What are Elkonin boxes?

Posted by Catherine Young Morris on

Elkonin boxes feature prominently in many of our books.  But why?  Are they designed to create the next generation of Wheel of Fortune contestants?

Elkonin boxes are used to help people (especially early readers) think through the sounds in words and how they connect to letters. The visual support of the box typically represents a sound in the target word (the corresponding sound may be represented by a single letter or combination of letters). If the target word is ‘cat’, for example, three empty boxes would be provided. A child can then think about what letters would make the corresponding sounds in the word ‘cat.’

Ekonin Boxes CAT

This is different from getting a child to guess a word in a text based on an illustration.  

Why? When a child is encouraged (or facilitated) to guess a word in a story based on the images, they are being encouraged to look away from the text. Reading requires the opposite: paying close attention to how letters and sounds combine to form words. An Elkonin box encourages this close attention to all three of the pathways to word learning.

1) Meaning. Ensures the word is recognized and understood by the child.

2) Sound. Helps children segment the individual sounds in words.

3) Spelling. Encourages children to pay close attention to the letters representing each sound in the target word.

An early learner, for example, may struggle to hear the short /a/ sound in the word cat, whereas the /c/ and /t/ sounds may be more obvious. Knowing there are three sounds in the word will help them listen to the word closely to identify the less obvious sound.

Using Elkonin Boxes also creates an opportunity to reinforce helpful spelling concepts. For short CVC words, for example, a helpful concept is that every word (and syllable) needs a vowel.   

The Elkonin boxes at the beginning of our books both help children engage in this fantastically focused word learning, while also providing a warm-up to support reading the text that follows.

And OK, maybe they will help your child be a bit better at Wheel of Fortune too.😊

For extra work with Elkonin boxes, check out our Elkonin Spellers.