Word Walls, or Sound Walls?


Miss Emma has been working with children for the past ten years, creating the Speech Sound Clouds that are used to display all of the English grapheme (spelling) choices. Each Spelling Cloud shows the high-frequency spelling choices for each phoneme on the outside, and others inside! An example word is shown. 


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Sound Wall or Word Wall? If using the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach you already know the answer to this question! A Sound (phoneme) wall; of course!  There are around 1.25 million words in the English language, and we wouldn't have a wall big enough to display them all:-) So which words would we choose? A 'word wall' traditionally displays high-frequency words that the teacher wants the child to memorise as whole words. They need to learn these words as quickly as possible, as they have no systematic phonics teaching or decodable readers that align with this order; scaffolding the learning of high-frequency graphemes. Word Walls tend to still be used in classrooms where 'sight word' lists are sent home, along with PM and F&P readers are 'home readers' from term 1 of Kindergarten. They teach using the 'three cueing' system, even if also teaching some phonics. The phonics teaching tends to be very slow, with all children learning the same 'letter sounds' at the same time eg '2 letter sounds per week'.
In these schools a lot of children are still learning to read even after 3 years of school. SSP teachers work as a team to ensure that all move to grade 2 no longer in the 'learning to read' phase, and are out of the systematic phonics teaching phase (the 4 Code Levels) They, of course, continue to explore the code every day.   

This is the SSP systematic teaching order of the 'high frequency' graphemes. The reason for this order is so that the students can read and write short sentences within a coupe of weeks of kindergarten, using just the graphemes s/a/t/p/i/n and a few code mapped high frequency words th/e   i/s   w/a/s    a/n/d (ie graphemes not covered in their Code Level) They can form all 26 letters of the alphabet by week 5, however they focus on the phoneme to grapheme links, not letter names. Letter names are used around the end of SSP Purple, when they start using the Spelling Clouds. 

See Teaching Structure Here

Sound Walls and the issue of 'accents'.


So a 'Sound Wall' shows the 44 or so phonemes used when speaking English, and their linked graphemes

(spelling choices.

When helping children learn to become orthographic mappers (reading words without conscious thought, but understanding the phoneme to grapheme mapping if asked) we need them to understand the phoneme to grapheme mapping. It means that if they were to segment the word 'far' into their English phonemes then it would be f/ar  - and if Americans who pronounce the 'r' as a separate phoneme would segment as f/a/r.  This is because they are using 3 phonemes. But English students use words with the 'a' to represent that phoneme in other words. 

We have Spelling Clouds that show the phonetic symbols and graphemes used to represent the phonemes. So it doesn't matter about pronunciation. The /a/ and also the /ar/ are in the cloud that show the spelling choices for ɑː whether you say f/ar/ or f/a/r.  You can order these generic Spelling Clouds and use with any systematic phonics program.



So there are example words but you can discuss that these may change depending on how the student pronounces the word; as with the lists shown in the TPT Spelling Mat. It is really important that parents and teachers discuss all this though, just as we discuss how Americans would pronounce words - we may have American students. And even within the UK children will use different phonemes for the same word. Some may segment b/a/th and the second phoneme is  ɑː and some may use ɑː So they discuss the mapping; it's a big part of the learning process. As teachers we need to be aware that there may be a 'guide' eg this list, but we must explore how people speak, around the world, and so there could not ever be ONE list that had words that were exactly how every child in the class speaks. In American there are huge discrepancies regarding accents too.  
Nothing is silent when we represent speech on paper, as we are representing speech sounds; ever letter used. There is no such thing as a 'silent' letter, any more than there is a 'magic e' etc They are very outdated concepts; 'left overs' from programs created by developers that don't really understand a 'speech to print' approach and orthographic mapping. 

And if you do want to display high frequency words make sure you 'Code Map' those too !

There is no point having whole words on the walls if they don't help students understand the phoneme to grapheme mapping. Which words should you use? It depends on what the students need. If they are going to be PM benchmarked, then put up the Code Mapped Level 1 - 10 words (there are around 100) and make sure they are watching the PM Level 1 - 10 HFW video!


You can type any word into tophonetics.com or similar to see options for a 'generic' British and American accent. But when you use the Spelling Clouds the graphemes are in the spelling cloud regardless of accents. You would just discuss with students the word examples.  The focus is on the grapheme choices - we give word examples as no-one wants to show graphemes in isolation :-) But it is a starting point for discussions, and to understand the IPA, and why so many have struggled to teach phonics for so long. Teachers may say 'sound it out' when spelling, and yet 5 children in a class may use different 'sounds'. That's what our approach seeks to address. So have a 'Sound Wall' up to evoke discussions about how we all 'talk on paper' around the world!

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The Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach. Wiring Brains® for Literacy. Code Mapping® and Monster Mapping®
Build a Speech Sound Wall with the SSP Spelling Clouds