Sound Walls vs Word Walls- What’s the Difference?

by Shanna Bradfield

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a sound wall and a word wall? A main difference is that a sound wall is set up according to the articulation of speech sounds whereas a word wall is a collection of words typically organized alphabetically A-Z. There are often multiple ways to spell a single sound in the English language, which can lead to confusion for students. Think about all of the ways to spell the long a sound: a, a-e, ai, ei, ay, eigh, ey, and ea. Sound walls are organized in ways that students can use them as a tool when they are spelling. For example, if a student were spelling the word play, they could look to the card that represents the long a sound to check for spelling options that have been explicitly taught. In a nutshell, sound walls assist students in matching phonemes (sounds) to graphemes (letter or letter patterns). Once students understand the sound/spelling system, they are able to decode (read) and encode (spell). A sound wall is one scaffold that can help students build accuracy and fluency with both decoding and encoding.

The use of A-Z word walls can cause confusion for students when trying to use them for spelling guidance. To start there are 26 letters, but there are actually 44 consonant sounds in the English language and 18 vowel sounds. A sound wall can be organized around all 44 consonant sounds and 18 vowel sounds rather than just the 26 letters! Let’s take a closer look at the word that. On a typical word wall, that would be located under the letter T since it begins with that letter. On a sound wall, the word that would likely be found under the voiced /th/ sound as that is the sound or phoneme at the beginning of the word. If a student were trying to spell the word that, they could tap out the three sounds, /th/ /a/ /t/, and then look to the sound wall to find the correct letters or letter patterns to represent those sounds. Remember the key is that sound walls take the guesswork out of spelling for students!

Sound Wall Big Ideas

  • Helps students connect phonemes (sounds) and graphemes (letter or letter patterns)
  • Takes the guesswork out of spelling for students
  • Each card typically represents a different phoneme with all of the different spelling options listed below.
  • Sound walls can be organized in multiple ways.
  • They are tools for students to use while spelling!

Example of a Sound Wall in a 2nd grade Classroom

Do you want to learn more about sound walls? Below are two links that will help teachers learn how to build and implement a sound wall in their classroom.

Mary Dahlgren Webinar on Sound Walls

Sound Wall Quick Pick: A short video training on sound walls with direct application to the classroom

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