I have found this technique to be extremely effective with my young spellers who have not developed full phonemic awareness. It helps them train their ears to hear each part of a word and eventually be able to represent each sound with a written letter.
- Draw a rectangle with three boxes.
- Say a familiar word composed of three sounds such as cat, sun, dog, pan. It is helpful to show children pictures of these objects. (I cut short vowel pictures from an old phonics workbook and laminated them).
- The child says the word, stretching out the sounds.
- The child pushes a chip into each box as he says the sound. It is important to note that the boxes represent sounds (phonemes), not letters. The words cake and duck have four letters but only three sounds and would be segmented into three sound boxes.
- After the child masters words with three phonemes, he may progress to four-phoneme words such as truck, crash, and nest.
- Once children can push chips to represent sounds, they can push letter cards into boxes, and eventually they can write letters in the boxes as they are attempting to spell words they are writing (Elkonin, 1973; Cunningham, 2000).
This teacher uses Elkonin sound boxes to work on phonemic awareness with an individual student:
This teacher demonstrates the use of sound boxes during small group instruction: