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Elkonin Boxes

Why use Elkonin Boxes?

  • They help students build phonological awareness by segmenting words into sounds or syllables.
  • They teach students how to count the number of phonemes in the word (not always the number of letters).
  • They help students better understand the alphabetic principle in decoding and spelling.
When to use: Before reading During reading After reading
How to use: Individually With small groups Whole class setting

Examples

How to use Elkonin Boxes

  1. Pronounce a target word slowly, stretching it out by sound.
  2. Ask the child to repeat the word.
  3. Draw "boxes" or squares on a piece of paper, chalkboard, or dry erase board with one box for each syllable or phoneme.
  4. Have the child count the number of phonemes in the word, not necessarily the number of letters. For example, wish has three phonemes and will use three boxes. /w/, /i/, /sh/
  5. Direct the child to slide one colored circle, unifix cube, or corresponding letter in each cell of the Elkonin box drawing as he/she repeats the word.

The example below shows an Elkonin Box for the word "sheep," which consists of three phonemes (sounds): /sh/ /ee/ /p/

Elkonin Boxes

Examples and blank templates

This example shows several ways teachers can use Elkonin boxes to teach phonemic awareness. These examples were adapted from Blachman et al. (2000).
Instructions on using Elkonin boxes > (36K PDF)*

This website offers teachers several Elkonin box templates for various target words.
Elkonin box word templates >

Teachers may wish to use the blank templates found on this website to accompany a segmenting task and provide students the opportunity to practice writing. Students can write each sound represented in the target word and then write a short sentence using the word.
Elkonin box and writing template > (12K PDF)*

Children's books to use with this strategy

The books suggested represent a range of difficulty but all should appeal to children from preschool through grade 2 or 3. The palindrome books are suggested for slightly older children.

Go Dog Go

Go Dog Go

Picture book/easy reader

Dogs of all shapes and sizes cavort and play in this lively and now classic book filled with easy (and often repeated) words that are supported by lighthearted illustrations.


Hamsters, Shells, and Spelling Bees

Hamsters, Shells, and Spelling Bees

Poetry/easy reader

Familiar subjects are presented in short poems by a range of writers. These easier-to read works are just right to encourage careful listening.


Hop on Pop

Hop on Pop

Picture book/easy reader

Words of one syllable combine with energetic, slightly offbeat and very funny illustrations just right to engage while allowing sounds to be heard.


Go Dog Go

Mom and Dad Are Palindromes

Picture book/easy reader

When a boy learns about palindromes, he begins to see them everywhere. The humorous tale introduces words and phrases that are the same when spelled - and pronounced - forward or backward. Palindrome riddles are presented in Too Hot to Hoot: Funny Palindrome Riddles by Marvin Terban (Sandpiper). Both books have strong visual clues.


Go Dog Go

Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook

Poetry/easy reader

Silverstein's poetry (created using Spoonerisms; that is, transposing initial sounds of two words) makes it fun to read and requires hearing sounds to "translate".


Differentiated instruction

for Second Language Learners, students of varying reading skill, and for younger learners

  • Ideas for using this strategy with Spanish speaking students
  • Have more advanced students write letters in the boxes as you dictate words.
  • Teachers can use this strategy in the following ways to meet each student's individualized reading level:
    • Words with pictures and only two boxes
    • Words with pictures and three boxes
    • Words with no pictures and up to four boxes

See the research that supports this strategy

Blachman, B. A., Ball, E. W., Black, R., & Tangel, D. M. (2000). Road to the code: A phonological awareness program for young children. Baltimore: Brookes.

Clay, M. (1993). Reading Recovery: A Guidebook for Teachers in Training. NH: Heinemann.

Elkonin, D. (1971). "Development of Speech". In A.V. Zaporozhets and D. B. Elkonin (Eds.). The Psychology of Preschool Children. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press.

Ellis, E. (1997). How Now Brown Cow: Phoneme Awareness Activities.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Children's books to use with this strategy

Mom and Dad Are Palindromes

Mom and Dad Are Palindromes

When a boy learns about palindromes, he begins to see them everywhere. The humorous tale introduces words and phrases that are the same when spelled - and pronounced - forward or backward. Palindrome riddles are presented in Too Hot to Hoot: Funny Palindrome Riddles by Marvin Terban (Sandpiper). Both books have strong visual clues.

Hamsters, Shells, and Spelling Bees

Hamsters, Shells, and Spelling Bees

Familiar subjects are presented in short poems by a range of writers. These easier-to read works are just right to encourage careful listening.

Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook

Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook

Runny Babbit talk is created by spoonerisms, switching the first sound in a pair of words, so a "silly book" becomes a "billy sook." Kids build their phonemic awareness without even trying! The audio book narrator's slightly gravelly voice is ideal for sharing these funny poems (completed though not published before the popular poet's death in 1999).

Go Dog Go!

Go Dog Go!

With Seuss-like silliness and a clipped rhyme with lots of repetition, dogs of all sizes and hues race through the pages of this ever-popular easy-to-read book. The absurd but concrete text is illustrated with energy and humor in this jaunty book.

Hop on Pop

Hop on Pop

Recommended by Christian – This book made me want to be a reader! I caught on to the first few pages quickly. But the back section, with multiple words per page, was a challenge. And I couldn’t wait to be able to read them! I could feel Dr. Seuss pulling me along with his dynamic creatures bouncing from page to page: "Don’t you want to know what happens?" "Oh, I do, I do!"

Comments

I alsways used Elkonin boxes for the letters not the sounds. Now I know they are for the sounds/phonemes.

Actually they can be used for both. See Fountas and Pinnell's When Reader's Struggle, Teaching That Works for information on how to gradually transition students from sounds to letters.

This is a prolific tool which can be used to empower my student's reading.

I use the Elkonin boxes for older students as well. Some of the middle school students I work with have trouble with multi-syllabic words. I use the Elkonin boxes with 3 or 4 boxes. After I introduce the boxes to the students, I also show them how to tap it out on their knee or under the table so no one can see them.

I have been using these for sounds/phonemes for reinforcement, and I have already seen the improvement in my students.

I use them for sounds to hear sequentially. One box for each sound. After, the student has advanced, we use them to understand how words look, ea, ai, cr, etc. One box for each letter.

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