What’s in the Box? Teaching Sound Segmenting through Mystery!

Phonological awareness is critical to the development of strong reading skills. Learning to recognize, and then manipulate sounds in words, however, is anything but a serious task. Here at Ruth Rumamystery box 1ck’s Learning Space, we have lots of fun ways to practise and extend phonological awareness skills that you too can use at home, or even in a classroom.  The ‘Mystery Box’ is one our ultimate favourites! You can use it in many different ways; here we’ll look at how to use it for sound separation, or phoneme counting and segmentation.

First, start by decorating an old cardboard box with a lid to transform it into something magical! When you’re finished decorating the box, cut a hole in the top or side, large enough to be able to fit a child’s hand through. Next, choose a group of 5-8 random objects or toys and place them in the box.  Place objects that are easy to sound out (e.g. cat, bus, cop, pig, fish, etc.) to begin with. Now you’re ready for the fun!

mystery box 2mystery box 3With the children (or child), have them pull out objects one at a time and say the name of the object aloud. Next, have them ‘tap out’ the sounds they hear slowly (tap a finger against the thumb for each sound). This requires stretching out the sounds and counting them as they change (ssssss-ŏŏŏŏŏ-k). Modeling may be required if this is a new skill. To extend the activity, you can use sorting mats or baskets to group items based on their number of sounds. Or, you can use “Elkonin Boxes” and mark sounds with counters or beans to make it more tactile. For kinesthetic learners, you could even play hopscotch with numbers on the ground/floor representing the number of sounds counted in each individual word.

The ‘Mystery Box’ is a hands-on and engaging way to practise various phonological awareness skills that we love teaching at Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space. When using the ‘Mystery Box’, don’t forget to show your enthusiasm as each hidden object is revealed. We’re sure that this activity will be a hit with your kids, no matter their ability!

At Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space, teaching phonological awareness skills is an important part of our early reading program, Alpha-Mania. In order to help more educators and parents teach these skills, we’ve written a series of children’s books that allow kids and adults to engage with stories in a way that promotes five different phonological awareness skills: rhyming, blending, segmenting, alliteration, and sound manipulation. We have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help us finish the books’ production and distribute the series for free to libraries across North America.


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