How to Use Elkonin Boxes

Elkonin boxes are a great tool to use when teaching reading.  Also called sound boxes, they are used to guide students to listen for sounds in a word.  They help students separate sounds in a word, so students can hear the individual sounds, or phonemes, that make up a word.  Elkonin boxes are used to help students develop and strengthen their phonemic awareness skills.  However, they have also been used for syllable awareness or for spelling. 

elkonin boxes worksheets with pictures and cubes inside the boxes

How to Use Elkonin Boxes

Teaching with Elkonin boxes is pretty simple, and students seem to pick up this skill quickly.  I always used this tool in small groups, with one to five students only.  It was a very quick activity before moving on to our small group reading lesson.  I did this every time we met for small group until I felt like they had mastered this skill.  To start, give each student a paper with Elkonin sound boxes and a few small manipulatives.  (Manipulatives should slide easily and be small enough to fit into the boxes.)  Make sure to demonstrate for your students if this is the first time your students are using this tool.  Reminder: you are putting sounds in boxes, not letters.  For example, chip has 3 sounds /ch/ /i/ /p/, so students would use three manipulatives. Follow the steps below.

elkonin box worksheet with a picture of a map and squares getting pushed into the boxes


  1. Teacher says a word.
  2. Students repeat the word.
  3. Students say the word slowly, sliding a manipulative into a box for each sound in the word, always going from left to right.


*You will need to be very explicit and model every step the first few times you do this and any time your students are struggling.  Example, “I’ll say a word.  You repeat the word.  Then you’ll say the word very slowly and you’ll push a circle into a box for each sound in the word.  The first word is map… /m/ /a/ /p/ …map.”

*Only use 5 words with each lesson to keep this short. 

Lesson Plan

If you are looking for a more detailed explanation of using Elkonin Boxes for small groups in your classroom, our Elkonin Boxes Lesson Plan goes step by step with pictures. Use this lesson plan with the Elkonin boxes word list (see below) and our printable Elkonin boxes for easy, quick, no prep activities to help your students with phonemic awareness.

lesson plan on how to use elkonin boxes


Check out the examples below.

Just Boxes

Some Elkonin boxes are simply a paper with a few boxes on it.  With these, you can do any word whose sound fits into the number of boxes you have.  I have always been ok with doing words with less sounds than boxes on the page, but never more sounds than boxes.  For example, if a student has a page with 3 boxes, the teacher can say at and the student only pushes 2 manipulatives into the first 2 boxes.  But, I would not say a word with more than 3 sounds for that page.

colorful elkonin box worksheets without pictures

Boxes with Pictures

There are also Elkonin boxes with pictures on the top of the boxes.  The picture word should have the same number of sounds as there are boxes underneath.  These are great for CVC words, words with three letters that consist of consonant vowel consonant, or words with more than 3 sounds.  Your students can push the manipulatives into the boxes as they say the sounds of the picture word.  I used Elkonin boxes with pictures and I would start with the picture, but then give students other words to sound out as well.  In small groups, I liked to give each student a different picture.  Then everybody in the group did the activity with each student’s picture. For example, “Sam has a picture of a dog, let’s all push the sounds up for dog.”  Then, go on to the next student’s picture.

pictures of elkonin boxes worksheets with pictures

Word List

Word lists are very helpful. They make it easy to keep track of which words your students are working on, and you never have to come up with words on the spot.  This Elkonin boxes word list has words with 2, 3 and 4 sounds.  I always kept a separate word list with each group’s materials and marked off the lessons we had done together.  This word list is included in our worksheet packet.  See the link in the Elkonin Boxes Printable paragraph. 

Elkonin Boxes for Syllable Awareness

Much like using these boxes for individual sounds in a word, you can also use them to work on syllables. The steps would look like:
1. Teacher says the word.
2. Students repeat the word.
3. Teacher and students say the word slowly separating it into syllables. (I would also add clapping as you say each syllable in the word for more practice.)
4. Students slide a manipulative into a box as they say each syllable in the word.

Sound Boxes for Spelling

As a kindergarten teacher, I didn’t use Elkonin boxes for spelling but knew some 1st and 2nd grade teachers who did.  I certainly can see the benefits in using them as spelling boxes.  I’m going to use the word fish for the example steps underneath.

  1. Teacher says, “Fish,” and students repeat. Teacher says, “Let’s count the sounds in fish.”
  2. Teacher and students say, “/f/ /i/ /sh/.”, as they hold up fingers counting each sound.
  3. Teacher says, “There are 3 sounds. What is the first sound?”
  4. Students say /f/, then write the letter f in the first box. Then go on to write i in the next box.
  5. Teacher says, “The last sound is /sh/. What letters say /sh/?” 
  6. Students write sh in the last box.

This shows the students that sounds can be made up of more than one letter.

Elkonin Boxes Printable

We have everything included in our Elkonin boxes worksheets.  The lesson plan, word list and printable Elkonin boxes make this an easy no prep phonemic awareness (sounds) or phonetic awareness (spelling) activity.   We have both Elkonin boxes template with no pictures or CVC word pictures with sound boxes. 

picture of elkonin boxes with pictures and cubes inside the boxes


A reading tool used to guide students to listen for sounds in a word.

As stated by Reading Rockets, Elkonin boxes build phonological awareness skills by segmenting words into individual sounds, or phonemes. 

That’s ok.  You can draw boxes on a piece of paper and use that as your template.

Elkonin Boxes Online

Toy Theater has online Elkonin boxes with circles that you can slide into the boxes with your mouse.  You can change the number of boxes on the screen.  This can be a great tool to use, and students might love trying to do the computer version with these activities.

More Alphabet Practice

If you are looking for more phonemic awareness or phonics related alphabet practice, we have plenty.  Check out our Alphabet Animals Reading Skills Curriculum for fun and engaging lessons and activities to help your child sore through the alphabet.  

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