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What are Sound Walls and How to Use Them

Many teachers are taking a step back from their word walls and using sound walls in their classrooms instead. Let's take a look at word walls and sound walls and compare the two.


Word Walls

Most early elementary school teachers have a word wall in their classrooms. In my classroom, we learned 7 new sight words each week, and then they are put up on the word wall as a reference tool for students. We had all 26 letters represented on the word wall which represents a print-to-speech approach. We, as teachers, know how to find the words we are looking for because know how the English language works. Students, however, learn their letters, sounds, and how to read using a speech-to-print approach. For example, when a student is wanting to know how to spell the "of", they would more than likely try looking under the letter U on a word wall because that is the first sound.

Sound Walls

Sound walls are instead set up using the 44 different speech sounds in the English Language. Obviously, we learn to talk before we learn to read. We hear speech sounds before we learn how to match these sounds to letters or letter patterns. The sound wall allows students to match speech sounds (phonemes) to the letters/letter patterns (graphemes) that represent that sound.


How to Set Up a Sound Wall

Typically Sound Walls will have two different parts/boards. There is one board with consonant sounds and one board with vowel sounds. The consonant board is set up in different sections based on the articulation of the sounds. Sounds are grouped into 6 different categories based on that articulation.




Stops (/p/,/b/,/t/,/d/,/k/,/g)

Stops are short sounds that are produced with a quick release of air that passes through the lips, teeth, or throat.

Nasals (/m/,/n/,/ng/)

Nasals are continuous sounds that are produced by releasing air through the nose, either with the mouth closed (/m/) or open (/n/ and /ng/).

Fricatives (/f/,/v/,/s/,/z/,/th/,/th/,/sh/,/zh/,/h/)

Fricatives are continuous sounds that can be held and produced as long as you have enough air.

Affricates (/ch/,/j/)

Affricates are sounds that are sounds that are produced beginning as stops and ending as fricatives. They start with a burst of air and end with a softer exhalation.

Glides (/y/,/w/,/wh/)

Glides are sounds that are produced through unobstructed air passing by the tongue. The tongue must be controlled so it doesn't come in contact with the mouth.

Liquids (/l/,/r/)

Liquids are sounds that are produced when the tongue contacts the roof of the mouth and air passes around the tongue. Lips and teeth are apart.


The other board has all of the vowel sounds and is typically set up in what is called a Vowel Valley. A vowel valley is organized by the position of our mouths and the shift in our jaw when saying those vowel sounds. Starting with the Long E sound on the left, the mouth is open and is in a tight smile. The mouth opens slightly more as you move down the vowel valley. At the bottom is the Short O sound and our mouth is opened the widest. Going back up the valley, our mouths become more circular and our lips get puckered.



How to Begin Teaching with a Sound Wall

A sound wall can look very confusing to students and teachers. It is best to add to your sound wall as you learn about different sounds and letter patterns. Many teachers will set up the sound cards and have something covering them until they teach that sound. The word cards are added as students learn the grapheme (letter patterns) as anchor words.


There is no specific order in teaching consonant and vowel sounds. You can use whatever scope and sequence you typically use. Keep in mind, students frequently mix up sounds that are close together on the Vowel Valley. For example, the Long E and Short I make very similar sounds and should not be taught at the same time.


When introducing sounds to children, be sure to talk about what is happening with their mouth, tongue, lips, and what kind of airflow is happening. It will help them distinguish between different sounds and help them pronounce them correctly. It is helpful to have small mirrors available for students to look at themselves in the mirror while making sounds. All sounds can be introduced within a few weeks (sounds only).


Consonants that are on the sound wall next to each other are typically articulated the same way. However, one is voiced and one is unvoiced. For example, /p/ and /b/, sounds are made by putting our lips together. The /p/ is unvoiced and the /b/ is voiced. All vowel sounds are voiced and you can place your fingers on your throat and feel the vibrations.

Anchor Words

Once sounds are introduced, teach the most common letter or letter combination for that sound. Kindergarten students may only learn the very basic letters and some letter patterns. Students in first and second grade may learn all of the spelling patterns. Add the anchor words as you teach them so students can reference them in their reading and writing.



Review and Practice

It is important to review and practice saying the sounds, talking about our mouths, discussing letter names, and spelling patterns introduced using the sound wall. Discussions can also be made by analyzing sounds. You can talk about the different types of sounds discussed above (stops, nasals, fricatives, affricates, glides, and liquids). For example, Fricatives can be referred to as "hissy" sounds - /f/, /th/, /th/, /s/, /sh/, /z/, /v/, /zh/, /h/. Students can practice making those sounds and discuss how they are the same and different.



Independence with a Sound Wall

The sound wall becomes an effective reference tool as you progress through the school year. Students will start referring to it as they are learning. For example, if a student is trying to write the word "paid", he writes the "p" and is stuck on the Long A sound. He can refer to the sound wall and find the Long A sound and the spelling patterns. It is also helpful for students to have their own personal Sound Walls easily available to reference.






If you are ready to try a Sound Wall, I have created everything that you would need! Save time and energy trying to create your own!


Includes:

Instruction Guide

46 phoneme cards to create a Vowel Valley and Sound Wall

Phoneme Cards include mouth position, sound, picture, word, sound patterns

Individual mouth articulation cards

Picture and word cards for each sound pattern

"Locks" so place over cards not introduced yet

Individual student reference charts


Many teachers are taking a step back from their word walls and using sound walls in their classrooms instead.  Let's take a look at word walls and sound walls and compare the two.

Other Sources

Jennie

How to Manage your Literacy Centers

These 4 quick easy tips will help you manage your literacy centers!  Perfect for the kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classroom!


In a perfect world, during our center rotations, our students would be on task and working independently. Can this perfect world happen? The answer is YES! But, it takes a lot of training (your students) and skills to manage your literacy centers!


I know at the beginning of the school year I am so excited to get started working with my guided reading groups! You know the moment when you set up centers and say to yourself: "They can handle this, I'm ready to start." But then you get started, and they act as if they know nothing! Have you had this happen? I definitely have!


In the past few years, I've made sure to spend about 6 weeks of "training" my students.

Center Management Tips

  1. Training- I cannot say this enough.  Practice and practice some more!  Make sure students know what to do and why they are doing it.  
  2. Rotation Board- I use my Digital Rotation Board to keep me on track!  There are 32 different options and I even have timers set up for it.  I also have some FREE rotation cards HERE.
These digital literacy board rotation boards are perfect to keep you and your students on track during center time.  Perfect for the kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classroom!

3.  Ask 3 Before Me- we discuss the ask 3 before me rule.  If a student is not sure what they are supposed to be doing during centers, I encourage them to ask a classmate first.  Check out some of these Pinterest ideas.
4.  Yes/ No Light- where had this been all my life??? I just love my YES/NO lights.  I keep them out on my desk so students know if it is ok to ask me a question or not.  This is an affiliate link.





I hope some of these management tips come in handy and make your life so much easier!
These 4 quick easy tips will help you manage your literacy centers!  Perfect for the kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classroom!

Getting Students to Work Independently during Literacy Centers

Are you finding it difficult to keep students working independently during literacy centers?  I have 7 ideas to help you learn how to be independent!


Getting your whole class working independently during literacy centers when you’re trying to teach small groups can be frustrating. Below, I am going to give you some simple ways to keep your students on track so you can actually (gasp!) teach.

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice!

I spend about 6 weeks at the start of the school year "training" my students for centers. It is so important that they can work independently while you are teaching your small groups. We learn how to do each center separately and practice, practice, practice! We build our reading stamina for read to self and read to someone slowly until they can do it for 20 minutes. I use this Reading Stamina Chart to help give them a visual.

Building reading stamina in students takes some time.  This graph allows the teacher to record the reading stamina each day so students can see how they are doing.  Check it out here.
  1. Read to Self

This is the one we start with! When we talk about Read to Self, we discuss 5 things that they need to be doing.

  1. Get started right away.
  2. Reading the whole time.
  3. Read using whisper (3") voices.
  4. Stay in one spot.
  5. Thinking about your reading.
We practice this every day! We start out by trying to do this for 3 minutes. We slowly move up in minutes. If anyone, at any time, isn't doing these 5 things, then we stop for the day. I have a whole outline of how I teach Read to Self in my Facebook Group! I would love to see you there!
  1. Read to Someone

This is the second center that I introduce. We basically follow the rules of Read to Self but I also teach them 3 different ways to read to someone.

  1. One students reads a book, then other student reads a book.
  2. They read the same book together.
  3. They read the same book and one student reads one page, then other student reads next page.
Again, we build our reading stamina as we "train" during the first 6 weeks.
  1. Raz-Kids and EPIC

We use Raz-Kids to give students some books to read. I love that they can record themselves reading too! EPIC is also a great FREE resource to allow students to read and listen to many books. We practice how to do Raz-Kids and do the quizzes.

  1. Read the Room (differentiated)

I have weekly phonics Read the Room center. I LOVE that it is routine, easy to set up, and differentiated! Students know exactly what to do when they go to this center. Again, we practice this a few times before they are ever expected to do it independently.


Read the room can be a fun literacy center.  These phonics read the room centers are differentiated with 3 different levels that are easy to prep.  Check them out here!

  1. Writing Center

I keep my writing center super SIMPLE! Basically, I allow them to work on skills that we are working on during our writing time. Each student has a writing workshop folder and they work on writing narrative, information, or opinion pieces depending on the time in the school year.

  1. Center Rotations

I used to do my center rotations using a pocket chart and center cards. I've recently gone digital with my Literacy Center Rotation Board. I have my pocket chart cards for FREE if you want to check them out!

These free literacy board rotation cards are perfect to keep you and your students on track during center time.  Perfect for the kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classroom!
These digital literacy board rotation boards are perfect to keep you and your students on track during center time.  Perfect for the kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classroom!

I hope this helps you with getting your students independent during your center time so that you can work with your small guided reading groups! Here are some things that might be useful! For additional center ideas, check out this blogpost!

Are you finding it difficult to keep students working independently during literacy centers?  I have 7 ideas to help you learn how to be independent!