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Sound Walls & Structured Synthetic Phonics Programs

How Sound Walls Belong in PLD’s SSP Program

Structured Synthetic Phonics (SSP) is at the heart of PLD’s offering.  Every resource we create is intended to scaffold, support, and extend students’ SSP knowledge and skills.  Our latest release, Sound Wall Charts, are a special resource that will bring to life the PLD teaching sequences and serve as a visual representation of PLD’s SSP sequence.  Our teaching sequences, which are available for download for every year level from Early Years to Year 6, form the backbone of our evidence-based programs which have been formulated to promote literacy development.  PLD’s new Sound Wall Charts align directly with our teaching sequences and will further support the explicit teaching of SSP.

The Features of PLD’s Sound Wall Charts

Teaching the 44 speech sounds of the English language requires accurate modeling and articulation.  Research about how to learn to read and spell these 44 sounds tells us that not only do students have to listen to the sounds, they need to see how the sounds are being made and feel what their mouths are doing whilst making the sounds. 21

PLD’s Sound Wall Charts Support Explicit Articulation

Each phoneme-specific chart features:

  • The corresponding visual of a mouth.
  • A simple description of the type of sound (e.g. tongue tapping sound, lip popping sound, peeking tongue sound, coughing or huffing).
  • A detailed description.
  • Icons identifying if the phoneme is long or short, quiet or noisy, or a vowel or consonant.
  • Areas to add words (making the charts interactive rather than static).
  • The related phonic concepts for each year level.

Students are encouraged to feel their mouths, look in mirrors, and focus on the vocal cords and airflow in order to determine sounds .

What is a Sound Wall Display?

A sound wall is an interactive display of phonic concepts and words that is organised by and/or emphasises individual sounds (phonemes). Commonly there is one wall for consonants and one for vowels. Sound walls focus on the formation of phonemes which gives young students a structure that helps them understand the basis of language and written literacy. As we know from current research about the science of reading, children learn to read through the application of orthographic mapping, a speech-to-print process where letters are mapped to known speech sounds.  Teachers need to harness this modern understanding by using sound wall displays as a teaching and learning tool in their classrooms to support the process of learning to read and spell.  

Why Are Sound Wall Displays Important?

Sound wall displays are more effective than word walls in supporting students who are learning to read and spell as they add to their existing knowledge. Sound Wall Charts focus attention on oral articulation and maps these sounds to the various letter patterns that represent the phonemes in words. This is the speech-to-print process. When used daily, concepts are more readily retained by students.

The Difference Between a Word Wall and a Sound Wall

A traditional word wall or phonic chart is designed around print-to-speech, with words organised by the first alphabetic letter or a target phonic pattern. Each new phonic pattern tends to be represented as an isolated concept and not related to previously learned concepts. When words are added to the wall they are placed under the letter they start with. This is problematic as many words begin with letters that do not make the initial sound that we hear, such as the word ‘know’; we hear /n/, not /k/ and when we say the word ‘hour’ we hear the beginning sound of /ou/. With this in mind, it is obvious that word walls are fundamentally flawed.
On the other hand, sound walls are unique in that words are organised by phonemes and support students in retaining and learning unfamiliar words. Sound walls do the work of matching our articulation of speech sounds (phonemes) to the letters (graphemes) they represent, thus supporting students in a superior way.

Main Differences Between Word Walls and PLD’s Sound Wall Displays

Phonic Charts & Word WallsPLD Sound Wall Display
Alphabet and phonic based.Phoneme based.
Students usually need adult assistance with finding words.Students can find words independently.
Focus on what words look like.Focus on what words sound like.
Promotes rote memorisation of words.Supports orthographic mapping
(a cognitive process where words become meaningfully embedded in long-term memory).
Supports the printed version of words
(print-to-speech process).
Supports the connection from speech to print
(speech-to-print process).
No focus on sound formation.Shows pictures of mouths forming the sound.
No focus on articulation.Denotes articulatory gestures.

Using Evidence-Based Programs for Superior Outcomes

PLD has an uncompromising commitment to using current and peer-reviewed research on which to base our teaching and learning resources.  We hope we have made teacher’s lives easier with our new Sound Wall Charts which are available to purchase on our website.  Please enjoy these essential charts that complement and bring to life our existing teaching sequence manuals

How To Best Use the Charts?

See this article for tips on how to maximise literacy outcomes with PLD’s sound wall charts.

PLD’s Range of Sound Wall Charts

Further Reading

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Sound Wall Charts

Bottari, M. (2020) “Why Make the Switch? Transitioning from Word Walls to Sound Walls” Why Make the Switch? Transitioning from Word Walls to Sound Walls | Heggerty November 4, 2020.

Dahlgren, M. E. (2020) “Implementing a Sound Wall: Because We Need to Distinguish Between Sounds and Letters” Implementing a Sound Wall: Because We Need to Distinguish Between Sounds and Letters (voyagersopris.com) May 20, 2020.

Dahlgren, M. E. “What is a Sound Wall?” Literacy Initiative – Sound Walls (google.com) Accessed 27 April 2021.

Kilpatrick, D. A. (2016) Equipped for Reading Success. Casey & Kirsch Publishers, New York.

Shanahan, T. (2021) “Should We Build a (Word) Wall or Not?” Should We Build a (Word) Wall or Not? | Shanahan on Literacy

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