Sound-spelling Mapping


Heard all the buzz about word mapping? Sound-spelling mapping is most efficient and effective way to read and spell.

It was March 2020. Distance learning had just begun. I sat with my first grade daughter as she struggled to write anything – even a single word.

For the first time, it became crystal clear to me – my daughter couldn’t segment words into separate phonemes. That’s teacher speak that she just couldn’t hear sounds in words. She couldn’t even spell the word, “pet.”

While I told my husband I thought she had a learning disability, I still knew I needed to find a way to help her learn to hear sounds and write them down.

One day in desperation, I grabbed the same plastic counters on my dining room table. We had been using them for adding multi-digit numbers in math.

I said, “Pet.”

I grabbed three counters and tapped each one for the sounds /p/ /e/ /t/. From then on, we used this little trick to help her hear sounds in words.

But I knew she needed a systematic way to hear the sounds that make up words (phonemes) and connect them to the letters that spell sounds (graphemes).

That’s when I stumbled upon the teaching strategy of using Elkonin boxes for sound-spelling mapping. If this sounds confusing, don’t worry. I have you covered.

This is the beginner’s guide to using Elkonin boxes for sound-spelling mapping.

What is the phoneme-grapheme connection?

First, let’s define both phoneme and grapheme:

  • Phoneme is the smallest sound in a spoken word.
  • Grapheme is the written symbol (letter or letters) that represent a sound.

So simply, the phoneme-grapheme connection is the relationship between sounds and the letters that spell sounds. By making the phoneme-grapheme connection, students learn that words are made of sounds.

What are elkonin boxes?

While I spontaneously grabbed those counters to use with my daughter one day, someone beat me to it!

It turns out that Russian research D.B. Elkonin developed this strategy in 1963. He used tokens to make sounds tangible for young learners. 

Elkonin boxes or sound boxes are just boxes draw on a piece of paper. You can free-style draw them, or you can grab free printable Elkonin boxes.

Somewhere along the way, educators started writing letters inside the Elkonin boxes. This teaches the alphabetic principle by connecting sounds to letters.

What is sound-spelling mapping used for?

Sound-spelling mapping is used to help students learn to read and spell words. In short, it improves word recognition and word writing skills.

Sound mapping improves a child’s:

  • phonemic awareness
  • spelling
  • word recognition

It is one of the most effective and efficient ways to help a child to read and spell well. Because children see the written symbols to the speech sounds, it is stored in the language center of the brain.

What is the difference between orthographic mapping and word mapping?

Orthographic mapping is the cognitive process where a brain permanently stores words in memory. We can’t teach orthographic mapping to our students or our children.

We can do activities that promote the process of orthographic mapping.  Sounds-spelling mapping develops orthographic mapping.

What is the purpose of word mapping?

The purpose of word mapping is to help children learn how sounds are spelled with letters. Your child takes a word from its speech sounds (phonemes) and puts it into letters (graphemes).

Phonemic awareness skills help your child learn that a spoken word is made up of individual sounds. Your child needs phonemic awareness to be a strong reader and speller.

Phoneme-grapheme mapping also makes children explicitly aware that the letters on a page represent the sounds in language.

While this might seem obvious to you, a lot of children are not aware that:

  • language is made up of sounds, and
  • words are groups of sounds that put together in order to carry meaning.

What are the steps in sound-spelling mapping?

The steps in phoneme-grapheme mapping are:

  1. Say the word aloud to your child.
  2. Ask your child to repeat it.
  3. Give your child manipulatives to place on the word mapping template.
  4. Your child segments the word by sounds and places one manipulative for each sound.
  5. Then your child will map the sounds with the letter or letters that spell each sound in its own box.
  6. Next, your child will spell or write the word on the lines.
  7. Finally, your child reads the word.

It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Here’s an example:

Say the word to your child

Sound-spelling mapping isn’t an independent activity initially. You need to say the word to your child or students.

I said the word theft to my child.

Your child repeats the word

Make sure that your child repeats the word.  Sometimes I make this mistake but it’s really important for your child to hear themselves say the word.

Hearing the word develops phonemic awareness. When a child pronounces the word themselves, they will also feel how they say the sounds. Different sounds are made in different places in the mouth and this connection is so important.

Give your child manipulatives

Teachers have tons of manipulatives in their classrooms like linking cubes and counting chips.  At home, you can use pom mapping or coins. You could even use legos or rocks!

These are some fun manipulatives we use at home or in tutoring:

  • dinosaurs
  • frogs
  • linking cubes
  • insects
  • counting bears

Segment the word into sounds

Your child segments, or breaks, the words into its individual phonemes or sounds. They place one manipulative on the word mapping mat for each sound they hear.

In the example of the word “theft,” a child places one pom pom for each sound /th/, /e/, /f/, and /t/.

Map the sounds

Next your child will map the sounds. This means they will connect the letters that spell the sounds to each sound they hear in the word. They write the letter or letters that spell each sound in its own box.

In our example word “theft,” the letters th are in one box because they spell the sound /th/.

Spell or write the word

After mapping the sounds, your child will spell the word as a whole unit.  Seeing the word together makes the connection stronger for your child.

So my daughter wrote theft on the lines.

Read the word

Finally, your child will read the word. Hearing and seeing it at the same time after mapping helps solidify the new word.

On the printable activity above, my daughter slides her finger along the arrow as a multi-sensory way to read the word.

What does it mean to map sight words?

First, let’s define what the term “sight words” means in this question. It refers to high-frequency words like “said,” “had,” and “the.”

When most parents and teachers think of sight words, they think these words just need to be memorized. That’s not true. And it’s also an ineffective way to learn them.

Many sight words can be decoded completely and almost all have at least one decodable part. The only exception I can think of is “of.”

Mapping the word “said”

Your child or students can word map sight words just like they map any fully decodable word. In the picture above, I mapped said.

  • The word said has three sounds: /s/, /e/, and /d/.
  • There are three pom poms on the phoneme-grapheme mapping template – one for each sound.
  • In the first and third boxes, I wrote s and d in green because those are completely regular sound-spellings.
  • In the middle box, I wrote ai in red to show it is a trickier part.

For more about Word Mapping, check out Droppin Knowledge with Heidi on Instagram.  She does a great job of making videos where she maps a ton of high-frequency words.

SOund-spelling Mapping Examples

When learning how to do sound-spelling mapping, it’s really nice to see a lot of examples. So below you will find examples of mapping these types of words:

  • CVC
  • CVCe
  • Blends
  • Digraphs
  • Bossy R
  • Vowel Teams

Grab the Word Mapping Activity in the Printable Parents Shop or on Teachers Pay Teachers.

CVC Sound-spelling Mapping Example

CVC words are the easiest to map. Each sound is spelled by one letter and those sound-letter spellings are regular.

The only exception would be a word like “fox.” X spells two sounds /k/ /s/ so the letter x would bridge two boxes.

Words ending with x are not included in the activity pack, however.

CVCE word Mapping Example

After CVC words, words that follow the CVCe rule are easy to map.

The main trick is to include the silent e with the final consonant. The silent e doesn’t represent any sounds – it helps the other vowel spell its name. So it joins the consonant to signify that it’s not spelling a sound.

The example picture is poke:

  • Say “poke.”
  • Tap the sounds. It has three sounds.
  • Map the letters that spell the sounds. Include the silent e with the final consonant. So it is mapped p-o-ke.
  • Write or spell the word poke.
  • Read the word poke.

Blends sound-spelling Mapping Example

Blends have two consonants side-by-side. It can be hard for readers and spellers to hear the sounds separately since they blends together. However, they do have two distinct sounds.

Here’s how to map a word with two blends:

  • Say “twist.”
  • Your child repeats it.
  • Place one pom pom for each sound. There are five sounds.
  • Map the letter that spells each sound in its own box: t-w-i-s-t.
  • Write or spell the word on the line.
  • Read the word twist.

Digraph word Mapping Example

Digraph words are pretty straight-forward as long as your child already knows that two letters spell that one sound.

Here’s how to map the digraph word chest:

  • Say “chest.”
  • Your learner repeats.
  • Your learner counts the sounds in chest – /ch/ /e/ /s/ /t/ – and places a manipulative.
  • They map the letters that spell those sounds.
  • They write the word chest.
  • They read the word chest.

Vowel Team sound-spelling Mapping Example

Vowel teams can be some of the hardest words to map because there are so many sound-spellings to learn. So start with the .long vowel teams like ai/ay, ea/ee, or ie/igh.

Here’s an example of mapping a vowel team word:

  • Say the word “flight” to your child.
  • They repeat the word flight.
  • They tap the sounds and place a manipulative for each sound: /f/ /l/ /I/ /t/.
  • They can map the letters that spell the sounds /f/, /l/ and /t/.
  • You’ll likely need to say, “In this word, igh spells the long i sound.”
  • Your child writes the word and reads it.

Bossy R sound-spelling Mapping Example

R-controlled vowels are in 10% of words so it’s important for your child to learn them. I only learned about them when I started teaching 2nd grade!

It’s important to have mastered digraphs before jumping into r-controlled vowels.

Here’s how to map the word shirt:

  • Say the word “shirt.”
  • Your child repeats and taps the three sounds /sh/ /ir/ /t/.
  • They map the letters that spell those sounds.
  • They write the words.
  • They read the word shirt.

Phoneme-Grapheme Mapping Template

You don’t need a template to do phoneme-grapheme mapping. You can just draw boxes on a whiteboard for your child or students and use any counter you already have.

But a lot of teachers and parents need the structure of the template. So you can grab this free black and white phoneme-grapheme mapping template by entering your email in the box below.

This free printable is a gift to email subscribers so you’re agreeing to get my welcome emails and newsletters. You can unsubscribe at any time, but I bet you’ll want to stick around.

Make sure to check you enter your email address correctly – that’s the most common reason why parents don’t get their free printable! And if you’re a teacher, use a personal email, not your school district email. Their filters usually block emails with downloads (like a free printable).

Word Mapping Activity

I was looking for a comprehensive word mapping activity to use with my dyslexic daughter and tutor students. I wanted something that would provide repeated practice and was organized phonics skills in a sequential and structured way.

I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I made it.

All the mapping mats included in this pack can work with a pom pom as a manipulative. So you don’t need to go buy a ton of supplies. One bag of pom poms is enough.

The novelty comes in with the 16 themes. They are:

  1. apples
  2. pumpkins
  3. squirrels
  4. pine trees
  5. hot cocoa
  6. heart-shaped box of chocolates
  7. pot of gold
  8. Easter egg
  9. flower
  10. watermelon
  11. lemonade
  12. dinosaur feet
  13. gumball machine
  14. bee hives
  15. lily pads
  16. roads

This pack includes all those phonics skills:

34 Sets Phonics Skills Cards (each set has 12 cards+)

  1. CVC short a
  2. CVC short e
  3. CVC short i
  4. CVC short o
  5. CVC short u
  6. CVC mixed review
  7. CVCE long a
  8. CVCE long i
  9. CVCE long o
  10. CVCE long u
  11. CVCE mixed
  12. Beginning L Blends
  13. Beginning R Blends
  14. Beginning S Blends
  15. Final L Blends
  16. Final M&N Blends
  17. Final S&T Blends
  18. Blends with final ck
  19. Words with blends and digraphs
  20. Digraphs mixed (X3 – 36 total cards)
  21. R-Controlled AR
  22. R-Controlled ER
  23. R-Controlled IR
  24. R-Controlled OR
  25. R-Controlled UR
  26. Long a spelled ai/ay
  27. Long e spelled ea/ee
  28. long I spelled ie/igh
  29. Long o splled oa/oe
  30. Long U spelled ue/iu/oo
  31. au/aw
  32. oi/oy
  33. ew/oo
  34. ou/ow

Grab the Word Mapping Activity in the Printable Parents Shop or on Teachers Pay Teachers.

word mapping workshop

Are you more of a visual and hands-on learner? Do you need someone to walk you through the steps?

Check out the on-demand Word Mapping Workshop! The 45 minutes of videos walk you through each step!

Phoneme-Grapheme Mapping

This is a different way to teach reading and spelling than you and I learned. But it is the most effective. Grab the free printable template and try mapping sound words today.

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