The Elephant and the Eskimo in the Elevator

By: Natalie Tate

Beginning Reading


Rationale:     It is important for students to gain a strong understanding of phonemes to become skillful readers. Short vowels should be taught first with beginning reading for better comprehension. It is also very important for students to be given meaningful representations of the phonemes in spoken words using pictures, hang gestures and tongue twisters. Letterbox lessons will reinforce this meaningful representation. Finally, reading a decodable book with a phoneme sound theme helps students recognize and remember it. Through practice and modeling, students will gain a greater understanding of the letter e and the phoneme sound /e/ by the end of this lesson.


Materials:     Letterboxes for 3, 4, and 5 phoneme words for each student
Letterbox letters (b, e, d, g, f, p, t, a, l, n, r, c, k, u, d, s, s,) for each student
Overhead projector or smart board
Picture of “creaky door” for overhead or smart board
Sentence strips with the tongue twister (Everybody saw Eddie and the Eskimo enter the elevator on the elephant!)
Primary paper for each student
Pencil for each student
2 copies of Red Gets Fed for each group of students (about 3-4 students per group)
Words for phoneme recognition on cards or transparencies (ex: Is this word bed or bad?)

Red or Yellow?
Window or Bed?
Rest or Run?
Head or Nose?
Fed or Feed?
Bed or Bag? 

Procedure:   1.         First, I will show the letter e on the overhead or smart board for the students to see. Then I’ll ask them what sound this letter makes. Next, the students will be shown a picture of the “creaky door” to make the phoneme more memorable. Then, I will show the students how to make the creaky door with our hands as we say /e/.

2.         Second, I will read the tongue twister to the students, “Everybody saw Eddie and the Eskimo enter the elevator on the elephant.” “Okay boys and girls, now let’s read it together!”… Then we will read it again: “This time, let’s draw out that creaky door /e/ every time we hear a /e/ in the tongue twister… “/e//e//e/verybody saw /e//e//e/ddie and the /e//e//e/sikmo /e//e//e/nter the /e//e//e/levator on the /e//e//e/lephant!”… “Great Job! Let’s say it once more str/e//e//e/tching out that creaky door /e/ sound and doing our hand movement for opening our creaky door!

3.         “Great job at those tongue twisters boys and girls, now I want you to listen very very carefully because this part is a little bit tricky. I am going to read two words at a time, and I want everyone to listen for our creaky door /e/. After I read the words I am going to call on good listeners to tell me in which word we hear our creaky door /e/”


Red or Yellow?
Window or Bed?
Rest or Run?
Head or Nose?
                              Fed or Feed?
                              Bed or Bag?

4.         “I am so happy that all of you boys and girls did such a wonderful job with that. Now it’s time to take out our letter boxes and I am going to hand out a set of letters to each of you. Okay now let’s watch me as I show you all how to use our letter boxes. Each box represents a sound or mouth move. So, if I have three boxes showing, there will be three sounds in that word and our mouths are going to move three different times for that word. Let me show you an example… bed. We will break it down into the different mouth moves. The first sound is /b/. We will place that on in the first letter box. The second is /e/… can someone tell me where that one goes? (Student response) And finally the last mouth move is /d/ and that one goes in the last letter box, right?”

“Alright, boys and girls, it is your turn to try these words on your own.” I will give each word with a sentence to give a context to the students (3-bed, pen, red, beg, fed, let, pet; 4-tent, bent, left; 5-spend, stress) Saying a spelling one word at a time, I will monitor the class as they do this activity. If a student does not understand, I will re-teach and model this activity again at that student’s desk.

5.         Next, I will ask the students to pay good attention up front.  Using the overhead, I will spell some of the words they had just spelled and ask them to read them. “Now boys and girls, I want to see if you can read these words…” I would then spell a word like “red” on the white board or overhead. I will pay close attention to each student to assess whether or not the child is reading the words or just guessing.  If a child cannot read a word, I will use body-coda blending to make this easier or aid in the decoding process.  “For the word red, I first would start with /e/, and then add the /r/ /e/ - /re/. Finally, let‘s add the end of the word to /re/… /d/ - ‘red.’ Great job, let’s read it again… ‘Red’!” 
6.         Now, I will introduce the /e/ themed decodable book Red Gets Fed to the students.  “This is Meg and she has a pet dog named Red. Red is very hungry and can’t seem to wake anyone up to feed him this morning! I wonder if Red Gets Fed? I guess we’ll have to read it to find out!” I will then break the students up into groups keeping in mind to have a heterogeneous group of reading levels. “Boys and girls now we are going to get into groups. In these groups I want you to take turns reading Red Gets Fed to each other or to me. I want you all to pay close attention to that creaky door /e/ when you are reading. If you need a reminder, I will put the creaky door back on the overhead. I will walk around an observe the groups as they work together, making specific and general notes about each student and/or groups of students.  

7.         The last thing we will do is write a message using invented spelling. “Boys and girls, I am going to give each of you a piece of primary paper. I want you to imagine you had a pet named Red. Is he a dog? A cat? A monkey? I want you to write a sentence or two telling me about your pet. Let’s remind ourselves what the creaky door /e/ looks like. Let’s practice drawing one or two together… For lowercase e, get in the center of the space below the fence; go toward the window, up to touch the fence, around and up. Let’s try it one more time. Good Job. Now, I want you to go ahead and write about your pet named Red.”


Assessment:  I will assess the students during the letterbox lesson and their comprehension. During the reading of the book Red Gets Fed, I will stop in at each group every now and then to note miscues on each students to see where the students are in their phoneme-letter recognition. I will also take into account the miscues and invented spelling in their writing. Later, I will sit down with each student and see what they have learned by taking pieces of today’s lesson and seeing what they know.


References:  Murray, B.A., and Lesniak, T. (1999) The Letterbox Lesson: A hands on approach for teaching decoding.  The Reading Teacher, 52, 644-650. Cushman, Sheila. Red Gets Fed. Educational Insights: Carson, CA. 1990.  

Murray, Bruce.

Ebaugh, Jayme.  Creaky door e.

Murray, Bruce. Teaching Letter Recognition

Clark, Kathryne. Can You Open the Creaky Door?

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