Elkonin boxes build phonological awareness skills by segmenting words into individual sounds, or phonemes. To use Elkonin boxes, a child listens to a word and moves a token into a box for each sound or phoneme. In some cases different colored tokens may be used for consonants and vowels or just for each phoneme in the word.
|How to use:||Individually||With small groups||Whole class setting|
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.
How to use Elkonin Boxes
- Pronounce a target word slowly, stretching it out by sound.
- Ask the child to repeat the word.
- Draw "boxes" or squares on a piece of paper, chalkboard, or dry erase board with one box for each syllable or phoneme.
- 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/
- 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 sound boxes (small group)
A first grade teacher demonstrates the use of Elkonin sound boxes and talks about how this research-based strategy helps build phonemic awareness skills. (Understood)
Elkonin sound boxes (small group)
Watch this teacher help two children strengthen their phonemic awareness skills by practicing with Elkonin sound boxes. (Rollins Center for Language and Literacy)
Elkonin boxes with letters (small group)
Watch this one-on-one demonstration of how Elkonin boxes can be used to promote phonemic awareness, as well as encoding and decoding skills. (University of Florida Literacy Institute)
These example shows several ways teachers can use Elkonin boxes to teach phonemic awareness:
This website offers teachers several Elkonin box templates for various target words.
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.
for second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and for younger learners
- Ideas for using Elkonin boxes 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
Find more activities for building phonological and phonemic awareness in our Reading 101 Guide for Parents.
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
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: School Poems
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 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!
Big dogs, little dogs, and all kinds of dogs are on the go throughout the pages of this surprising and funny classic easy reader. Illustrations use strong lines with muted colors to show playful mutts of all sizes in outrageous activities that keep beginning readers reading.