Free Printable Elkonin Boxes, Plus Creative Ways to Use Them

Break words down into sounds to help emergent readers.

Collage of Elkonin Boxes Activities

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

Images of three-sound objects to use with Elkonin Boxes

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.

Learn more: Where the Magic Happens Teaching


Grab some markers or tokens


Student sliding green cubes onto an Elkonin sound box for "sheep"

Source: Mrs. Winter’s Bliss

Grab a handful of markers to use with your boxes. There are so many creative options—here are a few of our favorites.

  • Coins
  • Math cubes
  • LEGO bricks
  • 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

Student sliding a marker onto an Elkonin Box for the word clock

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/.

Learn more: The Measured Mom

Emphasize beginning, middle, and end sounds

Elkonin box for the word "rain" with green, yellow, and red circles for beginning, middle, and end

Arrows can be helpful in reminding students to read from left to right. Try using green, yellow, and red (like traffic signals) for beginning, middle, and ending sounds.

Learn more: Thrive Literacy Corners

Move on to letters

Elkonin sound boxes with letter magnets for the words sun and bug

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.

Learn more: Playdough to Plato

Use phoneme blocks with Elkonin Boxes

Elkonin boxes with phoneme blocks for the words RAMP and TRAP

As you start talking about letter blends, try using phoneme blocks in conjunction with sound boxes. (Buy a set on Amazon here.) You can also just have students write the phonemes into the boxes.

Learn more: A Blog From the Pond

Set up an Elkonin Boxes center

Small storage drawers for holding letters, with Elkonin sound box cards

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.

Learn more: The Kindergarten Pod

Use a light box for even more fun

A lightbox used to spell CVC words

Light boxes are all the rage right now, and you can pick them up for a steal. They make a fun twist on traditional Elkonin boxes!

Learn more: The Kindergarten Smorgasboard

Get Our Free Sound Box Printable

Do Elkonin boxes help your young readers build their skills? Come share your experiences in the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE on Facebook.

Plus, 20 fun phonics activities and games for early readers.

Free Printable Elkonin Boxes, Plus Creative Ways to Use Them