Dear Katie,
I love reading your blog! I’ve used your free Zoo Keeper Writing Strategies with my kinder class and the children really related, always showing me “how many animals (i.e. sounds) they caught” in their words!

I’ve taught both 1st and 2nd grades for years, and now am in my seventh year of teaching kindergarten. As many of your letter pattern stories are, of course, geared toward 1st and 2nd, I was wondering if you had some that were more geared more toward kinder?

Also, at what point would you begin introducing the Secret Stories in kinder… after the majority know most of their letters?

Marian M.
Kindergarten Teacher

(Download the Free Zoo Keeper Strategy Pack and watch this video clip to see how it works!)
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Writing Strategy Pack— "Zoo Keepers and M&M Quizzes"
“Zoo Keeper and M&M Quizzes” for Early Grade Writing!

I love Marian’s question, as it goes right to the heart of why I created the Secret Stories® in the first place, which was to break down the grade level walls of phonics instruction that limit early learner-access to the code!

Before I answer it specifically, I want to prepare you for the paradigm shift we’re about to take when it comes to what kindergarten can do and when they can do it, and I think these links will help! So here are a couple of guest posts by kindergarten teacher, Kjersti Johnson (post 1 and post 2) along with a couple of eye-opening, kindergarten-related video clips here and here.

So let’s get started by opening up a can of worms about WHY we do WHAT we do WHEN we do it when it comes to the “code” that kids need for reading and writing! 

If you really think about it, what are kids supposed to do with just bits and pieces of the reading and writing code? How can you read OR write about your pet mouse with only a third, or even  two-thirds of the code? And that’s all most early grade level learners have to work with, given that it takes multiple grade level years to teach it all…. and that’s if they’re on grade level!

The individual letter sounds (which kindergartners spend an entire year learning) provide very little bang for the buck when it comes to using them to reading and writing, as they are actually the least likely sounds that the letters will make when they get together in real words! This makes the brain’s job as a “pattern-making” machine extremely difficult, as it seems that letters are never actually doing what they’re supposed to!

And simply adding the blends and a few digraphs to the mix in first grade doesn’t help all that much,  which is why kindergartners and first graders can barely read or write anything! At least not anything that hasn’t been “memorized” (ENTER SIGHT WORDS, STAGE RIGHT!)

sight word don't work

And the sight word “parade” begins…

Sight words help compensate for the gross lack of phonics skills at the beginning grade levels, and are often taught in order to meet the required text-level assessments. For early grade teachers, rote memorization of high-frequency sight words can feel like a necessity when considering that the phonics skills kids need to read them aren’t even on their grade level scope and sequence. This is because traditionally, phonics skills are “divvied-out” in bits and pieces across multiple grade level years—from PreK to 2nd.

While teaching kids in kindergarten and first grade to memorize words instead of reading them might feel like a necessity for beginning grade teachers, this rote memorization is far from the ideal—from either a developmentally or from a brain-based perspective. (You can read more about this here or by clicking the link under the picture below.)
Secret Stories® Phonics— Stanford University Brain Study on Sight Words
Why Kids Shouldn’t Memorize What They Could READ!

Moreover, the less skills kids bring to the table, the less value they take away from daily reading and writing experiences in the classroom.

Imagine that you’re a Morse Code operator, just assigned to a naval ship. 

But there’s a problem.

You are only in the first year of a three year Morse Code training program, which means that you barely know even one-third of the code. Yet you are expected to send and receive messages on day one.

You think to yourself……
“How can I possibly be expected to accurately send and receive messages with not even one-third of the code? What about all of the sounds I haven’t learned yet? How will I be able to figure out what the incoming messages say? And worse still, how can I send messages if I don’t know the code for all of the words? Should I just leave those parts blank, or just fill up the page with the parts of the code that I do know? Or maybe I could just forgo what the captain wants me to send and just write what I can spell instead?”

     Dear Captain, 
     I like the sub.  It is big.  It is fun.  It is really fun.
     I like it so so much. I really really like the big fun sub a lot!

These are common strategies that beginning (and struggling) learners will also use in order to get around all of the parts of the code that they don’t know or haven’t yet been taught— of which there are many!

A scope and sequence cannot accurately predict which parts of the code learners will need to read their favorite book or to write the stories they want to tell. The /th/ digraph is considered a 1st grade skill by grade level scope and sequence standards, even though /th/ can be found on every line of every page in every book! In fact, kindergartners will encounter the /th/ pattern literally hundreds of times on their very first day! (And don’t even get me started on the letter /y/!) The bottom line is that just like with Morse Code, you need ALL of it to do ANYTHING with it!

Secret Stories® Phonics Brain Research
Click here to learn more

So the burning question is how to provide our earliest grade level learners with access to the “whole” code when it takes an entire for many kids to just learn the alphabet? The answer lies in the brain science. Brain science lights a path straight through the brain’s backdoor via the earlier developing, social and emotional “feeling” networks. By targeting phonics instruction to the affective learning domain, we can bypass areas of inherent early (and struggling) learner weakness (i.e. the higher level, executive processing centers) and tap into alternative areas of strength.

Secret Stories® does this in a variety of ways, beginning with channeling the individual letters and sounds through muscle memory (i.e. body intelligence) for accelerated mastery in just two weeks to two months— and that’s for kinder and PK! (And we’re not just talking the “basic” letter sounds, we’re talking every possible sound that a letter can make by itself, from hard and soft /c/ and /g/, to the long and short vowel sounds, to the positional sounds of /y/, and even /qu/…. and all while they eat their shoes and lick the carpet. (And if you actually teach preK or kinder, then you understand exactly what I mean— Lol!)

Individual Letter Sound Mastery in 2 weeks to 2 months!

During the two week-two month time frame while the individual letter sounds are seeping in via muscle memory, they are also learning about the letters’ “secrets”, (i.e. Secret Stories) which are what they do when they don’t do what they should! The Secrets explain all of the crazy sounds that letters make when they get together, and even some of the strange things they can do when they are by themselves!

Shared as short little stories that are easy to remember and understand, they are ready for immediate use in both reading and writing! And because Secret Stories® aligns letter behavior to learners’ own behavior (by way of already familiar “social and emotional” frameworks) they can easily predict their most and next most likely sound behaviors, just as they could predict the behavior of their own classmates.

Download the Free Secret Stories® Mini-Poster Sample Pack!


FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack


FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack
Our brains thrive on patterns and making things make sense, and the Secrets make letters make sense!And the earlier the grade level, the MORE they are needed, as they have virtually nothing else to read or write with! Kinder will naturally pick up and remember the Secrets BEFORE all of the individual letter sounds have taken hold, as the time frame for muscle memory to kick in is between two weeks to two months, whereas the Secrets are instant! Stories are easy for kids to remember because stories are HOW kids remember! And stories are developmentally harmless, so when they are ready to plug it in and use it, they can… but until that time, it’s simply a story!

Shifting early grade reading/ phonics instruction from brain-antagonistic to brain-compatible requires that we FEED the brain, not FIGHT it, and Secret Stories Stories® are its favorite treat! They can (and should!) be given all day long, throughout the entire instructional day—anytime and anywhere they are needed to help read or spell a word. Every Secret you give them is one more “tool” in their tool belt that they can bring to the reading and writing table, so as to bring more value away!

So to answer Marian’s questions…

The Secrets are not bound by the traditional “grade level walls” for phonics instruction that limits learner-access to the code. To share only certain Secrets at certain grade levels would presume that learners at lower grade levels don’t need them, and how could that be true if they are reading and writing across the instructional day beginning in kindergarten? Nor can we possibly say WHICH Secrets a learner will need to read the book he picks from the library or to write a word in a story he wants to tell.

Like the Morse Code operators, kids need ALL of the code, so NEVER wait to share a Secret!

Share them simultaneously with the individual letter sounds, whenever and wherever they are needed, whether it’s on the morning calendar or on the lunch menu! Remember that to a Morse Code operator (or to a beginning reader/writer) a /th/ is going to come in a LOT more handy than a /t/, so never hold back the tools that you know kids need to read and write every day!
Why Wait If We Don’t Have To?!!
Why hold back what kids so desperately need every hour of every day in our classrooms when they are working with text? If the brain science provides a “secret” backdoor passage through which we can so easily sneak phonics skills, why wouldn’t we use it?
Secret Stories® Phonics — Sneaking Skills through the Brain's Backdoor!
A “Backdoor Delivery System” for Accelerated Skill Access
Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-) 
Katie Garner— Professional Development Literacy Consultant and Keynote Education Speaker
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Try a “taste” of the Secrets with YOUR class 
and see the difference they make!
Click to Download the FREE Secret Stories® Mini-Sample Poster Pack!


Katie Garner Featured Education and Keynote Speaker/ Literacy Cosultant
For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here. 


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  1. I can’t wait to play The Better Alphabet song with my students tomorrow. Thanks for sharing!



    Katie GarnerApril 1, 2014 at 2:34 PM

      At this point in the year, you might want to ‘go all the way’ and try the “Letter Runs” with them! Here’s the link to that- ……….and don’t forget to try it BACKWARDS!!


  2. (you can also switch from ‘long’ to ‘short’ vowel sounds throughout to keep the challenge high :) as well as change the tune to: Happy Birthday, The Star Spangled Banner, etc…
    Looking forward to hearing how they do!









  4. So many great ideas and a great song!!!! Definitely going to try this with my kids! Thanks!!!


  5. The Morse Code Operator is a great analogy! Thank you for this post. :)
    lorepuckett at gmail dot com


  6. I subscribed!! I will be trying this with my kiddos as well!


  7. I attended the Illinois Reading Conference last month and couldn’t get into either of your sessions! I couldn’t even get close to the doorway :(
    Folks were setting chairs out on both ends of the corridor to hear you, but unfortunately my ears are too old to hear from that far away so I gave up! I’m hoping to have better luck seeing you at the Natl Elementary Principals Conference this summer.

    You should know that your ‘Secrets’ are an ongoing topic of conversation at our school and have had an incredible impact on our student achievement this year. As a school administrator, it’s been truly amazing to witness the progress made at each grade level, especially by our most at-risk. I’m just in awe, as are our parents (which is always a good thing!)

    My teachers were so disappointed that I couldn’t get into your session, as they promised the kids that I would take a picture with you to show them. Apparently the teachers that came to your sessions last year tried, but it was too crowded and you had too many people around you afterwards. I told them that this year was even worse, given that I couldn’t even get through the door!

    Hopefully I’ll have better luck seeing you in July!



    I know… it was CRAZY! The committee tried to avoid the overcrowding problem that happened last year by putting both sessions in the ballroom but I think their overall attendance this year was just too high, which ultimately is a good thing (but understandably frustrating when you can’t get into what you want to see).

    I will most definitely be at the Principal’s Conference in July and I’ll even save a seat for you, just in case ;)

    Thanks for your kind email, and please let your teachers (and students) know how happy I am to hear of their progress (and we’ll definitely take that picture, as well!)

    Looking forward to meeting you in July,









  10. This is incredible. I appreciate the work that has been put into programs like this and the accessibility of them to other educators and parents. Thank you and well done.


  11. Thank YOU and I’m so glad you found the post here on Mrs. Jump’s Blog!!









  13. This was an amazing find. Thank you Deanna Jump for sharing this! I am purchasing the alphabet vertically as I write this. I am so inspired by this motor memory approach. Thank you!



    So glad you found the post, and be sure to use the vertical alphabet for the “Letter Runs” too… they’re so much fun!! I put the link in the answer to the first comment at the top :)









  16. I am so glad I am subscribed to your blog so that I can find and appreciate programs like this. As a first year teacher, this information makes me see things in a new perspective. I would love the opportunity to use this program in my classroom for my students. I would love the opportunity to share this approach with others given the scientific research that has gone into this. Thanks so much to the developer(s) of this program and the difference it is going to make in teaching.


  17. This comment has been removed by the author.


  18. You’re so welcome, and as a new teacher, you would probably get a better perspective/ context if you watch the VLOGS, starting with #1 here…. ……

    I am gearing up to make the next set before I have to leave town again for conference, with the focus being on “What to do when a “Secret” doesn’t work?!!” as that’s actually where the fun begins for learners with regard to their daily interactions with text becoming a virtual “playground” for critical thinking!!

    In the meantime, don’t hesitate to ask, should you have any questions, and thanks again for your comment!


  19. I’m excited to have a song to share with my kiddos. I would love to win your kit as I am always looking for ways to reach my struggling readers.


  20. This comment has been removed by the author.


  21. I just discovered Secret Stories and the Better Alphabet Song today and I’m in love! I love how engaging it is and how it can meet so many different learning styles! I really like how you put so much thought into the position of the mouth when you did the action for short a on the you tube video. I’m always looking for new ways to make learning meaningful and fun for my kids (why I was on this blog) and feel like I have hit the jackpot with this find! I wish I could go back in time and could have done this with my class since day one. We review letter sounds and phonograms daily- and I’m embarrassed to admit but it b-o-r-i-n-g the way I’m doing it now and definitely something I want to improve on. This is just what I needed and will totally transform how I teach phonics. So excited to make something that was not so fun into something I know my kids will not only love doing but truly benefit from.



    LoL…. I remember feeling the same way when I’d stumble upon something that would completely change the way I teach! I’d always feel SOOO badly for my previous classes, who I sometimes felt, learned ‘in spite’ of me….especially my very first year – ugh :(

    I remember wanting to buy my whole class t-shirts with- “I survived Mrs. Garner’s 1st Year Teaching!!” written across the front!! ;)









  24. I think this sounds fabulous and I will be trying this out with my title students. I notice that my title students DO NOT know their alphabet-ever, nor their sounds. This should be the answer!




    It’s funny you mention this, as often readiness issues are more pervasive with Title I learners, for a variety of reasons.

    These ‘work-around’ strategies (i.e. motor/ muscle memory for individual letters and sounds; social/ emotive connections/ cues for complex pattern sound retrieval) are crucial for learners struggling with cognitive readiness.

    For these learners, in particular, the ability to GIVE these core reading and writing skills, rather than having to wait on ‘developmental readiness’ in order to TEACH them, truly makes all the difference!!

    So many of the problems that Title I learners face stem from the fact that in the first few years of school, they are ‘slaves’ to their own developmental readiness, resulting in their having to continually play on an uneven playing field!

    By using brain research findings to circumvent these pitfalls, we can actually avoid these deficit areas in the brain entirely, targeting the stronger, more capable areas instead!

    (Hope this makes sense…. have had glass of wine!!! :)









  27. I think this sounds fabulous and I will be trying this out with my title students. I notice that my title students DO NOT know their alphabet-ever, nor their sounds. This should be the answer!


  28. I am a HUGE Secret Stories fan….I use your very first Secret Stories set! Every year, my students amaze me with their writing and reading and they looove their “stories”.
    I am so glad to view your videos and your updates here. I learn something new everytime. Thanks so much !




    Oh my! You HAVE been using them for a while then!!

    I’m so glad you found the videos and updated info on the Secret Stories website, as I’ve really been working hard to ‘flesh-out’ the basic strategy-base.

    I’m curious if you’ve been in the same grade level since you started using them or if you’ve moved around a bit?




  31. I have only taught Kindergarten…30 years total. I can’t remember exactly how long I have had my set of Secret Stories…maybe since 2000/2001?? .they are just part of my routine. Like I said….my kids constantly amaze me with their progress.
    My best teacher friend went to your workshop …she was so impressed, she came back and told me all about this great new program. I was so excited I purchased the set with my own money and have been using it ever since.








  33. I will be sharing this with my new teammates of next year’s Kindergarten. Soooo excited!


  34. Hello. I have a question. Why don’t you do all three A sounds– A as in apple, A as in gate, and A as in about? I have a chant that I made up years ago with the sounds, but it has all three common A sounds that beginning readers come across in their reading. Just wondered why three Y sounds, but not three As. Thanks for letting me know. Kathleen

    Great question! And the answer actually lies in the ‘rule-of-thumb’ I used when creating the “Secrets” in the first place, which was to “avoid having too many cooks in the kitchen” when it came to identifying the most useful phonics rules!!
    (and by useful, I mean ‘only what’s necessary to be able to read and write,’ given that the goal is to give learners at the earliest grade level EVERYTHING they need to jump into working with text…. both reading and writing!!

    Because the brain will require an explanation for anything encountered on a fairly frequent basis in text- there could be ‘no stone left unturned’ when it comes to accounting for the various letter patter sound possibilities. This, however, is different from teaching “rules for rules’ sake” (i.e. the less useful and/ or less frequently occurring phonics rules/ sound patterns).

    My rule of thumb was to account for only those patterns/ sounds that occurred ‘5 times or more’ in text, given their likelihood to be encountered often enough by learners to require an explanation.

    Patterns/ sounds occurring LESS than five times would are either put in “Word Jail” OR ‘rehabilitated’ …. so as to avoid having an ‘overcrowded prison system’ / overcrowded word wall, both of which are equally ineffective ;)

    As for your specific question regarding the letter a and providing the ‘uh’ or ‘schwa sound’ being taught/ included in the “Better Alphabet Song” as an additional sound option…. this would be an example having ‘too many cooks in the kitchen,’ in that there is too little value/ purpose in teaching it.

    What I mean by this is, if a beginning learner knows the SECRETS, he will attack a word like ‘about’ or ‘around’ with a ‘short a’ sound, as he knows that Mommy e isn’t ‘one letter away’ and thus can’t make a ‘say its name.’ Attacking these words with the short a sound will STILL result in learners (even lower level Kindergartners!!) still being able to ‘get the word.’ In other words, they will still recognize that the word is ‘about’ or ‘around,’ regardless of the fact that they attacked it with the short a sound …… The presumption is that learners can and will apply at least a “grain of common sense” in recognizing the word, and my experience with the ‘lowest of the low’ kindergartners proves this out!!

    By taking into account the differences between how words can sound, depending upon how they are sounded out, I was able to determine which required SECRETS and which were, for lack of a better term….”figure-out-able!!” LoL!

    With the Sneaky Y, all THREE sounds had to be accounted for, as they are all vastly different (y as in yellow, y as in July, and y as in mommy) ….. Each are entirely different sounds and thus, each must be accounted for with logical explanations as to what / why causes each to occur.

    Again, with the ultimate goal being to GIVE learners EVERYTHING they need to read and write at the EARLIEST grade level, so as to allow EXPERIENCE to be the best teacher….. it was necessary to think in terms of training “ER Doctors” ….. preparing them for what’s ‘most likely’ to roll through the door, while spending less time preparing them to handle the “plague” ;)

    I hope this helps to clarify the basis for the SECRETS, and I promise to get into more detail about exactly this in upcoming posts…. you’re just one step ahead with your great question!!!!




  37. Thanks for this. I get the frequency point. We could never teach beginning readers all the sounds that letters CAN make in this isolated way– look at the VERY many sounds that ‘o’ can make when paired with ‘h’ when ‘ho’ comes at the beginning of a word! :) The only reason I added the ‘a’ sound heard at the beginning of words like around and about as a third sound in my chant, was because my guys weren’t getting that kind of word by knowing just the first two possible ‘a’ sounds… but maybe it was not the isolated sound that ‘a’ makes in that case that was the issue, but the fact that they were saying “ar…” as the beginning ‘sound’, instead of the necessary two syllable “a-r…” When they kept saying ‘ar, ar, ar” instead of ‘a’ when starting words like around, they got stuck. They seemed to get it better when they had that third ‘a’ sound to try. Thanks for sharing why you do it this way– always more food for thought– I can teach 100 years and I’ll still be growing my own brain :)








  39. This sounds awesome! I’ve been looking for a way to help my kinder. Can’t wait to try it!


  40. What a great idea! LOVE this and can’t wait to use it with my kinders! Thanks for sharing!


  41. This article really intrigued me! As I was reading the “why” of certain discrepancies, I was picturing specific students I’ve had along the way. thanks for sharing



    Getting learners to ask “why” is actually our goal,
    as the “WHY” equals “CRITICAL-THINKING!”







  44. I LOVE secret Stories! My students Love hearing the stories behind each letter or letter pair.



33 replies
  1. Nicki says:

    Hi Katie
    I started using some of the secret stories in my classroom this year and have been amazed at how quickly my students picked up the secrets, will incorporate them all into my classroom next year for sure. Thanks for making learning fun.

  2. Denise says:

    I have been using Secret Stories with my KinderBears for a loooong time! I love to watch my kids write and use the Stories. It is great to "see" the thinking going on when they are writing.

  3. Margaret Dismukes says:

    Hi Katie! I bought Secret Stories in the middle of the year and started using them with my kinders immediately. I wasn't sure they would get them but I had my "aha" moment when they did and then started asking me (more like begging me) to tell them another one. They were hooked and so was I!! I couldn't wait to see how it would work from the very beginning of the year and can I just say….WOW! My kinder kids are reading really well and their writing is phenomenal! I love that they know how to hunt for secrets in words if they don't know the word. Then when they use those Secrets they are able to decode it with ease. They know to apply those rules and next sounds if it doesn't sound correct initially. This is hands down the smartest thing I ever invested in. It's easy to use with all level of learners and you can utilize it in a variety of ways in your classroom and every subject. A million times thank you for sharing your secrets and making it so fun for them to learn all the secrets!

  4. Amy says:

    Hi! I've only had a chance to use some of the samples, so far but let me tell you my THIRD GRADERS loved them! They will never forget why IR, ER, UR make the ER sound and they love it when we retell the story in phonics class. I can't wait to get a full set of the Secret Stories to use in the future!

  5. Mikki Cee says:

    I am new to grade 1 and have discovered that the kiddos who struggle with reading need something to attach the sounds to in their brains. Many of my early strugglers don't comprehend letters as sounds, but a bunch of nonsense characters on a page. I have taught the "better" alphabet song, and have taught them about superhero vowels, they know all about sneaky Y and I have told a few of the stories like AW and AU, and they really hooked into them and remembered!!!! I would love to have the rest so they'd be more ready for grade 2- they could reference them during reading! They are awesome!

    I have considered buying them many times before but the shipping to Canada is crazy!

  6. Ruthe says:

    I have recently found the "secret stories" info and am wondering if I could use this with a child younger than kindergarten or should I wait until they start kindergarten?

  7. Carolina Mom says:

    Hi, Katie! I love the Secret Stories! They have helped my students grow as readers. My littles look forward to hearing new stories, and have sometimes asked to hear a Secret Story instead of reading regular stories at story time. The Secret Stories have helped my students find the letter patterns in words. It makes me smile every day in guided reading when my littles read with extra emphasis on their, "Secret" words. Ex: He chEWs gum. It is hER tURn. (Heavy emphasis on the upper case letters ❤) My littles are super proud of their reading successes, and so am I.

  8. Deertrace says:

    My Kinders love hearing the secret stories and it has definitely helped with their reading and writing. I have Kinders doing 2nd and 3rd grade level reading and writing thanks to this program!

  9. Angela says:

    I use some The Secret Stories concepts with a group of students aged from 6-11 who are dyslexic and it is showing great results, it's giving them concepts they can latch on too and remember, I also randomly use parts of the secrets when I sub in various classes…I find it amazing how I can let them onto a secret once and weeks later when I get to sub in the class again they can quote the secret back to me. To me that is the power of Secret Stories, the fact with one teaching of a concept it can permanently stick. I look forward to one day owning the full information pack with all the resources :)

  10. Anonymous says:

    I really want to start this at the beginning of next year. I plan to use as much as I can for what's left of this year.

  11. Katie Garner says:

    Congratulations to the winner, and thanks to everyone for the great comments and questions posted- here, on Facebook, and through email! I promise to respond / answer all later today one I hop onto my next plane later this afternoon!

  12. Katie Garner says:

    I would love to see some of your kiddos writing! If you ever have a chance to send some pieces, via email, or even want to post them directly to the FaceBook page, that would be awesome!

    I would also looooovvveee for you to consider doing a guest post, as well, as given that you've been using the SECRETS for so long, you've probably developed quite a few new ideas, tips, and tricks for kinder!! If you think you would be up for it, shoot me an email at ….. would love to hear from you :)

  13. Katie Garner says:

    Just to clarify, the porta-pics are actually a set of 25 placards…. so she would have had enough for herself, plus 24 friends!! Lol!

    So glad to hear that she is enjoying them :)

  14. Katie Garner says:

    So glad to hear that you've seen such a difference with the SECRETS that you have shared, thus far!

    I always encourage teachers as the year winds down (and especially if they are the first or only one using the SECRETS) to go ahead and start "tossing out" as many as you can over the last few weeks, as every ONE that you GIVE them, is one MORE that they will have and be able to "put to use" the following year!

    Even if taken as only fun and simple 'stories' and nothing more at the time, having been exposed to them will put a sort of "catcher's mit" in place, so as to draw connections when they ARE ready to use them for a purpose the following year!

    That's the great thing about telling the SECRETS…..
    YOU have nothing to lose, and THEY have everything to gain :)

  15. Katie Garner says:

    Thanks so much for your comment, and the Porta-Pics really are a BIG help, and not just in the classroom, but they're the best way to connect students (and parents!) to the SECRETS, at home, as well!

    As kids refer to them constantly when reading and writing, it's so helpful to give them constant and easy-access to the sound patterns EVERYWHERE they go, especially for pull-out/ resource students!

  16. Katie Garner says:

    I love how you describe in such an easy-to-understand way HOW your kids use the SECRETS as ‘tools’ and the process they go through when doing so! I especially liked what you said about how how your kinders don’t not only look for SECRETS in unknown words they want to decode, but are also easily able to apply their "next (most likely) sounds” when words don’t sound correct initially.

    THIS is the reading behavior that I get most excited about, especially with the little ones!!!

    While it can seem to teachers not familiar with the SECRETS, that this ability exceeds early-learners' developmental capability, it becomes immediately apparent that knowing the SECRETS gives even the littlest and/or severely struggling learners real power over text… and watching them “wield" that power is where the fun truly beings!

  17. Katie Garner says:

    Well, congratulations…. you’re getting them, as you are the winner!!! And as you will quickly see, the SECRETS will (and should) “pop up” ALL DAY LONG, as opposed to during a designated "phonics or reading” time. Once you begin sharing them to explain away what students often perceive as "random inconsistencies,” whether in a student’s name, a word on the Math page directions, a sign in the hallway…. virtually ANY time throughout the instructional (and even recreational!) parts of the day! I hope you’ll touch base with a progress update once you get going, as I’d love a ‘birds-eye’ view into your 3rd grade classroom :)
    And congratulations, again!

  18. Katie Garner says:

    I’m so glad that you’ve been able to use the ones you have, and I know that shipping to Canada IS extremely expensive! I have been working with the office to try and come up with some way to facilitate easier access to the material for teachers in Canada, but the current conversion rate is so high, there isn’t much that can be done :(

    If you have a friend that you visit in the US, perhaps you can have them purchase it for you and then pick it up when you visit, as I know that’s what many of the teachers there are doing. Strangely, it costs almost the same to ship to the UK, Australia, Japan, and even the Middle East!

    PS Im contracted for a speaking series that kicks off in Calgary in January 2016. I believe the other events are in Seattle other states in the northwest region. Here is the link, just in case you’re interested….

  19. Katie Garner says:

    Great question, and yes! You can most definitely start sharing SECRETS prior to Kinder, although the primary focus with preKinders will be on the music to access motor memory for individual letter sound/skill acquisition.

    In addition to repetition with the "The Better Alphabet Song," the musical CD has lots of other mini-musical brainteasers with which to increase learners’ automaticity with the sound skills. From there, as they begin applying the sounds of the letters they notice in words (on signs, menus, night time stories, etc…) the actual “SECRETS" can be shared, so as to explain WHY those letters aren’t "making the sounds they expect!” Sharing SECRETS in-conjunction at the SAME time that learners are acquiring the individual sounds through music encourage them to view text analytically, and actively take-note of what sounds letters are and aren’t making, and WHY!! This is what gets the ball rolling and really sparks their curiosity so as to drive their own instruction :)

    Fostering learners' innate drive to "actively question" and "problem-solve” letter sound options in text makes them better THINKERS….. as opposed to just accepting that it “doesn’t make sense!”

  20. Katie Garner says:

    "If I only had a nickel…"
    Lol! That's the most-asked question of all!

    It's so easy to forget that as teachers, we are literally "trained" to think linearly…. although luckily (or not, depending on my principal!) with my own class, when it came to teaching the "code," I don't think that I EVER taught ANYTHING the same way twice…. including the order I taught them!

    The best way to explain it is to compare teaching the SECRETS to making a sandwich….

    First and foremost, the individual letter sounds are the "bread," and they will be easily and naturally acquired by simply singing that "Better Alphabet Song" ( ) twice a day, every day, for at least two weeks.

    And of course, you can't even think about making a sandwich without any MEAT!…. and the Superhero Vowels™ are the MEAT in your sandwich.

    And as the vowel sounds are of no use if you don't know whether they are making their LONG or SHORT sound, its a must that Mommy e™ be included, right from the get-go, as well! In addition, of course, to Sneaky Y™ (who's just so darned prevalent (in almost ALL calendar words, before every author's name in books, as well as in our all-time fave words like "mommy, daddy and candy!) that you just HAVE to address him from the start, as well!

    Once those SECRETS are out of the way, (I usually end up telling them on DAY I of Kinder, along with the "au/aw" because its August on the calendar!) the blends (which are easily reinforced with the "Beethoven Blends" and all of the other musical exercises) are also worked into our musical exercise fun, in addition to whatever other SECRETS happen to come up!

    When I moved up to first grade, my principal requested (since I never knew which SECRETS I would be teaching until I taught them!) that I keep a "movable card" clipped to the current page of my plan book, and on it, I keep a running tally of all of the SECRETS I'd taught….. adding to it as I went.

    This actually worked extremely well, as she had the documentation she needed as to which skills had already been covered, and I had an easy way to track the SECRETS I'd already introduced in whole-group (as oftentimes additional were introduced in guided group).

    As the kids get so far ahead so fast, it's easy (and more fun!) to remain flexible with their introduction, and base introduction and instruction of the SECRETS around "what's going on" (what sound skills are most needed) within the classroom, and the students will be sure to let you know "what they need, when they need it," as they know that YOU hold all of the SECRETS :)

  21. Katie Garner says:

    Isn't it just amazing to see what the little guys can do when they are let loose with everything they need…. rather than just the 'bits & pieces!' Please consider trying to capture small moments on video, or even snapshots of their writing, when you get the chance! And as I'd mentioned to one of the posters above, if you're interested, I'd love to have you guest blog and share more :)

    Please email if you're interested, and so glad to hear how well your kids are doing!

  22. Katie Garner says:

    Oh my gosh, I LOVE that you share the SECRETS when you are substituting with different classes! That is truly the best way to get other teachers to take notice, as the students are ALWAYS the best messengers…. especially the extreme "strugglers!'

    That's actually my favorite way for awareness about the SECRETS to spread across a school, although it's often a resource teacher, working with students who are considered to be, based on testing, to be the "lowest of the low."

    For these learners, the impact is immediate and extreme, as well as impossible not to notice! Regardless of grade level or language background, these are my absolute FAVORITE with which to share the SECRETS!

    What a blessing you are to the many different students with whom you come into contact in your position!

    (and as mentioned above, I would love for you to consider doing a guest post about your "adventures" as you share the SECRETS intermittently with weeks between, and at the different grade levels!

    Please email me at if you'd be willing to share more :)

  23. Katie Garner says:

    I apologize, as I somehow missed your comment! Thanks so much for posting it, and I LOVE hearing how your little ones are eating-up the SECRETS in their writing!! Please keep in touch, if you would, as they continue to progress, and I would love to see a pic of some of their writing if you ever have a chance to capture something! You are always welcome to post any pics directly on facebook, or send via email to if easier!

    Thanks so much again for sharing this, and I apologize that I missed it the first time :)

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