Frequently Asked Questions

Implementing Sound Walls

Does the configuration of my sound wall matter?

Yes! Students will need access to both a consonant chart and a vowel valley to learn about all 44 English speech sounds. The field of linguistics contributes to the body of knowledge we refer to as the Science of Reading. If we want our Sound Wall to align with science, we must follow the linguistic configuration. Consequently, organizing the consonant chart by both manner and place of articulation is important. When we post phonemes out of order the sound wall loses its linguistic value, and we can only teach students about some features of articulation. The headings along the top of the chart describe the place of articulation or where in the mouth the sound is being produced. Along the side is the manner of articulation, including what happens with air flow and vocal cords. Because students make mistakes with phonemes that are in the same box, row, and column, there is a significant benefit to organizing by both manner and place of articulation. The vowel valley is organized to mimic mouth movements. The top left begins with the jaw high and the lips smiling. Moving down the vowel valley the jaw drops low and open before raising again as the lips round forward.

Should I post high frequency words on my sound wall?

Ultimately this comes down to teacher choice and meeting the needs of your students. But let’s consider a couple of things. The shift from a word wall to a sound wall is to support students in perceiving the sounds in words and mapping them to known graphemes (speech to print). This process builds the circuitry in the brain needed for reading both regular and irregular words. If we add words to the Sound Wall, what will our students do? Copy them! The act of copying will not facilitate the same mental process of analyzing sound/letter relationships. If you want to add a word after it has been explicitly taught, perhaps put the word up for a week or so and then take it down. It is when you take it down that you will see if the word has gone through the mental process of Orthographic Mapping and is stored in long term memory. If your students are misreading or misspelling the word after you take it down, it’s ok! They are telling you they need to go through the process of mapping phonemes to graphemes again.

Where should I post irregular high frequency words?

Remember to view the Sound Wall from the perspective of your students and think about speech to print. If your students are looking for the word "said," where will they look? Most young readers would probably look under the /s/ sound. How about the word "one"? They will probably look at the /w/ sound. When in doubt, talk to your students, analyze the word, and decide together where to post it.

Where do I put the Phoneme/Cards qu and x?

The grapheme qu is how we can spell the phonemes /k/ /w/ as in quiet or quit. The letter x is one way to spell the sounds /k/ and /s/ as in fox or box. The grapheme x can also represent the sounds /g/ /z/ as in exit. So, many educators post these two grapheme cards off to the side near the /k/ card. You can add a label that says ‘two sounds’ or ‘borrowers’ if you would like.

I have a Phoneme/Grapheme Card with a cat and one with a kite. Which one should I put up by the /k/ sound?

With our phoneme/grapheme cards you have two options for posting a key word next to the /k/ Kid Lips card. You have a card with the picture of a cat as the key word. This card lists the spellings of the /k/ sound in order of frequency with c first, then k and ck last. For Kindergarten we would suggest using this card. You also have a card with a kite as the key word. Many teachers want something to add to the sound wall when they teach the pattern for hard and soft c. So, when students have been explicitly taught that before the letters e, i and y the /k/ sound is spelled with the grapheme k, the kite picture can be added if you choose. You also have cards for the graphemes c and k so that if you chose to post a second set in alphabetical order in addition to your sound wall you have a card for each alphabet letter.

Why don’t the Phoneme/Grapheme Cards list every spelling pattern?

The graphemes are listed based on frequency or utility. If every possible pattern were listed, it would not only be overwhelming, but students would struggle knowing which patterns are the most reliable.
For example, the apron /ā/ card has the four most common patterns listed on the front: a, a_e, ai, ay. These four graphemes are responsible for spelling long a in 95% of words. On the back of the Large Phoneme/Grapheme Cards, there is additional information regarding less frequent patterns. The long a sound can be spelled with the grapheme eigh as in weigh, but this pattern is infrequent so it is listed on the back. If your phonics scope and sequence includes the grapheme eigh then add it to the front of the card when you explicitly teach it to your students.

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