL FOR KINDERGARTEN?
In kindergarten, a sound wall is a tool you build together because sounds and letters is what we teach. We suggest putting the structure there so you have it all spaced out correctly and then adding the sounds as you talk about them.
Like we talked about before, most teachers don’t really have room to organize by mouth placement and other characteristics so we just grouped them together. We spaced them all out to make sure we had room to add what we needed to add. We started with just the group labels and locks for the mouth sounds. As we teach the sounds we will then add the mouth photo.
And then from there, you need to determine if you want to add the spelling patterns. I think our natural instinct is to do that quickly, but if we are going from speech to print we may want to slow it down and add the graphemes later. Either way, by just adding the locks for the mouth photos, you are not overwhelming students with all sorts of sounds and you are leaving lots of space to see what spelling pattern cards will work with your students.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION: What order do I teach them in? Honestly, I would follow the scope and sequence of your district or curriculum. If you don’t have a scope and sequence we suggest following the Recipe for Reading scope and sequence.
And then this is what you will end up with when all the sounds and graphemes are instructed.
Some additional thoughts about adjusting for kindergarten….
- We give you lots of options in our downloads with kindergarten versions. These are adjusted to not include all of the sounds on our full sets. For example, the sound /ē/ only includes the ee spelling pattern when our full set includes 7 different spelling patterns. Look for the kindergarten sets in our downloads (they are usually after the full set).
- Maybe you don’t want to introduce your students to all of the most common spelling patterns for the sound in print, but maybe you want to introduce them to those sounds orally? One way you could do your sound wall is to do the articulation photos with just the photo cards. So students would be exposed to all the sound patterns orally. For example, under the letter /ē/ it would have bee, me, eat, key, baby, movie, and eve but you may not necessarily teach them all those spelling patterns. This would expose them to all sorts of words and future spelling patters with that sound.
HOW DO I TEACH THE SOUND WALL?
Again, it’s kindergarten so you are already teaching the sounds. The sound wall helps you have richer conversations about the sounds so students can make deeper connections to the content and thus apply the skills when decoding. A sound wall will help you teach the sounds more in-depth and in multisensory ways.
- Direct Instruction! Add the articulation parts to your regular sound lessons. Examples of questions you should ask:
-What’s happening with your lips?
-Is the sound voiced or unvoiced? (Put your hand on your throat to see).
-What’s happening with your tongue?
-Do you feel any vibration on your nose?
-What’s happening with your teeth?
-What else do you notice when you make this sound?
-What’s happening with your breath?
- Model, Model, Model! Model making the sound correctly. Be very careful about adding sounds on to the end of sounds.
- Use mirrors! Hang up mirrors by the sound wall or have handheld mirrors available during centers so students can watch themselves practice the sounds. It’s truly amazing how much they will reference the pictures and what they have learned about the sounds while watching themselves.
- Partner Practice! Have students partner up and take turns making the sounds so they can watch the sound being made.
- Have personal sound charts! These are a great way for students to take ownership of what they are learning. Learn the sound and add it to their own sound chart.
- Use technology! If you have cameras or computers in the classroom then allow students to record themselves saying sounds and words. A great tool to use is Seesaw which is great for kindergarten and has a record button right on the screen! (our Alphabet Printables with Mouth Photos are preloaded in Seesaw already!)
- Fill in blank charts! Give your students a blank chart and have them match the sound to a blank chart. This was our daily warm up for my own struggling reader in his intervention classes.
- Build in review! Try to build in time to review. It is a great time to provide that model, practice, and allow for an additional opportunity to discuss things that come up.
This video is a great review for all 44 phonemes (and a great reference tool if you are looking for support on how to make each of the sounds as the teacher).
Sound Wall in Kindergarten Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
We get the same questions sometimes and so we wanted to make a place for those. Don’t see your question – just message us and ask and we will do our best to support you. Here we go…
Is there a right and wrong way to do it?
Well, I am probably going to get stones thrown at me, but I am going to say no. There is the Science of Reading body of knowledge and that is ever-changing as research and additional discoverings come out. I feel like as long as you are making steps forward you are doing good. As we learn new things, we may tweak or alter things and that is OK. As teachers, we need to give ourselves (and each other) some grace and understanding that we don’t have to know everything perfectly. We will make mistakes and that’s ok. This all being said, we highly recommend you doing some training on sound walls.
Do I need to get rid of my alphabet/word wall?
This is up to you. Sound walls and alphabet walls both serve a purpose. If you had to pick one over the other because of space or whatever, I would go with a sound wall because it is more impactful. Maybe consider making your word wall smaller, maybe just doing some seasonal vocabulary in your writing center, or posting your sight words on a pocket chart somewhere in your room.
- Organized by sound and can be at any place in the word.
- Has one example per spelling pattern.
- Do not actively add words to.
- Spelling patterns are organized in order of most use in English language.
- Organized by initial letter and makes not difference what sound that letter makes.
- Can have as many words as you want.
- Actively add words to.
As far as your alphabet being posted in ABC order, I would 100% still keep that in your kindergarten classroom. There are so many great activities, songs, and games you can play with them for letters and sounds.
This is one of those things where I fear we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Should I post sight words along with a sound wall?
A sound wall is meant to be a reference, not something you “add” more to. Each item under the sounds is intentional showing the spelling patterns for that sound. This being said, no, you should not add sight words to your sound wall. Also, we would suggest teaching students how to decode sight words. Stay tuned for more details and suggestions on sight word instruction.
Do you have additional questions that were not answered? Comment here or join the conversation inside the Simply Kinder Teachers Facebook group here. Teachers are also posting pictures of their sounds walls there!