Elkonin Boxes: My Favorite Word Study Intervention

Elkonin boxes are an excellent phonics intervention strategy. Use these free blank templates of elkonin boxes with students who are learning to segment & blend phonemes while building a relationship to spelling words.

One of the biggest jobs we have as early elementary school teachers is teaching children how to read, but it is no easy task!  Did you know the 26 letters of our alphabet make a grand total of 44 different phonemes (24 consonant sounds and 20 vowel sounds)?!  To build strong readers it’s essential that we spend a lot of time helping our students build their phonological awareness skills, the skills that allow them to isolate, identify, and manipulate sounds.

There are many different ways we can support students in the development of their phonological skills, but today I’m excited to share with you one of my very favorite strategies… Elkonin Boxes. 

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What are Elkonin Boxes?

Elkonin boxes (also known as sound boxes) are a research-based, instructional strategy used in the early elementary grades to build and strengthen phonological awareness.  They require students to segment words into individual sounds or phonemes.  

Who would benefit from using Elkonin Boxes?

Six-year-old students are typically developing the phonological skills that Elkonin boxes reinforce. Of course, we know not all students develop at the same rate, so you may find them to be a useful intervention for a struggling student or one who may need more repeated practice for mastery.  In her book The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading, Jan Richardson says that sound boxes can be used with any student who reads on level A through level G.  

They can be used for CV and CVC word study and to help reinforce initial blends, final blends, and digraphs. 

It is best to use sound boxes when working with individual students or small groups.  

Why do Elkonin Boxes work? 

Elkonin Boxes are a powerful, engaging and effective tool!  For one, they require students to segment words into sounds or phonemes which builds their phonological awareness.  Secondly, they teach students how to count the number of phonemes in the word, which is not always the same as the number of letters.  And finally, they help students better understand the alphabetic principle in decoding and spelling, the idea that letters represent sounds which then make words. 

How do I use Elkonin Boxes?

There are two different ways you can use Elkonin Boxes.  

For the first way, start by slowly pronouncing the target word. You may also want to have a picture of the word. Have the child repeat the word and segment the sounds.  As they say each sound (phoneme) they push one chip, cube or penny into each cell of the Elkonin box drawing. For example the word sheep, they would push 3 cubes into the boxes for  /sh/ /e/ /p/. 

elkonin sound boxes

Take a look at this quick video to see Elkonin Boxes action! 

The second way you can use Elkonin Boxes will help build a stronger relationship to spelling words and can also be used as an intervention to students who need more targeted phonics support.  

Let’s pretend the target word is “train”.  Start by writing the word “train” on the work mat. Have students say the word slowly.  Then have them say it again, but this time push a chip up into the box for each phoneme. /t/ /r/ /a/ /n/.   Finally, have them move a finger across the bottom arrow to blend the word “train”. As an extension, you could cover the written word and have them write the word below the arrow.

elkonin sound boxes

DOWNLOAD this FREE Elkonin Box mat here

If you are curious and want to learn more about Elkonin Boxes, check out this page.  They offer instructions on how to use the strategy, more videos, downloadable templates, books you can use with this strategy, supporting research and MORE!  

And if you are looking for more resources to support your students’ spelling and phonics development, be sure to check out My Weekly Word Study Routine post or the “Phonics-Word Study” page in my online store.  There you’ll find over 25 different resources and activities to help you bring more effective and engaging word study into your classroom!  

As we teach children to read, it’s essential we have a variety of strategies we can use to properly and effectively provide support.  If you don’t already use them, I hope today’s post has shown you how useful Elkonin Boxes can be and has given you another strategy to add to your teacher toolbox!  

more phoneme grapheme resources


elkonin sound boxes
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