Elkonin boxes are a terrific tool for helping young learners break words down into their constituent sounds. This is a key skill they’ll need as they begin to read and write. D. B. Elkonin popularized this method in the 1960s, and the boxes have become a staple of early education classrooms in the decades since. Also known as “sound boxes” or “blend boxes,” they give kids a hands-on way to understand how sounds make up words.
Ready to give them a try? First, get our free Elkonin boxes printables. Then use these activities to introduce them to your students. They’re ideal for group work, literacy centers, or individual practice at home!
Start with pictures instead of printed words
Since you want kids to focus on phonemic sounds instead of letters to begin with, use your boxes with pictures first. Start with words made up of two or three sounds, then move on to longer ones.
Grab a handful of markers to use with your boxes. There are so many creative options—here are a few of our favorites.
Checkers or poker chips
Toy cars (drive them into the boxes!)
Small treats (gummy bears, M&Ms, grapes, etc.)
Slide markers into boxes as you sound out the word
Slowly sound out the word, sliding a marker into a box for each sound. Remember, you’re not doing individual letters, so you may use fewer boxes than the number of letters in a word. In the example above, it might sound like this: “Kuh-Luh-Ah-Kuh.” In phonemes, that’s /k/ /l/ /o/ /k/.
When you’re ready, you can use Elkonin sound boxes with actual letters. Start with words that have simple phonemes instead of blends. Use alphabet magnets or beads, and slide them into place just like you did with the tokens. If you want, you can have kids practice writing the letters in the boxes instead.
Elkonin boxes are terrific for literacy centers. We love the idea of setting up small drawers of letter beads or magnets, along with a set of sound box cards. For a fun activity, provide a stack of magazines for kids to cut pictures out of and use with their boxes.