Beyond Sound Walls

By Bridget Simenc on September 7, 2021

Beyond Sound Walls

“To Infinity and Beyond!” 

-Buzz Lightyear


Beyond Sound Walls



Ok, infinity might be an over-exaggeration, but with Phonics in Motion, children can definitely move beyond sound walls and learn strategies that make them literacy experts.


There has been a shift in teaching from using word walls to sound walls. Whereas word walls focus on print to speech, sound walls focus on speech to print.  Students focus on the sound and the manner and placement of the parts of the articulators in making the sound.  The goal of sound walls is to group words by their sounds instead of by letters. Students learn that one sound can be made using different graphemes (a written symbol that represents the sound), and it helps to teach spelling patterns. Phonics in Motion also focuses on the importance of listening and understanding that sounds are connected to print. However, Phonics in Motion integrates all modalities of learning.


Sound walls often have pictures of the mouth articulating the sound, organized by the place in the mouth and the manner in which it is articulated. While a sound wall offers photographs of the articulation of a sound, many are difficult, if not impossible to actually see.  Trying to explain to a child where the placement of the tongue is, how the sound is made, etc., can be very confusing for young children.  I  have met many Pre-K to 2nd-grade students who have developmental articulation problems and do not make the sound in the correct place or manner in their mouths!  (ex. A child with a lisp uses a /th/ for /s/ sound).  If their mouth position does not match the mouth positions on the wall, I believe they would be extra anxious or confused!  


I remember my first class in graduate school, Clinical Phonetics.  The content focused on how sounds are made;  the place in the mouth and the manner in which they were articulated.  I felt like I was learning a foreign language and was super anxious that I would never learn all of it.  I actually thought I would fail before I ever started. I was 22, a college graduate with a background in speech and hearing.  The complexity of sound walls could be just as confusing to young children who are learning to read and write.  It is a very meta-cognitive (talking about thinking) skill.

Phonics in Motion, however,  goes beyond sound walls and makes learning developmentally appropriate, child-oriented, and fun.  While we appreciate the need for students to perceive, articulate, and discriminate a sound, we find that a better approach is the use of a KMP (Kinesthetic Motion for the Phoneme) for each phoneme. The KMP is the gross motor representation of the fine motor articulation of the sound.  It is easily seen.  In discussions with children, we talk about the tension needed to produce certain sounds (e.g tension needed for an /s/ or /sh/ sound vs /w/ or /p/.  We talk about how we feel that sound).  In addition to the 44 phonemes that a sound wall offers, PIM also offers a KMP for some chunks in our language (e.g. -tion, -ed, -ing, -ong, -ang).  When reciting a silly poem together and using  the Kinesthetic Motion for Phonemes (KMP) the learning is engaging and fun.  Students learn the 44 phonemes by playing with the sound in poetry or while saying and motioning things like, “It’s so, so silly”. Learning is natural. Tongue position, tension, and using the KMP to feel the “tension” in the sound gives the phoneme a concrete anchor that children carry with them in their muscle memories. 


Additionally, PIM offers a visual representation and an organizer for the vowel sounds through the Vowel House.  Vowel sounds are categorized into short vowels, long vowels, diphthongs, and r-controlled vowels.  As alternate spellings are developed, they are added to the appropriate window of the vowel house.  Students operate from the question “What do you hear?”, perform the KMP, locate the window that makes that sound, and then become able to discuss the various spellings of that sound.  They also learn which spelling would actually work based on the rules for the markings in the Vowel House windows.  For example, when wanting to write the word “play”, students learn that the a_e and ~ai__ spellings would not work because there must be a letter present to spell the word correctly.  You cannot write pla__e or plai___.  A letter must be there to make those spelling choices correct. Children focus on the sound and then use context to connect it to the correct spelling.


Phonics in Motion goes beyond sound walls and makes learning child-oriented and fun. It is child-friendly and lets the learner feel the articulation of the motion.  


The KMP and the Vowel House that Phonics in Motion presents are easily observable by both the teacher and the student.  Learning is easily monitored as the child acquires the skill. Teachers can present the KMP and are also able to observe a student’s match of the KMP to the articulated sound. When errors are made, teachers can quickly note and correct misrepresentations. Like sound walls, PIM presents sound to print, but thanks to the kinesthetic motion for each phoneme, the techniques are embedded in the child’s memory. Learners carry their Phonics in Motion “sound and kinesthetic walls” everywhere they go!

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