Sound Walls In The Classroom

Sound Walls In The Classroom

You’ve probably heard about sound walls in the classroom through colleagues or social media – maybe you’ve been asked to implement a sound wall in your classroom. 

Implementing new tools can seem overwhelming at first, but the investment in student learning is always worth it.

If you’re not sure how to get started with sound walls in the classroom, or how best to implement your sound wall, then we’re here to help!

What are sound walls?

A sound wall is organised by sound, helping students to move from speech-print using phonemes (letter sounds), mouth formation(articulation), and recognition of common and uncommon graphemes (letter patterns).

A sound wall is a fantastic tool, easily differentiated for younger and older students. It aids in explicit and systematic phonic instruction, orthographic mapping, spelling and decoding, while also providing students with a working reference wall for reading and writing.

Why use a sound wall?

Explicit instruction of phonemes is known to improve student reading outcomes. Even older students can benefit from a review of phonemes, and common and extended grapheme knowledge.

Secondly, on a sound wall, words are grouped with sounds. This means that instead of learning words from a word wall, students learn letter-sounds and letter patterns, and transfer that knowledge to decoding and spelling other new words. Sound walls are also more easily used. For instance, when a student looks for the spelling of a word such as ‘one’, on a word wall, where do they look? Normally they start at the letter ‘W’. On a sound wall, they are not mislead by the letter ‘o’, but are instead led to find the phoneme /w/, which can be represented by (in this case less-common) graphemes This is far more effective at teaching different spelling patterns.

Finally, they fit into your phonics/spelling program and are an ongoing visual aide. They are not meant to have every word a child needs to spell – rather, the goal is the transfer of letter-sound knowledge and retrieval of taught phonemes/graphemes.

How to get started – basic principles

Sound wall pedagogy is not something you will perfect overnight. Even the experts can’t agree on the categorisation of sounds, so being confused about how sounds are represented, how words are segmented and blended, and the ‘best way’ to use a sound wall is normal. That said, some basic principles apply:

  • Introduce one phoneme at a time.
  • Explicitly teach each sound.
  • Don’t introduce similar sounds at the same time.
  • Introduce the most common letter or grapheme that represents that sound first, but aim to display as many as is age-appropriate.
  • Display mouth formation images for each sound. 
  • It’s best to display as you go. Preparing the entire wall and then carefully storing by sound type all at once, is useful for being able to add sounds throughout the year.
  • If you need to put up your entire wall (some of us NEED to do this LOL), cover up the sounds that haven’t been explicitly taught. Some sound wall kits come with lock images that are handy for this purpose. 
  • MODEL HOW TO USE THE SOUND WALL. Review the sounds every day and then model how to use the wall. It’s not useful if it’s not used!

How to set up a sound wall 

A sound wall uses sound groupings to organise the phonemes. When using a sound wall, it is actually better to have two distinct walls for vowels and consonants. The classic sound wall includes all of the phonemes:

Wall #1 (see image below)

This wall includes :

  1. Vowel valley Long and Short Vowels /ē/, /I/, /ā/, /e/, /a/, /ī/, /o/, /u/, /aw/, /ō/, /oo/, ōō/, yū/ & Vowel Dipthongs /oi/, /ou/,  Vowel Sounds Influenced by ‘R’ /ûr/, /a(r)/, /ā(r)/, /o(r)/, Schwa

The mouth formations in vowel valley move left to right,  from /ee/ to /ou/. They should be grouped together.

Wall #2

This wall includes the consonants and consonant digraphs:

  1. Stops Unvoiced /p/ /t/ /k/  Stops Voiced /b/ /d/ /g/ /j/  Continuants Unvoiced /f/ /s/ Continuants Voiced /v/ /z/ Glides /h/ /y/ /w/ Liquid /l/ /r/ /m/ /n/ Others /k//w/ /k//x/
  2. Consonant Digraphs /th/ voiced and unvoiced, /ng/ /sh/ /ch/ /wh/ with breath /zh/

Alternative ways to display sounds

Consonants and consonant digraphs can be grouped different ways. It is up to your own pedagogical approach whether you feel speech pathology terminology is useful in your classroom. 

You can simply display consonants in the order they are learned, distinguishing between stops and continuants (acknowledging Schwa isn’t added onto the end of sounds – eg /p/-uh).

You can also use groupings such as Fricatives /f/, /th/, /s/, /sh/, /h/ and Affricates /ch/, /j/. 

Being playful with your wall, for example placing voiced and unvoiced sounds (/b/, /p/) next to each other for comparisons, can deepen your students’ understanding of phonemes. 

Differentiating the pedagogy

Differentiating the wall for your classroom is also important.  A complete sound wall may be overwhelming for your class. Displaying just Vowel Vally, or the week’s focus sound, and one or two previous sounds can work for one class. 

If you class is requesting how to spell sounds that aren’t on display, consider if you need to add more to your wall, while highlighting the sounds you have explicitly taught.

Being relaxed about sound walls

If you are confused about sound walls, you should know that even the experts can’t agree on how many phonemes there are. Are there 42 or 44? Do we include vowel digraphs in the final number or not? Academics have even written entire papers trying to prove there are only 35 phonemes. 

It’s not because anyone is incorrect – it’s because the English language is incredibly complex and sounds are changed by dialects, pronunciation and accents.

Now, imagine trying to convince your colleagues there are only 35 phonemes. The thought would probably fill you with dread – and this is how we can feel when trying to implement new things. We get imposter syndrome and worry that we will expose ourselves as not knowing enough.

The key is to do your best, listen to advice from people you respect, continue to learn and implement the things you learn in your classroom.

Creating a Calm Classroom

Creating a Calm Classroom

What is a Calm Classroom?

A calm classroom is a learning environment that gives students a sense of safety, relaxation and equilibrium. The calming environment is created mindfully through routine, decor, temperature and sound.

Why create a calm classroom?

A calm classroom makes your job easier. Students are more engaged, display less behaviour issues, and your own anxiety as a teacher is reduced.

How to create a Calm Classroom:

  • Decor: use neutral and natural tones; plants in the classroom, and avoid over stimulating colours and displays (or at least walls full of these). Our Gum Leaf Themed Decor Kit is a great starting point.
  • Lighting: Use natural light as much as possible. Don’t block the windows – let students see trees and gardens outside; let them see what the weather is doing. If you are next to a busy walkway, or your classroom feels like a fishbowl, use light coloured curtains or blinds (or even light-coloured paper) to shade your windows without blocking the light.
  • Temperature: Warm, stuffy classrooms are irritating classrooms. Children have trouble concentrating and tempers flare. If you want to reduce your behaviour problems, lower the temperature. Open windows, turn the air-conditioner up. Even on cold days, allow fresh air to circulate for a few minutes per day before heating goes on.
  • Noise: Set the tone of the classroom with relaxing music playing when students walk in for the day. You can choose ambient relaxation music, or light happy guitar music. Students also love Disney tunes played on the piano. You can find videos playing relaxing music with nature scenes on YouTube. Continue to play on a low level throughout the day, particularly during quiet work time.
  • Fragrance: If your district allows it, calming essential oils, such as lavender and lemongrass, can help to calm your students.
  • Calm spaces: teepees, cushions, reading corners and retreat areas are important for students that need time out.
  • Reading buddies – soft toys that students bring from home to hold during independent reading time

You can find a range of resources to create a calm classroom in our ‘Calm Classroom’ category.

The Third Teacher in Your Classroom

The Third Teacher in Your Classroom

Who is the Third Teacher?

The Third Teacher in your classroom is the learning environment. The first teacher is the PARENT, the second the CLASSROOM TEACHER and the THIRD is the environment you create for your students. Healthy relationships between all three contribute to student wellbeing and success.

To be a Third teacher, your classroom environment needs to foster independence in learning, nurture creativity and curiosity, provide clarity on teacher expectations (academic and behavioural) , encourage risk-taking and critical thinking, but most of all be useful.

In the context of Learning Walls and Bump It Up Walls, the ‘Third Teacher’ starts with assessment in mind, and facilitates HOW students interact with and use these walls together to improve their own achievement. You read that right – the learning environment actually encourages interaction and participation through purposeful selection, placement and modelling by the classroom teacher.

Why is ‘The Third Teacher’ in Your Classroom Important and How Does it Help You?

The ‘Third Teacher’ is literally that – another helping hand in the classroom. Do your students need help with setting a goal? Refer to the Third Teacher (e.g. Learning Walls, Bump It Up Walls, Success Criteria). Does a child need help with text structure or language features? Try the Third Teacher (e.g. writing exemplars- good & bad, colour-coded examples detailing text structure, student checklist)! Anything relating to achieving success criteria? Refer to the Third Teacher!

Your ‘Third Teacher’ can help you to:

  • Be clear on curriculum goals
  • Share success criteria alongside examples/anchor charts/checklists
  • Provide ongoing support to students either by directing them to the wall, or being able to support students 1:1 because other students are accessing the Third Teacher.
  • Be a facilitator of knowledge, rather than the gatekeeper.

How your students engage with the ‘Third teacher’ determines its effectiveness. The ‘Third Teacher’ is effective when; students have ownership over the learning environment; students know what is in the classroom and where to find it; know how to use the information/tool they find; and students know they have permission to go to the classroom environment first.

How do you encourage students to seek the Third Teacher?

How you craft your classroom environment to encourage students to refer to the ‘Third Teacher’ comes down to a few basic fundamentals:

  • Your classroom environment needs to be set up for individual, group, whole-class work/lessons, with breakout areas that have access to materials they need to explore, engage and scaffold (in Early Years these materials may include counters, manipulative, small investigation areas. Older students may have access to white boards, post-it notes, text books, highlighters etc).
  • You may have a collaborative learning space where students contribute items relevant to the learning.
  • Everything on your classroom wall must be relevant. This means the content has been explicitly taught; students have seen the content before it has appeared on the wall; the content is regularly referred to within lessons and students had an opportunity to co-create some of the content (eg co-constructed anchor charts, success criteria, writing samples)
  • Use student-created work samples, anchor charts, post-its and more. Students are more engaged by theirs and others’ work.
  • You can also create interactive elements and ‘take-aways’ – elements of the learning environment that students can use in their own space (eg WOW word bookmarks that students can take back to their desk).
  • Use the ‘three before me’ rule. Students should ask the peer next to them, a ‘peer expert’, and the Third Teacher (where can you find help in our classroom?), before seeking out your help (unless of course, someone is hurt or there is an emergency).
  • Model the independent processes with ‘think alouds’. For instance, model how to self-assess against success criteria for your students. In your classroom, self-assessment may look like this:
    • your students complete a draft;
    • before the teacher views the draft, the student goes to the learning Wall to access a self-assessment checklist;
    • the student identifies a success criteria they have not achieved – this becomes a learning goal;
    • they write their learning goal in their goal book, or on a post-it for the wall;
    • they seek information on the learning wall to help them achieve the success criteria (e.g using speech marks to indicate dialogue)
    • they edit their draft to include the success criteria, and submit for peer/teacher feedback.
  • Regularly directing students to the Third Teacher by referring to the 5 Questions, specifically, ‘Where can you go for help?’. Answers can be:
    • Look at the Learning Wall: Re-read the Learning Intention; Read the success criteria – look at the work examples and anchor charts linked to the success criteria
    • Knowledge centres: vocabulary walls, dictionary, iPads for research
    • Feedback, goals, past work (always keep students work in individual folders with previous student checklists attached, so students can see their own growth and use these samples to set goals). Also keep your own tracking document so that you know where each student is sitting and which feedback has been given.
  • Display answers to the 5 Questions in your classroom, so students can read the answers (include visual cues for younger learners).

Where do I start?

  • Complete an audit of the classroom environment – is it all being used? Has it all been explicitly taught? Is it there just because it ‘looks nice’?
  • Remove what isn’t useful to your students. If it is useful but hasn’t been taught, teach it! Make a connection for your students and show them how it is useful.
  • Ensure your Learning Wall has all of the elements that students need. Have you deconstructed the Learning Intention? Have you got co-constructed success criteria? Have you provided a checklist of success criteria that your students can use, repeatedly as the act on feedback?
  • What needs to be a ‘take-away’ – think of students that need additional support with tangible resources in front of them. Print multiple copies, hang them on hooks, stick velcro to the back of mini-anchor charts, put information on bookmarks that can be reused.
  • Model, model, and model again, the use of the learning environment.
  • Reinforce the 5 Questions
  • Praise independence and autonomy.

In essence, many of us have used the Third Teacher within our classrooms, without giving it a name. Giving it some structure, educating students in its existence and application, and creating the learning environment intentionally, can help to implement the Third Teacher as a pedagogical tool within the context of Learning Walls and Bump It Up Walls, in your classroom.

As always, we welcome your thoughts about this blog post. Please email hello@teachietings.com with thoughts and comments. We also welcome sharing this blog post with your colleagues.

How to Have a Difficult Conversation with a Parent

How to Have a Difficult Conversation with a Parent

Do you have a student that is struggling with their learning or their behaviour?

It might be time to have a difficult conversation with a parent now! Parents hate surprises on report cards (your admin will hate it more), and if you haven’t already had the chat you need to have, don’t leave it too late.

How to have a difficult conversation with a parent:

📆 Make a date.

Don’t spring the difficult conversation on them when they are unprepared. For some parents, knowing that you want to talk about their child’s achievement or behaviour will begin the dialogue in their head, which is generally a good think as it helps them to reflect and rationalise. Give them the option of in-person or phone.

📈Begin with the positives, and what their child has done well.

First, show examples where their child demonstrated skills and if possible have some examples of growth (handwriting is a good one for this). Having some positives to talk about can show that you care, have identified their child’s strengths, and really know their child. Parents just want to feel that their children are seen.

📉Explain the problem.

Once you have covered introductions and some positives, explain the problem or the reason for the meeting. If it is an academic problem, explain the curriculum expectations and how their child isn’t meeting the expectations. Don’t compare their child to the rest of the class. If it is a behavioural problem, talk the parents through the school behaviour plan, so they know how their child has not met expectations.

SHOW EVIDENCE.

Always have evidence to show the parent. For academics include examples of writing or written maths, where you can demonstrate how the child has not quite demonstrated the skill needed. Explain how the topic has been taught and why you think this learning gap is an issue.

For behaviour, make sure you have kept records, preferably a daily behaviour tracker alongside anecdotal records, and also evidence such as reflection sheets written by the child.

Expect push-back but don’t be defensive. If you’re not sure of an answer, say “I’m not sure, can I get back to you on that?”

Most importantly, explain what you and the school are doing to help.

After detailing the problem, have some solutions! Ensure you detail differentiation and modifications made to accommodate their child. You can also propose a plan to address the issue. For behaviour issues, detail specific behaviours, triggers, consequences and outcomes already identified and used. 

If you think the student needs to see a professional, talk to your admin team about having that conversation with the parent, or supporting you in that conversation.

Ask for parental support if needed.

It’s ok to ask a parent to complete extra activities at home. You can ask a parent to work with you on a behaviour plan (poor behaviour = no pizza on family pizza night). Also, don’t be afraid to ask the parent to try new things, like dropping their child at the gate instead of fussing over their child while you are trying to begin your first lesson. 

You are a teaching and learning team. You may not always be on the same page, but you can always ask.

Finally, in a difficult conversation with a parent, never gloss over and don’t make promises you can’t keep.

Don’t promise above and beyond what you can physically, mentally and emotionally give for a child. Having this conversation doesn’t mean that you will be able to fix all of the problems yourself. As you know, if their child has learning difficulties it can take years for these to be diagnosed and corrected.

Difficult conversations are difficult. Really, truly, as much as we would like to avoid them, as a teacher we can’t. We need to have an open dialogue with our parents, and most importantly,  it is worth having these conversations early.

One very last tip (to cover yourself!) – document this meeting and share a copy with the parent. Add actionable tasks into you calendar and file the document in a safe place. Try a template like our free Parent Teacher Interview Template

Self-care for Teachers

Self-care for Teachers

My top three tips for teacher self care, and a free tool to help you.

Self-Care for Teachers

 

Self care should be at the top of the to-do list for teachers. It is so easy to burn out from the workload, continuous exposure to stressful situations and lack of work/life balance.

My top three teacher self care tips are:

 

1. Firstly, take time for self care. If you don’t schedule it in, your body or mind will eventually take it from you. That’s the truth.

2. Secondly, focus on the big rocks at school. Have you heard the story about the jar that was filled with pebbles and there was no room for the big rocks, but when the rocks were put in first, the pebbles fit around the edges? Get the important things done first and the rest will take care of itself (or it never mattered in the first place).

3. Finally, make sure you use your time productively. To do this, you need to know what you value. Do you love spending time in your classroom in the afternoon, and you’re ok with staying back? Or would you rather be exercising or spending time with family and friends?

I know which one I would rather be doing, and so I plan my school day accordingly.

How do I plan with my self care in mind?

 

I use a simple tool that takes care of all three teacher self care tips!

I call it a small break planner. I’m not talking about a mini-vacay – I’m talking about using your school time productively – even if it’s just 5 minutes.

Think about it – even if you find just FIVE MINUTES a day to complete an important task, that’s almost half an hour that you don’t have to spend after school.

What is this a small break planner?

 

The small break planner is like a to-do list, but it is separated into time increments.

  • When I have a task that needs completing, I add it to my planner under the amount of time it will take me to complete. My planner has increments for 5 min, 10 min, 15 min and 20min+.
  • I normally complete my list at the beginning of the week, and keep it on my desk, ready to add to, work from and mark off!
  • I write in the most important things that I need to complete while I am at school, AND I include self care. Even if it’s just 5 minutes to have a coffee or tea, or 10 minutes to complete a meditation while my class is at lunch.
  • Throughout the week, when I find 5 minutes, I go straight to my list and check one off.

 

When can you grab 5 mins during class time?

 

  • Stamina reading
  • Classroom clean up
  • Coming in from the bell
  • Before lunch duty
  • During timed activities
  • Watching an online video

You can also find blocks of time in your lunch break, however I do think you should socialise with your colleagues at least once during the week, so make sure you book a visit to the staffroom in.

So there you have it – its my next-level to-do list that will help you to put self care first.

Freebie to manage self-care for teachers

 

I have created a template that includes ideas for self care and teacher tasks that you can complete in different time increments.

You can download it for FREE in my shop.

small break planner
Developing narrative writing structure using Five Sentence Stories

Developing narrative writing structure using Five Sentence Stories

Teach Narrative Text Structure using Five Sentence Stories

One of the biggest barriers I see to students success in narrative writing is really nailing the text structure of a narrative.

This can show itself in a few different ways:

Students may:

  • Have a boring story starter (One day…)
  • Detail facts as though they are writing a recount (and then, and then, and then…)
  • Write a long and detailed orientation, only to run out of puff when it comes to actually telling the story
  • Forget to pace their story (resolving in a quick sentence at the end)
  • Start writing without a complication or resolution in mind

So what is the problem here?

The BIG problem is lack of planning. As teachers, it’s our job to help students to plan out their narrative before they begin writing.  It’s also our job to ensure they understand the value and importance of proper planning.

Real-life authors research, map out their story, brainstorm ideas, and know the complication and ending well before they begin their narrative writing.

Real-life authors focus on the CREATIVITY of the story in the PLANNING phase and focus on the CRAFT of writing in the WRITING phase. Tristan Bancks has a great article on Storyboarding that is worth a read!

As I say to my students – your story is only as good as your planning.

We want our students to spend as much time planning as possible.

How can we make planning as important as the writing?

There are multiple processes we can take to help students to carefully plan their writing:

  • Character profiles
  • Setting descriptions with the five senses
  • Narrative planning templates
  • Word banks
  • Understanding themes

narrative writing planner

My favourite tool to help students nail their story structure is the Five Sentence Story.

It is a handy tool that helps students to write just five sentences – one for each part of their story.

The scaffold includes opener/hook, orientation, complication, solution & resolution. It’s so simple that it can be used in conjunction with other planning, or on its own for a quick writing task.

five sentence story

How do I teach this method?

I use a gradual release of responsibility to teach narrative writing with this scaffold.

First, I begin by modelling the scaffold with the students. I use my Five Sentence Story Powerpoint to do this on the whiteboard.

I often choose a familiar character or student in our class to write about – students love this and it gets them really engaged. Then, I model the process, thinking aloud, so that students get my tips and tricks along the way.

Next,  we move onto co-constructing Five Sentence Stories, brainstorming complications that our characters encounter, and voting on our favourite.

Students need a bank of ideas – even creativity needs to be modelled.

When we brainstorm story elements (openings, complications, resolutions) we write them on paper or print them from the whiteboard, and put them on our Learning Wall to refer to later. We don’t leave good ideas behind – we keep them for later!

Finally, students ‘have a go’ on their own, using some of our co-constructed ideas. They need to write five great sentences that tell the entire story. I like them to practice this up to ten times.

I like to use a Learning Wall with all elements on display, or a flipbook like this one, that prompts students to focus on the important elements of narrative writing.

narrative flipbook

You could incorporate Five Sentence Stories into:

  • Morning Work
  • Writing Stations
  • English rotations
  • Fast Finishers

How can you develop this idea?

Once students have nailed writing five sentences, they can extend the sentences to become topic sentences for paragraphs. I like to tell my students they now have to write two sentences, then three etc.

Before you (or they) know it, they have written a complete story!

Finally, all of my students edit for language features, structure, grammar, punctuation and spelling.

This is when they check they have included direct speech, descriptive language, figurative language and more, depending on their age.

I have used Five Sentence Stories (and the planning and brainstorming processes) to ‘bump up’ my students to the next level -there is nothing better that reading complete and detailed stories!

I hope that I have shared  a few things you can do to help your students to write complete stories, most importantly, helping them to understand that planning is an important and productive part of the writing process, having a bank of ideas through brainstorming and planning, and then mapping out the story using a scaffold such as Five Sentence Stories.

Happy Writing!

narrative planning bundle

You can find my Narrative Planning Bundle, incorporating a Narrative Learning Wall Kit, planning sheet, Powerpoint, and flipbook, all incorporating Five Sentence Stories to help develop your young writers.

I also have Five Sentence Opinions for developing the persuasive structure.

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