science of reading Seidenberg secret stories


Bringing the Science of “Learning” Into Focus

The Science of Reading movement has brought so much change to our schools over the past few years—new curriculum, new resources, decodable readers replacing leveled books and even swapping old assessments that have been used for the past 20 years…for brand new ones.

Dr. Mark Seidenberg reminds us in his Yale Child Study Center Talk, Where Does the “Science of Reading” Go From Here? that we still have work to do to effectively incorporate these principles, practices and research.

And to effectively incorporate this research, we need to focus on not only effective teaching, but on effective learning. So how might the science of learning inform our practice?

My name is Leah Ruesink, and I’m an early literacy specialist, district trainer and adjunct professor from Michigan. In my previous post, I discussed how UFLI Foundations and Secret Stories belong together as the “backbone” and the “lifeblood” of science of reading-based instruction.

ufli and secret stories phonics integration

In this post, I want to dive deeper and discuss some common misconceptions/assumptions about the “Science of Reading,” using points adapted from Dr. Seidenberg’s talk.

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • We need more research on translating science to classroom practice.
    Mark Seidenberg (2023) reminds us, we still have work to do to effectively incorporate these principles, practices and research. We need more “science” in the “Science of Reading.”
  • We need to admit what we don’t yet know, resisting the creation of new dogma.
    “Thinking like a scientist involves more than just reacting with an open mind. It means being actively open-minded. It requires searching for reasons why we might be wrong—not for reasons why we must be right—and revising our views based on what we learn.” —Adam Grant
  • We need to learn more about what works for who (and under what conditions). 
    Equitable instruction applies to all learners, including the significant proportion of children who are often neglected as the focus of reading research—those who learn to read accurately and efficiently in advance of formal reading instruction.

Secret Stories® Phonics

1. Does everything need to be taught in order for students to learn?

The Assumption→ Good phonics instruction is always explicit.

Explicit instruction is crucial. But what about implicit learning?
Our brains are not wired to learn to read naturally, like we learn to speak; therefore explicit instruction is necessary….especially for our learners with the greatest needs. But what about implicit learning— does it have a place in our reading classrooms?

Well of course!

“Much, if not most, of what children learning to read in English come to know about its orthographic phonological relationships, is acquired through implicit learning.”  —Hoover & Tunmer (2020).

For example…
Let’s say that you explicitly introduce your students to the /ph/ Secret Story (below). Then ten minutes later, Phoebe is underlining the /ph/ at the beginning of her name and using it to write the word phone. Later that afternoon during reading block, she exclaims, “Look, I see the /ph/ Secret in word Ralph in our book! He has the same Secret in his name that I have in mine!”

With just a couple minutes of explicit instruction, this student is already applying the skill to implicitly read and write new /ph/ words.

ph digraph embedded mnemonic

As Seidenberg (2023) explains:

“Explicit instruction is there to scaffold statistical/implicit learning. But only as much as needed and not one bit more.”

Secret Stories embrace both explicit and implicit learning

  • Grounding phonics skills in feelings, emotions, and behaviors that children already know and understand.

    Early brain development occurs from back to front, with the affective, or “feeling-based” networks  (which regulate the implicit behaviors that kids understand and recognize) developed long before the higher-level, executive processing centers are formed. Secret Stories takes advantage of these earlier-developing networks by connecting letter-behavior to kid-behavior to make phonics sounds more predictable. Sneaking abstract letter sound skills through the brain’s “backdoor” by connecting them to what kids already know and understand makes them easy to learn and remember.

Using Neuroscience to Deliver Phonics Faster

Secret Stories uses evidence-based embedded mnemonics

Using a simple, story-based delivery system, Secret Stories explicitly teaches the phonics patterns and their corresponding sounds, each of which is depicted with embedded mnemonic images to help kids remember and apply them. It is through this visualized, phonics framework that beginning learners can independently recall the sounds they need for reading and the spelling patterns they need for writing. In this way, the embedded mnemonics do the “heavy lifting” by helping kids keep track of which letters make what sounds. This is critical  because while the sounds are made predictable by the Secrets, the phonics patterns that go with them are not. It is only through students’ ongoing reference and use of the embedded mnemonics to read, write and make sense of text throughout the day that these sound-symbol connections become orthographically mapped in the brain. Until then, Secret Stories embedded mnemonic sound wall provides the clear and “concrete” connections that beginning and struggling learners need to read and write independently .

secret stories sound wall

For example….
Let’s say that you previously shared the ay/ey Secret phonics pattern to help kids decode the days of the week on the morning calendar. Later, they notice the same /ay/ Secret in words that are in the morning message and immediately recognize it as something they already know.

Phonics in morning message

Because they explicitly learned the letters that make the sound, think of all the words they’ll be able to learn implicitly! Not to mention the /or/ Secret they also know and the many more words that it unlocks.

2. Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?

The Assumption→ Not all learners need the extra phonics practice, but it’s not harmful. At worst, it’s just additional practice with essential skills.

I’ve always responded in agreement to this assumption. Extra practice certainly does not feel harmful…and in fact, extra practice is absolutely necessary for some students who are in great need of reading support.

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Of course! The clock is ticking. The goal is to get in, get out, and move on.
—Seidenberg, 2023

“SoR structured literacy is a prodding approach, with low expectations about rate of progress” (Seidenberg, 2023). Consider the range of student abilities and skills in a kindergarten or first grade classroom. In February, you may have some students working on blending CVC words like “cap” and “sit” and others reading multisyllabic words! Yet, many of us spend 90 minutes or more every day teaching/ providing center work for a phonics skill that is either too difficult or way too easy for the majority of our students! Consider for a moment… if there is a way to give ALL learners earlier access to the codee they need to make sense of the words they see everyday …WOULD YOU WAIT? 

Whereas teaching a skill requires readiness to learn, sharing stories holds no expectations. They simply linger in the brain, “incubating” the information and ideas they contain, particularly that which is meaningful to the listener.  and ideas they contain. While all students benefit from this early incubation time, it’s those who struggle that benefit from it the most, as they require the most time to learn and apply new skills.

Secret Stories provides differentiated access to the code

For example….
Let’s say a student in your class is trying to write the word “house” but the ou/ow phonics pattern isn’t on your grade level  scope and sequence. Would you just tell them, “I’m sorry, but you’ll need to wait until next year to learn how to read/spell the word house. In the meantime, you’ll just have to copy/memorize it.”  What if there was a way for them to READ and WRITE that word now, as well as hundreds of other word with that sound?

ou/ ow embedded mnemonic

“If you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll eat it” …and if you give kids the CODE, they’ll USE it!

We are moving way too SLOW in delivering the code kids NEED to read and write, despite how easy it is to give MORE sooner!

This can be seen in the prek/transitional kindergarten writing sample up above. Despite not having yet fine-tuned the different spelling choices, the sound-symbol relationships are clearly established, as evidenced by their use. As beginning learners gain more text experience through reading, they gain more natural insight into spelling and which patterns are correct to use in which words. Reading is by far the best teacher, and not just for spelling, but for everything, from vocabulary to comprehension. Reading is also the best way to practice, reinforce and expand phonics knowledge, that is, assuming one has enough phonics skills to read.

And herein lies an inherent roadblock for beginning and struggling readers who possess too little of the phonics code they need to read, and thus, are able to take only limited value away from daily reading and writing activities. Without advanced access to the code, it’s not possible for kindergartners and first graders teachers to keep pace with the words they see and are expected to “read” every day. Even words that are in the reading/phonics curriculum are often leaps and bounds ahead of the phonics skills that it’s teaching them.

While formal, grade-level programs and curriculums must adhere to a slower, more structured, grade-specific pace for phonics skill introduction, Secret Stories does not. That’s because Secret Stories is NOT a phonics program or curriculum, nor is it a supplement to one as there are NO lessons or activities to do. The Secrets are simply mnemonic tools to help speed-up access to the code so that kids can actually read the words they’re looking at every day in the classroom.

Click here for the Better Alphabet™ Song to automate individual letters and sounds in 2 week – 2 months and click here to read the research on simultaneous skill acquisition via the melodic mnemonic.

Dr. Seidenberg also cautions that “SoR structured literacy is a plodding approach, with often too low expectations about the rate of progress.”

The Matthew Effect on Reading Gains

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Poorer
The more of the code kids have, the more words they can read. The more they read, the more phonics practice they get, and the better reader they become. In contrast, the less phonics skills kids have, the less words they can read and the less practice they get, decreasing the likelihood of reading success.

  • The More Kids Bring to the Table, the More Value They Take Away
    Using the Secrets to fast-track more of the phonics code sooner helps maximize the effectiveness of the existing reading/phonics curriculum because kids can actually read the words that are in it. It also increases the instructional value of all other reading and writing activities that occur across the day in other content areas.
  • The goal of the game is to GET KIDS READING!
    To do this, kids need advanced access to more of the phonics code sooner, and teachers need to avoid any roadblocks in their instructional path that don’t go toward this end!

3. Is heavy phonics work actually effective for students? What about with multilingual learners and different dialects?

The Assumption→ “Significant time should be spent in the classroom teaching students complex phonics terminology and rules.”

Phonics doesn't have to be hard

While teaching kids complex phonics rules may sound helpful (in line with explicit instruction), the focus should be on efficiency……getting kids to actually READ the words.

Seidenberg reiterates that “the goal is to facilitate cracking the code, not teaching the code. “The goal of instruction is for [the] child to learn what there is to learn – how the code works – and to gain enough basic facts to enable reading simple texts with decreasing reliance on external feedback” (Seidenberg, 2023).

Dr. Seidenberg also expresses this concern in his earlier 2022 Reading Matters article: “Phonemes, onsets and rimes, inflectional and derivational morphology, relative clauses, collocations, and other basic components of language….Does a child need to know these concepts? I shudder when I see words like “phoneme” and “orthography” being used in teaching 6 year olds. […..] I also think it’s folly to devote precious time to teaching children the “correct” pronunciation of (all 44) phonemes prior to moving on to reading” (Seidenberg, 2022).

Other well-known researchers have also expressed that the goal of good phonics instruction is to advance reading, not to teach “rules for rules-sake.”

“The point of phonics isn’t to provide readers with exactly correct pronunciations of words, but only “close approximations” —Dr. Ann Cunningham


Phonics instruction should tip students off to some of the more frequent and useful orthographic patterns, but it should never attempt to impart them all.”  —Dr. Timothy Shanahan, 2022

Secret Stories removes the complexity 

phonics rules

Teaching phonics isn’t rocket science

  • When we are teaching these complex rules we have to ask…”What is this for? Does it help them READ or SPELL words? Is the phonics vocabulary/terminology necessary in order to advance the reading or spelling of the words?
  • Using high-level, abstract terminology is not the best, fastest route to connect with young learners who are “concrete-level” thinkers, nor is it most helpful for older struggling readers who often have issues with language processing and working memory.
  • At the level it’s being discussed, it’s simply not needed (e.g. kids don’t need to know there is a “diphthong” in the word how, or that there is an “r-controlled vowel sound” in the word her in order to read and spell those words). Adding unnecessary complexity only serves to delay access to these critical pieces of the code that could otherwise be easily given at the kindergarten. The goal is for kids to be able to use the phonics patterns to READ and SPELL, not to identify the phonics category into which they fall.The video below shows a beginning kindergartner easily recalling these “r-controlled vowel” sound/spellings, even though most reading/phonics curriculums don’t formally introduce them late first or early to mid second grade.

Secret Stories provide efficiency AND engagement

  • When you align phonics “rules” to letter behavior, everything becomes much easier because kids can logically deduce the “most and next most likely” sounds. This, in turn, helps support facilitate and support the cognitive flexibility needed for advanced decoding. Without cognitive flexibility, learners are left to identify words based on “rules and exceptions,” and this includes the need to memorize easily decodable “heart words” at the beginning grade levels.

“Recently, there has been a great deal of correlational investigation into the importance of cognitive flexibility in . Enough convincing, high-quality work to conclude flexibility to be an essential property of proficient decoding ability. Kids who lack that kind of flexibility are at a disadvantage.” —Dr. Tim Shanahan (2022)

  • Imbuing the Secret Stories strategies into existing reading/phonics curriculum helps kids to become flexible decoders, using the Secrets they know to figure out new words. The video below shows first grade ELL students applying their “phonics flexibility” as they ponder the spelling of the word light after having already successfully decoded the word. The critical thinking playground that emerges from their conversation shows how adept even beginning and inexperienced learners be in using what they know to logically predict the “most and next most” likely sounds of letters.

Teaching phonics isn’t rocket science, nor should it be given that the “end-user” of our instruction is a 5 year-old who is likely to be licking the carpet and eating his shoe! And yet, we can still give him enjoy easy access to the code he needs to read, and delivered in a way that makes perfect sense.

end use of phonics instruction

Secret Stories provides teachers with “deliverable buckets” to get phonics knowledge to the “end users”

Aligning phonics instruction with the Science of Reading requires not only understanding how the brain learns to read, but how the brain actually learns. Understanding the nexus between the “science of reading” and the “science of learning” provides insight into how we can deliver phonics faster and make skills more accessible to all learners, and from the earliest possible grade levels.

“Neuroscience carves a clear path, but it is up to us to head its message.”
—Dr. Kurt Fischer

Follow Leah Ruesink @TheEarlyLiteracyCoach on Instagram for more on Secret Stories and the Science of Reading, and continue the conversation in the Science of Reading Meets Science of Learning Group on Facebook!

literacy coach trainings

Join the conversation in the Science of Reading Meets Science of Learning Group on Facebook  and follow Leah Ruesink on Instagram at @TheEarlyLiteracyCoach on Instagram.

ufli and secret stories phonics

UFLI is the “backbone” of our phonics instruction and Secret Stories is the “lifeblood” that runs through it.

Hi, my name is Leah Ruesink! I am an early literacy specialist, district trainer and adjunct professor from Michigan. I’m here to share my thoughts on two of my favorite evidence-based phonics resources that complement each other perfectly —Secret Stories and UFLI Foundations—AND to explain why they belong together in the classroom. 

What’s all the buzz about UFLI Foundations? 

As a literacy coach, I first heard about UFLI Foundations in a facebook group (The Science of Reading- What I Should Have Learned in College). At the time, my district was using a phonics curriculum that just wasn’t meeting the needs of all students. The district was overwhelmed with the number of students in need of intervention support. 

You cannot intervene your way out of core instruction that is not effective.
—Michelle Elia

Ever since discovering UFLI Foundations, I’ve been digging deeper, spreading the word to the teachers I work with, and planning professional learning around this amazing resource. 

  • What is it? UFLI is an explicit and systematic phonics program receiving lots of attention from teachers and educators across the country. The lessons provide many opportunities for students to practice phonics skills with a gradual release of responsibility model. Teachers love the detailed lesson plans, free PowerPoint/Google Slides Deck to accompany each lesson, and additional materials for center activities and extra practice. 
  • Who is it for? UFLI is intended for core instruction for students in Kindergarten- 2nd grade and intervention for 3rd grade and up. It may be used for whole group tier 1 instruction, small groups, tier 2 and 3 instruction or all of the above.
  • Why does it work? UFLI lessons are systematic, sequential, and explicit with lots of intentional interleaved practice. For example, If the short /i/ sound is introduced in a lesson, that skill is reviewed/practiced more than 300 times over the course of the next 10 lessons.

          UFLI Foundations lessons follow this eight-step routine:
           1.  Phonemic awareness
           2.  Visual Drill
           3.  Auditory Drill
           4.  Blending Drill
           5.  New Concept
           6.  Word Work
           7. Irregular Words
           8. Connected Text

So how do Secret Stories fit into UFLI lessons?

ufli secret stories integration

Secret Stories isn’t a program, but mnemonic “tools” that work alongside your existing reading/phonics curriculum to speed-up access to the phonics code kids need to read. Rooted in the science of reading and neuroscience research, Secret Stories  simplifies phonics by aligning letter behavior with kid behavior to make sounds more predictable, using stories as the delivery mechanism. These phonics “secrets” are the missing puzzle-piece to the 30 minute UFLI Foundations lesson, as they make phonics skills instantly accessible by connecting back to what kids already know and understand. 

secret stories sound wall

Think of UFLI Foundations as the backbone of your phonics instruction—with a scope and sequence that stays firmly in place, providing structured, explicit, systematic and sequential phonics instruction for 30 minutes every day. In line with this analogy, Secret Stories is the lifeblood that flows freely through the veins of the day, moving to wherever it’s needed. The “secrets” are your natural differentiated support for all learning levels—not confined by your grade level pacing guide or to your 30 minute reading block, but extending through the entire day and permeating all the instructional space around your “fixed” backbone lesson.

Using Secret Stories Throughout the Day

Morning Message & Mystery Words:
Introduce and review Secret Stories during your morning message and then search for and notice them throughout the day. You may also have done of your students help write out the “mystery” morning message.

Decoding Morning Message

Secret Mystery Word

Secret Word of the Day                    .

UFLI Lesson:
Introduce a Secret Story during your UFLI lesson, the 30 minutes of your literacy block focused on building word recognition skills.

UFLI and secret stories integration for small group reading/ phonics instruction


short o vowel sound secret story ufli lesson


ufli and secret stories integration word building

Whole Group Time:
Refer to Secret Stories throughout the day, as wherever there is text, there are phonics “secrets” to discover and reinforce.

Small Group Time:
Refer to Secret Stories during small group encoding/decoding. As you are working with students in small groups, draw their attention to unknown words and search for “secrets” in the text.

Introduce Secret stories at the beginning of your writing lesson as you’re
modeling, or use them on a “need to know” basis as students come to a word they need to write. Encourage students to use the embedded mnemonic posters (Secret Stories sound wall) to independently “build” (encode) the sounds they hear in words they want to write using the Secrets they know.

Kindergarten Writing with Secret Stories PhonicsEND OF YEAR KINDERGARTEN WRITING

Choice Time/ Free Play:
Support students to use the “secrets” to read and write unknown words during dramatic play! Students suddenly have the tools to write words
for the “restaurant menu” and to create signs for the “play pet store.”

phonics play with secret stories

Let’s peek into a kindergarten classroom…

phonics in kindergarten

I was invited into a Kindergarten classroom this past spring to observe my first UFLI Foundations lesson. I brought along two teachers from another district to participate in a “Learning Lab,” a day to visit classrooms in other buildings, reflect with the teachers that we observe and plan for instruction going forward. UFLI Foundations was just as new to me as it was to these teachers- I was eager to see a lesson in action!

Decoding “Heart Words”
The lesson began, and the teacher introduced the “irregular/high frequency word” → “they.” She quickly explained that the EY, the long ā sound, would not be introduced until a later lesson (I later looked in the book and learned this was almost 40 lessons later!) so students would need to remember the word by heart. She placed a small heart under the “ey” part of the word “they” and moved on. 


Of course, after years of using the Secret Stories in my own classroom (and seeing amazing success), I did my best not to jump out of my seat shouting…“There’s a Secret Story for that!”

EY and AY are just too cool!
With thumbs up and their coolest voices, they say Ayyyyyy!
ey ay embedded mnemonic phonics pattern secret stories

While the UFLI Foundations lesson does not explicitly teach the EY phonics pattern, that doesn’t mean students shouldn’t have access to it, especially when it’s so easily given. In fact, research on the science of reading shows that children should never memorize words they can read, and with the Secrets, these so-called “heart words” can be easily decoded in kindergarten. There is no reason to make kids wait 3-4 grade level years for formal skill introduction via the program when it’s so easy to just tell them the Secret. 

decoding heart words

Hello Literacy/ Jen Jones

We must give students access to the code when they need it. 

The Secret Stories make learning tricky phonics patterns extra STICKY…and memorable! That’s because  they tap into what kids already know and understand—the social and emotional “feeling-based” connections that drive their behavior every day! As kids don’t need to practice or memorize what they already know, the Secret phonics pattern can be immediately put to use for real reading and writing using the embedded mnemonic. I am constantly amazed watching Kindergarteners write words like “partner“ and “smart” after just a few days of learning the r-controlled vowel “secrets” about AR and ER/IR/UR!

Think about the number of times a child sees the word “they” in classroom books and read alouds. And how often students write sentences that include the word “they”…it’s a pretty common word! If we have an engaging way to teach these tricky phonics patterns that actually helps kids remember them…we can’t afford to wait!

they embedded mnemonics

It is neurobiologically impossible for kids to think deeply about things they don’t care about. -Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang

We have to get our kids to CARE if we want them to learn and apply these tricky phonics patterns. So the big idea here is…if you haven’t gotten to the UFLI Foundations lesson that explicitly teaches a phonics pattern (e.g. /ar/), and students need it to read or spell a word…tell them the Secret! Grab the Secret Stories flashcard you need and take 1-2 minutes to read the story to your students. Then refer to it throughout the day! 

accelerating phonics skill access

When should I bring the Secret Stories into my UFLI lesson?

There are many opportunities to bring the Secret Stories into your UFLI lessons- I highlight and describe a few below. Note that each UFLI lesson takes two full days to teach. On day 1, you teach steps 1-5, and on day 2 you review step 5 and go through steps 6-8.

Steps 1-4 in the UFLI Foundations lessons are review steps, so I recommend bringing the Secret Stories into steps 5-8. Let’s talk about what this might look like throughout each UFLI Foundations lesson step: 

  1. Phonemic Awareness: This is the lesson step when students work on blending spoken phonemes (/m/ /o/ /th/ what’s the word? → moth!) , and segmenting words into phonemes (say the sounds in the word path → /p/ /a/ /th/) This is a review step.
  2. Visual Drill: This is the lesson step when students see a grapheme (letter or letter pattern that represents the sound) on the slide and connect it to its phoneme (sound). Students say “M spells /m/.” This is a review step.
  3. Auditory Drill: This is the lesson step when students listen to the teacher say a phoneme (e.g. /t/) and connect it to the grapheme as they write it. Students hear the sound and then say “/t/ is t” as they write the letter ‘t’ on their whiteboard/paper. This is a review step.
  4. Blending Drill: This is the lesson step when students quickly practice blending sounds to read review words. The teacher uses the “blending board” (or can just write the words on the whiteboard) to show a word, say each sound with students and blend to read the whole word. Connected phonation is key- I remind teachers to, “make the sounds stick together as you say them.”  This is a review step.
  5. New Concept: This is the lesson step when students are introduced to a new phonics pattern, and learn how to articulate the sound, form the grapheme, and read and write words with it. Let’s say you are teaching UFLI lesson #48 on ‘ch’. At the very beginning of step #5 (the new concept) grab your secret story card for ‘ch’ and take 1-2 minutes to read the story…you will have the attention of your students!ch phonics train fun

UFLI is the backbone, providing structured, explicit and interleaved practice throughout lessons…while the Secret Stories is the lifeblood, flowing fluidly throughout the day.

One part of the “new concept” step involves reading words with the new phonics pattern. Instead of quickly reading the isolated words “am, Pam, man, Sam, an, and  fan,” you might begin by engaging students and telling a made up story about “Sam and Pam on a very hot day, who met a kind man with a fan!” We want to always be on the lookout for opportunities to bring stories into our phonics lessons.


6. Word Work: During this step, students are practicing the focus skill by writing words using a  “word chain.” The teacher prompts students to encode (spell) and decode (read) each word, changing one phoneme at a time.
          chop → chip → chill → hill → dill → dull → mull → much → such → sun

This is a perfect point in the lesson to have your Secret Stories cards nearby for reference! You may notice several of your students are writing “cop” instead of “chop,” in their word chain. Grab your “ch” Secret Stories card and spend a moment re-reading the story and providing corrective feedback. (Note: The Secret Stories musical exercises are also a great way to practice this.)

Phonics Flashcards word work at board

7.   Irregular Words (aka “Heart Words“): You get to step #7 in your UFLI lesson and look at the high frequency word ‘they’ realizing there is one “tricky” part  that your students have not been
explicitly taught…YET. This is a perfect opportunity to grab your stack of Secret Story cards, find
the story for that “tricky” part, and take 1-2 minutes to read the “secret.”

sight words with Secret Stories

           You might grab a pair of sunglasses and a leather jacket for an added special effect!

  • 8.  Connected Text: For this step, students are reading sentences and paragraphs with both high
    frequency words and target phonics pattern words. Students also have a printed decodable passage to practice reading in small groups, or with a partner. This is a great opportunity to search for the “secret story” in each sentence and/or passage. You may have students circle as many “secrets” as they can find and then practice reading the “secrets” words to a partner. Students also write dictated sentences during this step, and may refer to the Secret Stories to spell tricky phonics patterns.phonics for decoding in kindergarten


phonics for writing

Is there a specific order to introduce the Secrets?

As a literacy coach I am frequently asked…”When should I introduce each Secret Story? Is there an order or scope and sequence to teach them in?” to which I reply…

There is no specific order or sequence to introduce the Secret Stories. Let’s revisit the analogy of UFLI foundations as your backbone, your scope and sequence for phonics instruction. Like a backbone, it stays in place, providing structured, explicit, systematic and sequential phonics instruction for approximately 30 minutes a day. 

The UFLI lesson assures that all phonics skills are explicitly taught and practiced. It provides equitable instruction for all students, specifically those who can’t recover from being taught to “just memorize” and need lots of support to shift back to decoding.

But, how are we accommodating students who don’t need that slow, laser-focused approach? What do we do for our students who are ready for more, and want to read and write bigger words? 

Provide access to the “Secrets” throughout the day! The Secret Stories is the lifeblood of your classroom, flowing fluidly throughout the veins of the day..moving to where it’s needed. Putting the Secret Stories posters up creates equity in the classroom, and acts as a differentiated support for students who are ready to read and write bigger words. Even if UFLI lessons haven’t covered a specific phonics pattern, a child can just “look up” and find the secret story they need.        

  We can follow a structured scope and sequence AND also give our students access to
the code (the secrets!) when they need it. 

Use the following checklist to keep track of which “secrets” you’ve introduced to students throughout the year: 

How have I used Secret Stories and UFLI as a literacy coach?

One of my roles as a literacy coach is to work with districts and teachers to find curriculum resources that align with current literacy research. Since discovering the Secret Stories and UFLI Foundations, I’ve been using both in various ways across the districts I support:

          1.  Grant writing: I support teachers by writing grants. The most common grants we’ve written
together the last few years have been for the Secret Stories, the UFLI Foundations book, and
various decodable readers (Hello Decodables, Phonic Books etc.)

          2. Leading professional learning: Since both the Secret Stories and UFLI Foundations are
fairly new to the teachers I work with, it is important to provide professional learning throughout
the year on both resources.

Here  are a few of the UFLI Foundations/Secret Stories sessions I’ve led alongside my coaching colleagues:

  • UFLI Foundations Lesson (Day 1 and Day 2):
    Several professional learning sessions have outlined each step of the lesson. language to use during instruction, and resources needed to teach.
secret stories ufli phonics training for teachers

The Better Alphabet® Mini-Mats

secret stories phonics stickers and word mat

  • UFLI Progress Monitoring Session:
    This session focuses on “day 5 activities” that include progress monitoring and review of the weekly UFLI lessons. There are SO many free resources in the UFLI toolbox (website) including “Roll and Reads” (pictured below), decodable passages and home practice sheets.



Below is a note-taking sheet I created for teachers to take notes as I model using Secret Stories with the UFLI lessons. The picture below is of a kindergarten teacher’s notes.


  • Gamifying UFLI:
    This session provides ideas for extending UFLI lessons with games, and practice activities as well as ideas for centers and small group.
  • UFLI Refresher:
    During this session, teachers have had some time to teach UFLI lessons in their classrooms. We spend time reviewing each step of the lesson, reviewing language and important reminders.
  • Make and Take Workshops:
    These professional learning workshops are planned for teachers to create activities to enhance UFLI lessons and bring in the Secret Stories.
  • Choose Your Own Adventure-“All about the Secret Stories”:
    This professional learning day presents teachers with options for different sessions they choose to attend. Below are pictures from this PD.