5 Powerful and Super Easy Hands-on Activities Using Elkonin Boxes

If you are a primary teacher, you know just how important it is for students to build strong phonemic awareness and phonics skills. You also know how these skills are directly linked to their reading success. And if you’re anything like me, you are using what’s left of your precious summer days thinking about how to reach your incoming Littles this fall.  So, let’s talk about Elkonin Boxes!

Elkonin boxes are such a powerful tool proven to help students with building the skills needed for reading. There are so many ways to use Elkonin boxes and… brownie points for them all being hands-on and engaging! I am so excited to share with you how I use them in the classroom with my students!

What Are Elkonin Boxes?

Before jumping into how to use Elkonin boxes, let’s first talk about what they are. Elkonin boxes, more commonly known as sound boxes, are a set of empty boxes used in conjunction with counters, or some other small manipulative, to segment individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Each box represents one sound in a spoken word.

Phonemic Awareness Elkonin Boxes Activities

1. Working With Sounds

Every year we begin using Elkonin boxes with pictures only. Students learn how to read CVC words just using sounds, no letters! Bonus – this works wonders for their confidence! I spend a lot of time modeling, especially at the beginning of the year. I model 3 to 5 pictures before having students do the task on their own. A picture is displayed and then I have students listen to a word like cat. They repeat the word and think about the sounds they hear in the word. We discuss how many sounds we hear and how many boxes there are.

sound boxes projected on the board

Once we have decided on the number of sounds we hear in the word, I have them drag one counter into a box for each sound in the word cat.

These Phonemic Awareness Sound Boxes from Miss Kindergarten are simply perfect to use with this activity!

As students drag their counters to each box, they say the sound.  As students are sliding their counter into the first box, they say the /k/ sound, as they slide their second counter into the middle box, they say the /a/ sound, and as they slide their third counter into the last box, they say the /t/ sound. When all boxes are filled, they drag their finger across the arrow to say the whole word fast – the way we say it when we talk.

I do the same thing on the board that students are doing at their seats. Once they get really good, I just follow their lead. 😉 When students have grasped CVC picture words, more boxes are added to practice vowel teams, digraphs, and magic e words.

2. Dot the Spot

Another fun phonemic awareness activity to use with Elkonin boxes is what I like to call “Dot the Spot.” This activity is more advanced. I give students a word for them to listen to, and then they dot the spot for the beginning, middle, or ending sound in that word. For example, for the word job, students will repeat the word. Then I ask them to dot the spot for /b/. Students will slide their counters to the last box to indicate that /b/ is the ending sound for the word job. We work in isolation for beginning, middle, and ending sounds depending on what skill we are working on at the time. Once we have learned how to identify beginning, middle, and ending sounds in words, we mix it all up in a single activity.

Phonics Elkonin Boxes Activities

3. Building Words

After students have a solid understanding of segmenting spoken picture words into sounds, I have them identify the sounds with their corresponding letters. For the word cat, I will display the picture and the written word cat. We continue practicing recognizing how many sounds in the word and using counters to represent each sound, but we also identify each sound’s letter. For example, students will identify /k/ as the first sound and replace the counter with the letter  “c.”  Students repeat this until they have identified all letter sounds, and the sound boxes display the word cat – one letter in each box.

4. Changing Words

Another great phonics activity with Elkonin boxes is manipulating letters based on spoken words. I give students a word like net. I have them repeat the word and move their letter cards into the boxes. Then I give a new word and ask students to change one letter to make the word vet. That would involve students understanding that the beginning sound is the sound that changed and would need to replace the letter “n” with the letter “v” to make the word vet.

Writing With Elkonin Boxes

5. Writing/Spelling Activity

Working with Elkonin boxes is an excellent way for students to break apart words and then put them back together, which helps with writing and spelling. Stepping outside of the box a little and taking things a step further, students can practice writing and spelling the word we are working with by writing the word on the line. This activity transfers to their actual writing and spelling! In addition to building the word with their letter and sound box mats, students can also dictate the word on paper.

If you are looking to add these awesome Word Work Mats to your classroom, click here! I hope you find these activities using Elkonin boxes helpful! I’m cheering you (and your students) on! 🙂

Want a FREE activity to use with your Littles, try these Word Mapping Mats! They are similar to the Word Work Mats and are a fun, easy, and colorful way to incorporate sound boxes into the mix! Just slip them into a dry erase pocket, or sheet protector.  Click the picture below and let the word mapping begin!

word mapping sheets inside dry erase pockets


Psssst…  You can find the full set of Word Mapping Mats inside The Sweet Life of Primary + Membership! 

The full set of Word Mapping Mats includes:

Hot Air Balloons
School Buses

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *