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Home » Blog » Literacy » Let’s Talk About the Classroom Sound Wall

Let’s Talk About the Classroom Sound Wall

Literacy, Phonics, Science of Reading, Spelling & Word Work

Written by: Krys Warstillo

Read this post for all the answers to teachers' frequently asked questions about sound walls!

how to set up and use a sound wall in the classroom

A phrase that's all over online teacher groups and making headlines right now is the “science of reading” or SoR. This post from Heggerty has a TON of amazing resources if you’d like to learn more about SoR. We all want to be the best teachers we can be and keeping up with best practices, especially in reading, is vital. A classroom sound wall is based on the science of reading and supports explicit instruction with phonemes.

Before we get into the specifics of the Sound Wall with Mouth Pictures let's go through some frequently asked questions about classroom sound walls.

What Is a Sound Wall?

A sound wall is a way to organize phonemes and spelling patterns for students to use as a reference when they are spelling and reading words. Words are grouped by phonemes (or sounds) and NOT beginning letters. A sound wall organizes English-language phonemes in a way that allows students to make sense of spelling patterns that make different sounds.

classroom sound wall
Photo Credit: Amanda Alba

How Are Sound Walls and Word Walls Different?

First, you organize a word wall alphabetically A through Z. Typically, we add sight words or high-frequency words based on the first letter of the word. This becomes a problem when we get to words like “the.” If a student doesn't know what letters are connected to the initial /th/ sound then a word wall won't help them. They don't know to look under the letter T. While some of us might feel very attached to them, word walls don't work for many of our learners. Reading Rockets has a wonderful write-up (and a great explanatory chart!) on why you should transition from a word wall to a sound wall.

With a sound wall, the sections are broken into sounds. Under each sound are letter(s) that are used to spell that sound, along with word examples. Students will use their knowledge of the sounds they've been explicitly taught to use the classroom sound wall on their own!

How Much Room Does A Sound Wall Take Up?

A standard classroom bulletin board should be enough. The space you're already using for a word wall will fit your sound wall just fine! If your classroom doesn't have a lot of wall space, there are personal sound walls included in our Sound Wall resource that students can keep in their desks.

classroom sound wall
Photo Credit: Amanda Haycock

Which Grades Should Use A Sound Wall?

Sound walls are an excellent resource for struggling readers of all ages. You introduce sound walls to students using the sounds they already know. The sounds they know in 1st grade are very different than the sounds they know in 2nd or even 3rd grade. Refer to the sequence your school uses for phonics instruction to get a sense of what your students have already learned. So, in a 1st-grade classroom, the sound wall might have a lot of little locks (more on these locks in a second) covering sounds they don't know yet. In a 2nd-grade classroom, the sound wall will be mostly lock-free.

padlocks to lock sounds not yet learned on a sound wall

How Do I Use a Classroom Sound Wall?

A sound wall can be empty at the beginning of the year. It will grow as you teach the sounds and spelling patterns. Alternatively, you can post the sounds and use a printable “lock” icon to cover sounds your students haven’t learned yet. During instruction, introduce (or “unlock”) one sound at a time. Draw the students’ attention to what your mouth is doing as you make each sound. Next, focus your students' attention on the letters and the articulation card on your sound wall so they make the connection between the two. Then, tie in a reference picture to the sound. These reference pictures are great prompts for students. Finally, you can add words that also use the same sound to blank cards or sticky notes. Be sure to consistently demonstrate how the students can use the sound wall as a reference tool. Here is a lesson to walk you through how a sound wall can be used during phonics instruction.

sample classroom sound wall

Also.. try printing these individual sound walls so your students can keep their own personal mini sound wall with them throughout the day!

The Lucky Little Learners Sound Wall with Mouth Pictures & Phonics Posters

So, you've read the research and you are ready to incorporate a sound wall into your reading instruction. Here at Lucky Little Learners, we created a sound wall we think you're going to love! Take a look at the video below for an up close and personal tour of our Classroom Sound Wall, all set up and ready to use with students!

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Many teachers like to use our phonics posters as well!

phonics posters

Get these on All Access

Join All Access to download everything we've ever made.

Looking For More?

We have a lot of great ELA resources for your lucky little learners. Take a look at our posts below!

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how to set up a classroom sound wall

13 Comments

  1. Jen Kosarych

    My colleague and I wanted to do our action research project on Sound Walls this year. Are they appropriate to use with Kindergarten? It seems a little overwhelming because we use Journeys and have to teach their 88 sight words. We’ve always used a word wall for these words. Any help is appreciated!
    Thanks!
    Jen

    Reply
    • Bailey Jordan

      ​Hi Jen! We would love to help you with this question, please email us at customerservice@luckylittlelearners.com and we will do our best to answer it for you! Thanks so much!

      Bailey J.
      Lucky Little Learners

      Reply
    • Sa'adu Ismaila Dauda

      Excellent for beginners. I like this so much.

      Reply
  2. Nancy Greene

    I can’t figure out how to get the free individual sound wall

    Reply
    • Bailey Jordan

      ​Hi Nancy! We would love to help you with this question, please email us at customerservice@luckylittlelearners.com and we will do our best to answer it for you! Thanks so much!

      Bailey J.
      Lucky Little Learners

      Reply
  3. Julie Ross

    I tried to download the Freebie Sound Wall for individuals and spent 5 min in a loop filling out info only to get to the next page which required more info. Never did get the freebie sound wall info.

    Reply
    • Bailey Jordan

      ​Hi Julie! We would love to help you with this question, please email us at customerservice@luckylittlelearners.com and we will do our best to answer it for you! Thanks so much!

      Bailey J.
      Lucky Little Learners

      Reply
  4. Rebecca

    Where does the word “are” go on a Sound Wall?

    Reply
    • Bailey Jordan

      ​Hi Rebecca! We would love to help you with this question, please email us at customerservice@luckylittlelearners.com and we will do our best to answer it for you! Thanks so much!

      Bailey J.
      Lucky Little Learners

      Reply
  5. Tammy Wood

    This sounds like a great idea. I was wondering if this could be used in higher grades for students who have reading difficulties and are 2 or more years below grade level? I teach Sped and my students are 5-8 graders who have reading difficulities.

    Reply
    • Jess

      Hello Tammy! For higher grades, we would recommend using the individual sound wall. You could print it poster size on the wall or have students keep it at their desks, but you probably wouldn’t want two full bulletin boards with it in an upper grade. You can grab the free individual sound wall right HERE. I hope this helps!

      Reply
  6. donna renieris

    Where can I find the r controlled word wall to make an anchor chart

    Reply
    • Jess Dalrymple

      Hello Donna! Here is a link to get the sound wall pack (including all the materials you’ll need for each spelling pattern you will teach). The r-controlled vowel posters and sound wall cards are included in this pack. Thanks so much for your interest!

      Reply

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