From Word Wall to Sound Wall - Simply Kinder

From Word Wall to Sound Wall

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Learn how to transition from a word wall to a sound wall with these teacher tips and suggestions. Dive down deep into the roots of the recommended transition and what that means for your classroom. Keep reading to learn more about moving from a word wall to a sound wall.

For decades in the primary grades, the word wall was a critical part of the classroom environment. It was a focus within the room – where words were introduced, discussed, and listed. Ideally, these walls were added to regularly and were interactive. Young readers relied on word walls to help them to spell, sound out and read words.

So why, suddenly, are word walls being replaced by sound walls? And just what is a sound wall, anyway? How does a sound wall differ from a word wall? Does the sound wall replace the word wall? So many questions!

This activity goes well with these resources:

Why the Change?

The shift from word walls to sound walls is a result of research from the Science of Reading, a body of work founded on research regarding the teaching of reading.

The premise for this change is that, while word walls are easy for teachers to use, they can be tricky for students to use. Teachers organize word walls alphabetically. Because teachers know all the different spellings of sounds, they can locate words on the word wall with no difficulty – students not so much the same.

Early readers, on the other hand, may not know the letters of initial sounds (know, photo, etc.), and may have trouble finding words. A sound wall works to allow students to locate words based on phonemes (speech sounds) rather than initial letters.

The English language has 44 speech sounds/phonemes, 26 letters to represent those sounds/phonemes, and more than two hundred different ways to spell those sounds. When we think about the way our learners perceive the words they hear in speech, a sound wall makes sense.

Read more about what is the Science of Reading here

What is a Sound Wall?

A sound wall supports students by focusing on the articulation of sounds/phones and the various letter/letter patterns that represent the sounds/phonemes in words. Using a sound wall, students can see that one sound can be made by many different graphemes (or letters).

This realization can be a game-changer for students. When we hear words, we hear phonemes put together (s-p-ea-k). While speaking is a natural process we can usually learn through immersion, reading and writing are not. A sound wall can help!

To learn more about sound walls, click here.

How Does a Sound Wall Differ From A Word Wall?

When a child wants to spell ‘know’, he will go to the word wall and find the words that begin with ‘n’. This is because, when the child hears the ‘n’ sound, he will automatically seek out an ‘n’. As a beginning reader and speller, most young children don’t know about other letter combinations that produce the ‘n’ sound (kn, gn, pn).

When using a sound wall in this same situation, the child would go to the ‘n’ sound (instead of the letter n) and look to find his word among those examples. Under the ‘n’ sound, he is sure to find gnu, knee, net, and maybe even pneumonia.

Some additional differences: 

SOUND WALL

  • Organized by sound and can be at any place in the word.
  • Has at least one example per spelling pattern.
  • Do not necessarily actively add words to.
  • Spelling patterns are organized in order of most use in English language.

WORD WALL

  • Organized by initial letter and makes no difference what sound that letter makes.
  • Can have as many words as you want.
  • Actively add words to.

Get more Science of Reading definitions for teachers here.

Added Feature of a Sound Wall

Because sound walls focus on the sounds, one beneficial addition to sound walls are mouth photos of the sounds being made.  These pictures can be very helpful to young readers and writers, especially when paired up with available mirrors to use for practice. A student who pays attention to the way a sound feels when he’s making it is better able to commit that sound to print. Not to mention, with masks blocking mouths while students speak, these photos help to focus on that formation.  

Read more about Sound Walls in Kindergarten suggestions for teachers here.

Word Wall or Sound Wall?

Sound walls and word 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.

What about posting the alphabet?

Yes, you should still post your alphabet. It’s kindergarten and there are so many great activities you can do with the alphabet. Not to mention, your students know how to sing (and hopefully say) the letters in order so having it posted is still appropriate and beneficial.

These last two questions are some of those things where I fear we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Learn more about the Simply Kinder Phonics + Phonemes with Real Pictures Endless Bundle here!

Need more tips and ideas for transitioning from a word wall to a sound wall, then make sure to join the conversation inside the Simply Kinder Teachers Facebook Group.

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Welcome! It is our goal to help busy teachers just like you to be the best teachers they can be through our classroom ideas, resources, and community. ~ Jennifer

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