Using Elkonin Boxes with Multisyllabic Words

Recently, I shared a post about a tactile spelling activity. While you could easily apply that same concept to multisyllabic words, I wanted to share a different option that uses a tool with which more teachers seem to be familiar when it comes to multisensory phonics instruction: elkonin boxes.


A previous curriculum at my school provided these work mats, which I absolutely love for instruction and practice with multisyllabic words. You may or may not have materials like this on hand, but if you don't, no worries - you could apply this same concept using foam squares on white boards. You could draw your own boxes or just use the foam pieces (or other small item to provide a tactile experience).  The process is the important part.


What I like about these work mats is that the elkonin boxes are stacked, and they vary in length with two, three, and four boxes. I use this to practice multisyllabic words! As long as the sounds in my syllables match the boxes available, we are good to go! In the end, the visual representation of the sounds within each syllable and the syllables within the word is pretty powerful! 


We start by focusing on the sounds  we hear within each syllable. I tell students how many foam pieces (sounds) they will need and how many syllables we will have. I do this before I even mention the word. They prepare their space without worrying about the word ahead of time. Once their spaces are ready, I dictate a word. My students repeat it, and we first-pound (or clap) the syllables first. Then we focus on one syllable at a time; students touch and say each individual sound within the syllable before adding letters to spell each sound. Don't rush through this part; make sure students are intentional and confident in the sounds they pronounce/hear within the word. 

After spelling the word, students go back through both syllables, touching and pronouncing the sounds as they read the letters.

Last, they rewrite the word on a separate word strip. We reverse the process by dividing the words into syllables using the appropriate syllable division pattern (VC/CV here) and identifying each syllable type with its corresponding vowel sound. By finishing the process this way, I am reinforcing the recursive nature of reading and writing for my students. They immediately see the way spelling is linked to reading. Not only this, but the word cards are student-made study materials that they can take home to review throughout the week.

Throughout the whole routine, I keep my own work mat in the middle of the table, where I model each step for my students. I also keep drill cards that focus on our current skill in my students' view for their reference during the lesson. As you can see below, our skill for this particular week was vowel teams associated with the long e sound. I keep these visible at all times throughout my phonics lessons each day.

Here's another example, just to show some variety. Again, first the students mapped the sounds for both syllables using foam squares. Then, they added letters that corresponded to each sound within the syllables. 

They used a separate words strip to rewrite the word completely. The processed was reversed as they applied the process of dividing the word according to the appropriate syllable division pattern and labeling each syllable type and vowel sound.

Again, my model remained in the middle of the table, along with all of our current vowel teams for reference as we continued this process with additional words.

Let me add one more note about this routine. I know it looks like a tedious process that would take a while, but in reality, my students are well-trained to do this, so there is very little time wasted with transitions or preparation. It actually moves very quickly because our method follows such a well-established routined. While that may seem tedious, I want my phonics instruction to be systematic and structured. I want them to consistently use this process so that their brain develops this procedural pattern for reading and spelling. I want it to become a routine for them! 


As for my students, they are so engaged throughout this process that I never hear any complaints about the repetition. On the contrary, it is actually very empowering for them to know what to expect when they sit down at my table, even though the particular skill changes from week to week. Even my struggling students bring a sense of confidence to our group time because they already know that they will know what to do while they are there. 


I hope this post has been helpful for you! Please feel free to contact me if I have left any gaps in this explanation, or if you would just like to know more about a particular part. Also, if you do not have access to your own set of elkonin boxes to use with your students, I have a resource available in The Tally Tales TPT Store that might be useful for you! Not only does it include work mats for words with three, four, and five phonemes (sounds), but it also includes an instructional guide, sample word lists, and picture cards. All materials are ready-to-use; simply print what you need and go! You can access them here.

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