Sound Walls

Dr. Mary Dahlgren presents "Understanding the How and Why of Sound Walls" at the June 2019 Literacy Conference hosted by the Ohio Department of Education.

Implementing a Sound Wall: Because We Need to Distinguish Between Sounds and Letters

Sound walls are becoming more common in classrooms thanks to a clearer understanding of the science of reading. 

A quick search on Teachers Pay Teachers shows there is a demand for materials for sound walls, but not all the information out there is accurate. While well-intentioned, we need to understand why a sound wall is set up differently than an A–Z alphabetical word wall and how to use a sound wall effectively. The goal is to elevate daily instruction during Tier 1 by reviewing the 44 speech sounds and the options for spelling each of the sounds. By doing this daily review, it becomes automatic for students to access sounds and know how to match spelling to each sound. A confusion between letters and sounds still exists on the part of the teacher in many situations. For example, the silent letter grapheme kn represents the /n/. (When you see the diagonal lines with a letter in between, this represents the sound.)

Our goal is to help you transform word walls into sound walls. Many practices are being used with word walls that we can adjust to use with sound walls. Following is some advice for teachers making the change from a word wall to sound wall. These tips can be used to guide the explanation of how to set up a sound wall.


Read more on the EDVIEW 360 Blog page.

What are Phoneme/Grapheme Cards?

“How do I explain the reason for the different spellings in the English language?”
These cards will give teachers the confidence to answer that question.

  • There is logic to the language but many teachers find this is missing information which most of us don’t know about.

  • These generic sound/spelling cards are designed to use in grades K-5th with any reading program.

  • These cards are for teachers to use as a supplemental resource tool.

  • Use them as a quick and easy reference guide for the reliable patterns of spelling and reading.

  • These cards will provide a visual aid for both students and teachers.

  • Teachers will find basic phonics information and some extra facts on the back of each card.

  • Lists of words following a pattern and specific phonics explanations are included. The most common patterns are listed on the front of each card.

On the back of each card is a brief explanation for the pattern(s)listed on the front. The slash marks / / indicate the sound (phoneme) represented by the letter or letters (grapheme) on the front of the card.

Color code key:

  • Short vowels are printed in red. Several spelling patterns are used following short vowels.

  • For example, we spell with ck after a short vowel.  So, the red box __ on the front of the card indicates that a short vowel sound always comes before this spelling pattern.

  • Long vowel spellings are printed in green – a, a_e

  • Vowel teams (two or more letters representing a vowel sound) and diphthongs are printed in blue – ai, -ay. These spellings may represent a short, long, or a diphthong sound.

  • Vowel –r spellings are printed in orange – ar.

Dr. Mary Dahlgren, the author of these new innovative cards, conducts professional development training across the country. She uses best practices from scientifically based reading research to help teachers improve classroom instruction. As a national LETRS trainer, Mary has extensive experience working with individual schools, districts and state departments of education.

How to use the Phoneme/Grapheme Cards

Dr. Mary Dahlgren, gives a brief description on the cards and how to use them.

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