What is Phoneme-Grapheme Mapping?

March 13, 2023

Are you wondering what phoneme-grapheme mapping is or how to use it with your kindergarten, first, or second grade students?! Well, in today’s blog post I am sharing the steps you should follow to help students with this skill.

Before I dive in, I wanted to let you know that all this information is available in video format over on my YouTube channel as well. Just click below to watch:

If you’d rather read the information, just keep scrolling!

What is Phoneme-Grapheme Mapping?

Phoneme-Grapheme mapping has been around for a long time now. In fact, I created a little informative brochure to share a little information about what it is in one of my grad school classes a few years back. I shared it on my Instagram account, but you can access it below if you want to check it out or share with others:

Essentially, phoneme-grapheme mapping is an explicit, multisensory activity that helps promote orthographic mapping. It is successful in teaching students with dyslexia (and all students!) to read.

Now, sometimes phoneme-grapheme mapping gets confused with orthographic mapping. To quickly clarify: orthographic mapping is a process that happens in the brain when students are able to form the letter-sound connections to the spelling of a word. Brain scientists found that this is what is happening when students are able to hear a word and then spell it. For example, when a student hears the word, “cat” or sees a picture of a cat and wants to spell it, they know that cat has 3 sounds, /k/ – /a/ – /t/. They also know that it is spelled with the following graphemes, “cat”.

It is through orthographic mapping that the word has been stored in the student’s brain and it is important to note that orthographic mapping cannot be explicitly taught. Thankfully, we have some explicit activities we CAN teach to help students learn to read. One of the most beneficial activities is called phoneme-grapheme mapping. So let’s talk about how we can use this in our classrooms.


How do you use Phoneme-Grapheme Mapping in the Classroom?

Before we begin with step one, we need to remember that all words have 3 different parts. Words have letters, sounds, and meaning. So step one is as follows:

Knowing that we want our students to understand the meanings of words, we will say a word aloud and show meaning by using an image, using the word in a sentence, or both.


With step two, we want students to segment the word into sounds and represent each sound they hear with some sort of manipulative. During this stage, I like to use Elkonin boxes to help students really visualize each sound as they place a cube, tile, or other tool in each box. It is important that we use some sort of physical manipulative as this is where the multisensory portion takes place!


We have the meaning and the sounds, so now we need the letters:

Here you can have students write down the letter(s) that represent each sound. You can have students do this a few different ways – it is up to you! You can simply provide them with some lined paper and they can use the sound boxes as a reference to remember which sounds they need to represent.

You can also have students actually write the letters in the sound boxes themselves. When doing this, I have students remove the manipulatives, one-by-one, and then write the letter(s) needed to represent the sounds in each box. Another extension is to use letter tiles! This is a fun way to switch things up and I like to use these occasionally, but it is important to remember that when students physically handwrite the letters, they are making connections to the brain on what the letter looks like and the way it is formed. So while I love letter tiles and letter magnets, most of the time I have students write the letters.


Then we have the last step which is simple to do, but is often forgotten about in this process:

When we have students read the letters back (and I like to have them do this 3 times), they are further solidifying that phoneme-grapheme connection!

I hope you can see that this process is a relatively simple one to do with your students and is one you can (and should) implement often! Now, it is important to remember that when doing this with your students, you want to use words that follow along with the phonics scope and sequence you are teaching your students at the time. You don’t want to use this with phonics patterns you haven’t taught just yet.


Want to switch it up a bit?

During step 2, there are many fun ways to switch this up and keep it interesting for your students. This is the multisensory portion so we want to make sure students use some sort of physical tool to represent the sounds they hear in words. This can be done with tiles, cubes, playdough balls, pop-its, and more!


You can do phoneme-grapheme mapping with very little prep, but I did recently come out with some phoneme-grapheme mapping mats that are a BUNCH of fun for students! The mats’ themes align with my blending slides shown below. So the CVC version has a beach and boat theme, while the silent e version has a space theme, etc:

(You can find the blending slides here >>> Successive blending slides)


Seeing as I like to use blending slides as a warm up, I then go into some phoneme-grapheme mapping activities with my students and the theme works together! Here is what the boards look like (shown below is the consonant blends theme which has a road and car):

Each of the mats is themed and has sound boxes for students to segment phonemes. Each skill also comes with a teacher-resource list, image cards for each word on the list, and a blending tool (here it is the car which I attached to the popsicle stick). The boards also include a lined space for students to write the letters at the bottom. With these mats, students will follow the same steps I outlined above. 1. Students can flip a card (if doing independently) and say the word aloud OR teacher says a word aloud (if doing in a group setting). 2. Students move manipulatives into the sound boxes for each sound they hear. 3. Students write the letter(s) to represent the sounds on the lines. 4. Students use the blending tool to blend the sounds together and read the word aloud 3 times!


These are a whole lot of fun for students and I love that they can be used independently in a center as well as in a group! You can check out these mats below:

(FYI: these mats and the blending slides above are already included in the SJT Literacy Club!)


If you have any questions about how to use this effective activity, just let me know down in the comments below!


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