Letter boxes

sound boxesAs l wrote in the previous post, when children are writing an unknown word, one of the ways of solving it is to stretch it out to hear the parts. In Reading Recovery we use sound (Elkonin) boxes to say the words slowly in order to hear the sounds and then choose a letter or letters to represent each sound. Once the student has mastered this he / she begins to use letter boxes.

The focus goes from What can you hear? to What would you expect to see?

The more we read, the more our eyes are used to looking through words and the more we expect to see repeated letter combinations. In English  we do not expect to see letter combinations within words such as wxlq. We do expect to see combinations such as ing, er, ch, ea, oa, sh, ck, ee.

duckIf the student is using sound boxes, the teacher would draw 3 boxes because there are 3 sounds in duck.


four squares duckIf the student is using letter boxes, the teacher would draw 4 boxes because there are 4 letters in duck. The student is required to think about what letter is likely to go in each box based on what the word is likely to look like.

Elkonin Sound Boxes

When children are writing an unknown word, one of the ways of solving it is to stretch it out to hear the parts. In Reading Recovery we use sound (Elkonin) boxes to say the words slowly in order to hear each sound and then choose a letter or letters to represent each sound.


elkoninI have linked to a You Tube video about using Sound Boxes on the Useful Links page. This is an 8 minute clip that was originally intended for teachers and so it has a lot of ‘teacher talk’. (Click on the picture if you wish to view it.)



elkoninHere is another You Tube clip that is shorter and may be easier to understand. (Click on the picture.) Hearing each sound, and hearing it in order, can be tricky for some children. For others, choosing a letter or letters, e.g. sh, to represent the sounds can be difficult.


wordsWhen I  refer to vocabulary I mean knowing the names of things, including objects, feelings, concepts and ideas.

Learning the meaning of  words begins when a child is born and continues throughout the child’s life. The number of words that the child already knows before beginning school varies greatly between students.

Much of a book introduction is spent checking that the student understands the vocabulary of the book.

Some ways you can help to build up your child’s vocabulary are:

  • Talk about an unfamiliar word. Give examples of how it could be used, e.g. gigantic means very, very big. A giant is very big and gigantic can mean big like a giant. The tent we saw at the circus was gigantic wasn’t it? Can you think of anything else that could be gigantic?
  • Talk about the different meanings that a word can have, e.g. saw (with eyes, a tool), sore.
  • Pick out a word. Explain the word if it is unfamiliar. Or pick out a well known word, e.g. big and give an unfamiliar alternative, e.g. enormous.
  • Add more descriptions or information than is in the book, e.g. describe the pictures in an interesting way, e.g. that sun looks dazzling, Emma’s dress is stunning, those animals are grouped together to stay safe.
  • Have your child repeat the unfamiliar word a number of times to help her / him to remember it by sight and sound.
  • Encourage your child to talk about the pictures and add ideas.
  • Talk about the feelings of the characters.

Every time you have a conversation with your child there is an opportunity to talkingintroduce new vocabulary. You probably already do it without thinking about it. You can:

  • Talk about what is going on around you. Talk about how things work, feelings and ideas.
  • When your child talks about something, add more detail to what is said.
  • Choose books from the library that are about things that you don’t often see during your daily activities.
  • Learn together by looking at information  programs on TV , the Internet, and in non-fiction books.

These are just a few suggestions. You can probably think of many other ways of helping to improve the number of words that your child understands and uses.

Questions to help readers

questions to helpThere are many prompts you can use to help your children when they are reading to you on the Prompts page.

Here are some prompts / questions that you can download and keep in a place where you can see them as you are listening to your child read. Click the sign on the left to take you to the site. Scroll down until you see the same sign. Click on it to download your own copy. (from The Reading Corner blog by Renee)

If you would like to print more prompts, go to the Prompts page. Scroll to the end of the page and you will see a Print Friendly icon. By clicking on this you can easily print the prompts, with or without pictures.