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Science of Reading Sound Wall with Mouth Pictures

For decades, the word wall was the focal point within the primary classroom. It was right up front, next to the calendar. The word wall was the place where words were listed, introduced, and discussed. It was interactive and dynamic, receiving daily use by teachers and students as they went through the day reading and

So what’s this we’re hearing about sound walls? Are word walls being replaced by sound walls? And just what is a sound wall, anyway? Let’s try to make some sense out of these questions!


What is a Sound Wall?

A sound wall is a tool used to organize sounds (phonemes) and the letters (graphemes) used to make those sounds.

A sound wall looks very similar to a word wall, but the organization is quite different. Rather than focusing on letters, a sound wall focuses on sounds. The word dog, for example, has both three letters and three phonemes, or sounds: /d/o/g/. The word phone, on the other hand, has five letters, but only three phonemes (sounds): ph /o/

The realization that all letters make sounds can be a game changer for students. When we hear words, we hear phonemes put together (d/o/g/ = ‘dog’). While speaking is a natural process usually learned through immersion, reading and writing require more intentional instruction. The sound wall is an important component of this intentional instruction.

What is the purpose of a sound wall?

 Reading and writing can be mysterious to the early learner. The twenty six letters of the English alphabet make forty four phonemes, or sounds, and there are over two hundred different ways to spell those sounds. Learning these phonemes helps
enable early learners to ‘crack the code’.

The purpose of a sound wall is to help students to focus on sounds as they relate to letters and words. The sound wall can be used throughout the day by both the teacher and the students, making reading and writing easier.

Sound Wall vs Word Wall

The shift from word walls to sound walls is a result of research from the Science of Reading, a movement founded on effective practices in literacy instruction. According to researchers, effective early literacy instruction must include the following:

• Phonological Awareness
• Phonics and Word Recognition
• Fluency
• Vocabulary
• Comprehension

The sound wall falls into the first two pillars of reading instruction phonological awareness and phonics/word recognition. While the word wall was popular and visually appealing, it didn’t actually help children to become better readers or writers. Enter the sound wall.

A big difference between a word wall and a sound wall is perspective (child vs adult). When a child is trying to read or write a word, he or she is trying to produce a sound. A word wall is a great tool if the user can already read , but for those still learning to read, a sound wall is more useful.

Considering the many tricky spellings in English (know, phone, chorus), it’s easy to see how a word wall can be both misleading and confusing for the early learner.

Is a Sound Wall Better than a Word Wall?

Because of the reasons previously stated, current experts generally agree that a sound wall is superior to a word wall. When we think about how children learn to read and write, it just makes sense to focus on sounds rather than letters. Beginning with letters rather than sounds wastes a lot of time in the instructional process.

How to Set Up a Sound Wall in the Classroom

Step one is to get the letters, phonemes, pictures, etc. on the wall. Plan for a minimum width of seventy one inches for your wall. Make sure to post the letters and pictures low enough having a sound wall at the learners’ height will allow for daily reference and practice in letter sound correspondence.

Don’t let perfection stand in your way! The sound wall can be empty at the beginning of the year, and you can add to it as the days go by.

Setting up a sound wall can be intimidating and time consuming. First, you’ll need each phoneme clearly printed, along with the variety of letter combinations which make each phoneme. You’ll also need a key image to help your students to remember each sound. It may sound overwhelming, but there are many formatting


 When looking for sound wall resources, however, teachers must be selective. If you’re going to purchase something, you want it to be effective, affordable and easy to use.

The Orthographic Mapping Mega Bundle is a comprehensive collection of sound wall resources designed to streamline the process with ease. You have about a million other things to worry about, right?

Because students need many opportunities to practice, this bundle includes lots of engaging, brightly colored activities for individual practice.

Available both digitally and in print, the Orthographic Mapping Mega Bundle is a great value. Of course parents are part of the teaching team, and this resource can be effortlessly shared via email, Google Slides, etc.


How to Teach With the Sound Wall

Begin by introducing the sound, followed by the letter(s) that most commonly make that sound. For example, the sound /k/ is most commonly made by the letters c, k, or the ck combination.

Reference the wall regularly, including a daily review of each sound.

Demonstrate mouth movements to effectively make the sounds shown (included inthe Orthographic Mapping Mega Bundle ).

It’s important to practice these mouth movements with students. Small mirrors help children see what their lips and tongue are doing. This mouth work is optimally done in small groups to enable correction and coaching.

What’s next? Integrate the sound wall into writing activities throughout the day! Make certain that students know it’s their sound wall, and they should use it often!
Be sure to take a minute to admire your handiwork, and the engagement and learning that are sure to follow. Your sound wall will be a game changer!

Sound Wall Photos and Setup Ideas

In this bundle I provided two sound wall options:

  1. one sound wall with clip art
  2. one sound wall with photos

Pick the one you want to use in your classroom and print the files. 

If you want to make sure you place the sound cards in the right order, use the Individual Sound Wall.pdf as a guide

You can use the locks to cover the the sounds your students don’t know yet.

Sound Wall Photos and Setup Ideas