Teaching Reading & Writing in Kindergarten

“I sneakily took this pic at the end of snack the other day…. These 6 kids were engrossed in telling the Secrets (and trying to figure out the ones we haven’t learned yet!) The little guy in the stripes has become our unofficial “Word Jail Warden!” He can spot an ‘Outlaw Word’ a mile away! We will start ‘paroling’ some of them soon!”

I received this adorable picture and description from kindergarten teacher, Kjersti Johnson, along with the following email…

I teach two sessions of half-day Kindergarten, with my morning class tied to our Intensive Support Class (4-8 fully inclusive kiddos) and my afternoon class with half ELL, plus a few in the am too!)

I knew the Secret Stories was a keeper last year when one of my Intensive Needs kids, who was really struggling with speech and connecting letters and sounds, pointed to his name and said, “Those letters are bad. They always stick out their tongues!” and then proceeded to make their sound! Or, when my little guy, who moved to my class mid-year knowing ZERO letters or sounds, was able to read through ALL the letter sounds mixed up, singing “____ says ______, ___-___-___!” after just a couple weeks of doing the “Secret Stories® Better Alphabet Song!”

With regard to the frustration over the controversy over what our youngest learners can and can’t do, I’ve always had high expectations for my kinders, and they have always risen to meet them, often soaring far beyond!

It has been a fight to pull Kindergarten into this century. I boxed up our basal six years ago when I started using Daily 5/Cafe in my literacy blocks. My students just took off! (It’s amazing what they can do when you put the right book in their hands.) But it was Secret Stories that really allowed me to take my kids to the next level!

I love when we sit down to read something and I ask what strategies we should use, as they always yell out, “Look for the Secrets!” They amaze me every day with the new words they can read and write! Oh, and I love how they are starting to revise their own writing! I put a binder clip on their writing notebooks so they can’t fill it all in in one sitting. When they want their clip moved, they have to look back and make revisions to show that they’re ready. They will tell me, “When I wrote this, I didn’t know the Secret about this word, but now I do!”

I loved reading Kjersti email about how she uses Secret Stories® in her kindergarten classroom so much that I asked her if she would be willing to share more in a guest post, and she agreed! (She has since written another guest post on how she uses the  Secrets for reading, which you can find here.) 

A Class of Kindergartners
A Guest Post by Kjersti Johnson

I have always believed that there is a strong tie between reading and writing. It is one of the reasons that we spend so much time doing both in my Kindergarten class. Usually, students are free to choose their writing topic, but once in a while I give them a prompt.

This past month, we began a Gingerbread unit. In it, we have a class Gingerbread Man that decides to travel the world. While he is on his trip, he sends us many different versions of Gingerbread stories to read. At the end of the unit, he returns to our class and asks the kids to write about their favorite story.

In past years, my kindergartners would have to rely on “kid-spelling” or I would have to take a lot of dictation, but not this year! Thanks to the Secret Stories, my kids were able to write like the big kids! The only help I gave was a word bank of words they might need, but I didn’t spell them….. they did!

They helped me spell words like: gingerbread, favorite, girl, cowboy, and because, and the rest of the words they spelled themselves! They were even able to write about why they liked the story! I was so proud of my kindergartners (not to mention blow away!) that I wanted to share a couple samples, as well as some Secrets used to spell some of the words they wrote!

Secret Stories® Phonics in Kindergarten Writing
Note the eu/ew Secret in the word crew! (plus the Sneaky Y®, Babysitter Vowels®, Mommy e®, or, oo, th, er/ir/ur, au/aw, & ou/ow Secrets!)

 

Secret Stories Phonics— Kindergarten Writing

Note the er/ir/ur Secret in the words “girl” and “her” (plus the Sneaky Y®, Babysitter Vowels®, Mommy e®, or, oo, th, ea, au/aw, sh, & ed Secrets!)

Transforming skills kids have to learn into Secrets they want to know!

Secret Stories® Phonics Secret "ER/IR/UR"
A future kindergarten teacher….

Secret Stories Phonics— Kindergarten Writing

Note the au/aw Secret in the word because (plus the Mommy e®, th, er/ir/ur, ea, Babysitter Vowels®, ey/ay, & sh Secrets!)

We also wrote about How I Ate My Gingerbread Man (after eating them of course!) Once again, I was blown away by how they used the Secret Stories they knew to figure spellings for words they wanted to use in their writing… not just “word wall” and “word family” words, but ANY words! I loved watching them stop and look at (or even walk over to) our Secret Wall!

This next paper was written by one of my ELL students. When assessed in September, he knew seven letter names and zero sounds. Thanks to Secret Stories Better Alphabet Song, he was able to identify all of the upper and lower case letters, as well as their sounds by October!

He now also knows all of the Secrets and is using them to read and write! (On a side note, I had taken a leap of faith and done as Katie suggested, which was to begin telling the Secrets from Day 1, so as to acquire them simultaneously with the individual letters and sounds and though I’d never done that before with kinders, I am now a BELIEVER!!!

Teaching Phonics for Beginning Writing

To write the stories they want to tell, kids need access to the “whole” code, not just bits and pieces of it!

Here is what he wrote….. independently! (And yes, I was in tears when he showed me!)Secret Stories Phonics— Kindergarten Writing

If you look carefully, you can see where he had erased and added more sounds after re-reading it, and then realized that it didn’t make sense. He also went back and changed “hed” to “head” because he said it “didn’t look right.”

As Katie often says, “experience is the best teacher,” and because this little guy knew lots of Secrets, he was reading up a storm, which is how he knew that the word didn’t “look right.”

And I especially love how this next little guy added a “crunch, crunch, crunch” at the end!

Secret Stories Phonics— Kindergarten Writing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am just so proud of my kindergartners, I could burst, which is why I wrote to Katie! And with only HALF of the school year under our belt so far, I can’t wait to see where we by the end of this year!

We are so thankful to Katie Garner for sharing the Secrets with us!
Kjersti Johnson/ Kindergarten Teacher

You can read Kjersti’s second guest post on Secret Stories® for  reading, here.


Secret Stories® Phonics for Teaching Beginning Writing

“Kindergarten Writing on STEROIDS!” 
If you would like to start sharing the Secrets with your class, you can download this free mini-poster sample set, along with the “Write Like They Read” Zoo Keeper Strategies, which is like a magic trick for helping beginning learners understand that they need to “capture” as many sounds as they can in words they want to write. (Watch two short clips about the ZooKeeper Strategies for beginning writers here and here.)
Free Secret Stories Phonics Posters Sampling Set
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sample Pack
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sample Pack
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sample Pack
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sample Pack
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sample Pack
Download the FREE Mini-Poster Sample Pack and Start Sharing Secrets Tomorrow!
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Writing Strategy Pack—"Zoo Keeper and M&M Quizzes"
Click here to download the FREE ZooKeeper Beginning Writing Strategy Pack!
And to all subscribers, you should have received a free download link in your email for the Secret Stories® Guided Reader, My Class, so be sure to grab it fast before it expires!
Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Reader— My Class
Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Reader “My Class”
Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Reader— My Class
Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Reader— My Class
Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Reader— My Class
Until Next Time, 
Katie :-)
Katie Garner Literacy Consultant— Secret Stories® Author

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Katie Garner Education Keynote Speaker and Secret Stories® Phonics Author
For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here. 

 


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Secret Stories® Phonics — Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!
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Secret Stories® Phonics — The Brain Loves Novelty!

Using Music to Cement “Sound-to-Symbol” Connections in the Brain

I’m often asked why the Secret Stories® musical brainteaser exercises (on the musical download that’s included in the kits) aren’t exactly songs, as there is no instrumental accompaniment, no fun lyrics….just simple and instantly recognizable tunes with constantly changing “sound-symbol” manipulations! They are the fastest way to “glue” the sound-to-symbol (“speech to print”) connections together and build the automaticity needed for easy and effortless reading and writing!

If you use the Secrets in your daily reading and writing (phonics) instruction, you may have wondered why the Secret Stories® musical brain teaser “songs” sound so differently from other educational songs sung in early grade classrooms? Like everything else that is Secret Stories®, it’s about getting the maximum brain-BANG” for the instructional buck! 

phonics songs

Note that the previously included CD is now a music DOWNLOAD!

As teachers, we’ve all seen how easily and effortlessly students can sing through skills when they’re set in a song. Like, for example, the old “ABC Song,” assuming that you don’t mind the inclusion of that imaginary letter, “elemeno!” Kids sing daily songs as if on “autopilot,” which they are. The words literally roll off their tongue, and with no thinking required!

And this is good, right?
Not necessarily, as it depends what the skill is and how kids are going to need to use it.

Familiar and repetitive songs are perfect for fast mastery of “set” skills that are finite and sequential—in other words, skills that need only to be parroted back, “as is,” like the days of the week, months of the year, names of the planets, fifty nifty states, etc…  Such skills are easily acquired through song and stored in learners’ muscle memory, which works much like a  ‘read-only’ disc. This means that while the information is easily regurgitated, it cannot be altered or manipulated….which is fine for naming the days of the week, but not so helpful for manipulating letter sounds and phonics patterns to read and spell.

Letters and sounds exist for one reason—using them to read and spell words. The ability to sing through the letter names in order serves no practical purpose for reading and writing. Beginning learners must be able to actively manipulate these sounds and symbols in a “free-form” and flexible manner in order to use them as “tools” to read and write.
Unlike the “traditional” Alphabet Song, the Secret Stories Better Alphabet™ Song does empower beginning learners with this ability, taking approximately 2 weeks to 2 months for simultaneous mastery of BOTH letter names AND sounds—which are cemented together through muscle memory.  (For more on the Better Alphabet™, see links at bottom.)

The “Unfamiliar and Unexpected” are the Brain’s BEST Friends!  

Singing through the virtually endless letter sound combinations in a variety of constantly changing, musical exercises is the best way to ensure that learning not only remains novel, but that the stress-level is kept low, while the challenge remains high! It’s also the best way to forge critical “sound-symbol” connections in the brain and increase automaticity for using them in both reading and writing! 
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Following is an excerpt from an article written by Belle Beth Cooper on Novelty and the Brain.
Why Getting New Things Makes Us Feel So Good: Novelty and the Brain

We all like novelty! In fact, our brains are made to be attracted to novelty. And it turns out that it could actually improve our memory and learning capacity!

The Brain Loves Novelty for Phonics Instruction

It’s actually hardwired into my brain—and yours—to appreciate and seek out novelty. Anything that’s new, different or unusual… we can even be drawn to novelty without being conscious of it. Of course, this makes a lot of sense—we wouldn’t get much done if ordinary things captivated us constantly!

The cool thing about this is how intricately novelty seems to be associated with learning, which means we can use this knowledge to our advantage for learning new things and improving our memory.
It’s been thought before that novelty was a reward in itself, but, like dopamine, it seems to be more related to motivation. Our Dopamine pathways become activated whenever we are exposed to novelty, and only completely new things will activate our midbrain area. Studies show that the plasticity of the hippocampus (the ability to create new connections between neurons) was increased by the influence of novelty—both during the process of exploring a novel environment or stimuli and for 15–30 minutes afterward.
As well as increasing our brain’s plasticity—and therefore the potential for learning new concepts and facts—novelty has been shown to improve the memory of test subjects. Studies suggest that dopamine (a “reward” chemical in the brain) levels increase in the context of novelty. Each new stimuli gives you a little rush of motivation to go further, to find more new stimuli that will generate more dopamine rewards.

Here is a graph that shows activity in your brain on this:

Secret Stories® Phonics —"The Brain Loves Novelty"

According to a study conducted by Dr. Emrah Duzel from University College in London:
Subjects performed best when new information (i.e. constantly changing musical manipulations) was combined with familiar information  (i.e. letters/sounds) during learning. After a 20 minute delay, subjects’ memory for slightly familiar information (i.e. letters/sounds) was boosted by 19 per cent if it had been mixed with something new during learning sessions.

This research suggests that we use the brain’s increased plasticity wisely by setting aside time to learn right after novel stimuli, as learners’ brains are more open to making new connections during and right after this time. So why not take advantage!

Dr Düzel pointed out additional benefits that could come from his research:

“We hope that these findings will have an impact on those with poor memory. Current practice aims to improve memory through repeatedly exposing a person to information. This study shows that it’s more effective if you mix something new with the old. You actually learn better, even though your brain is also tied up with new information.
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So what does this mean for teachers? And how can it benefit our phonics instruction?
It means that you can significantly improve knowledge retention and make new ideas and concepts (like letter sounds and phonics skills) stick by introducing novelty into the learning process. And doing this is easier than you think!

Above is just one example of MANY research studies showing the significant impact that novelty has on the brain, and for purposes of teaching and learning, novelty can take many forms! Incorporating novel experiences into daily learning doesn’t mean having to continually add on new skills and information to what you’re already teaching!

Novelty can be easily achieved by simply framing “slightly-familiar” content in new and unique ways. This causes our brains to notice and recognize it more easily because it’s been offset by the new way in which it’s being presented. (In other words, it not only keeps it fresh, but makes it more exciting!)

A Novel Approach to Decoding and Encoding with Musical Practice and Play

If this sounds confusing, but I promise, it’s not once you see it in action.
And it’s not just the musical brain teaser exercises in the Secret Stories® that make use of this “novelty-effect,” but the Secrets, themselves! Transforming phonics skills kids have to learn into secrets they want to know makes them important to kids—marking them for memory and prioritized learning in the brain (Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, 2018). This is especially true when framing them as “Grown-up Reading and Writing Secrets” that kids must be “big enough” to hear!
phonics stories dyslexic
Every Secret is a new story about the “secret” behavior (or misbehavior!) of letters….and the higher the grade level, the more significant this “novelty-effect!” Older, struggling learners have had their share of disconnected and often confusing phonics instruction. Feeling as if they’ve already “been there and done that,” most have spent countless hours across multiple grade level  years trying and failing to acquire the phonics skills they need to read and write. For these struggling, upper grade learners, framing these seemingly boring and meaningless letter sound skills as novel “secrets” that explain all of the sounds letters make when they get together, sparks their natural curiosity and reignites their interest—motivating them to want to know and learn more as things finally start to make sense!
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Following are some short video clips showing the Secret Stories® Musical Brain Teasers in action for fun and novel phonics play and practice! These little brain-based ditties are best done in bits of downtime throughout the day (think “instantaneous singing!”) while waiting for the bus, or for the music teacher to come, or for the lunch line to move. (To access the musical download, find the code on the inside back cover of your Secret Stories® book.)
The Beethoven Blends AND Beethoven Blends ‘In-Reverse!’

Beethoven Blends Musical Phonics Practice

Click Here for the Digital Version of the Secret Stories® Beethoven Blends on Teachers Pay Teachers

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Apples & Bananas to the EXTREME!

The “Letter Runs” – Forward, Backward, Long & Short!

This song is almost never sung the same way twice, as you can do it backward AND forward, and even sing it to different tunes— from the Star-Spangled Banner to Happy Birthday—all while continually switching the vowel sounds back and forth, from long to short! (So many ways, so little time! ;-)


This class can even sing it “Jedi-Style!”
(Note: You can’t see from the way that the teacher is facing in the video, but she is pointing to each letter as it’s sung, so as to  ensure that kids always “SEE what SING and SING what they SEE!” This is key to forging the the letter-sound connections in the brain. However, when doing the rapid-paced Letter Runs forward and backward, it’s much easier when using a vertical alphabet. (The one pictured beneath the video is included is included in the Better Alphabet Anchor Pack, shown further down below.)
Secret Stories Letter Runs

Vertical Alphabet (in the Better Alphabet™ Anchor Pack below)

And then there’s the Better Alphabet™ Song for fast mastery of individual letter sounds in just 2 weeks to 2 months! (Video version below.) During this time, kids are also learning Secrets that explain WHY the letters aren’t always making the sounds they should!
Better Alphabet Song

Click Here for the “Video-Version” of the Better Alphabet® Song

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Better Alphabet Song Posters

Click Here for the Better Alphabet™ Classroom Anchors

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Better Alphabet Song Mini Mat Anchors

Click Here for the Better Alphabet™ Digital Mini-Mats for Individual Student Reference & Home Use

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And if you don’t already have the Secrets, but would like to try sharing them with your students to fast-track your phonics instruction, you can download this mini-sampler poster pack FREE! 
Free Secret Stories® Phonics Posters

Click Here to Download the FREE “Appetizer-Pack” of Secret Stories® Phonics Posters

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How To Decode “Non-Decodable” Words
So Kids Don’t Have to Memorize Them!

Did you know that if you had a fever and cough, it could be the plague,
or pneumonia…or maybe just the flu?
Actually, it could be a lot of things.

Because doctors know that the plague is the least likely cause of your symptoms and that the flu is the most likely, they will probably go with the flu first, and then work their way through the alternative options, as needed.

As medicine is not an exact science, doctors must often work through a series of options to determine what treatment will be most effective with their patients. They make these decisions based on a hierarchy of likelihood to determine what is most likely, next most likely, and least likely to be successful.

Like medicine, the English language and is not an exact science, and while phonics is the key to learning how to read, it’s often takes a binary form, with words either falling under the “rule” or the “exception.” However, by targeting instruction to earlier-developing, “feeling” based centers in the brain and aligning letter behavior with kid behavior, their most and next-most likely sounds become easily predictable, even for kinders….and even in those “so-called” exceptions!

A good word doctor who is armed with the Secrets can “treat” these so-called exceptions in much the same way that doctors treat their patients. And in doing so, a critical-thinking playground begins to emerge as beginning and struggling readers gain power over text.

First, it’s important to realize that there are only so many different sounds that a letter or letter pattern can make, and their not random, even though they may sometimes appear so. Just like the saying, The apple won’t fall too far from the tree,” letters won’t stray too far from their sounds! For example, you will never see the letter q say “mmm,” or the letter k say “duh,” or the tion pattern say “ing!”

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

 

Contrary to popular belief, letters don’t just lose their little ‘letter-minds’ and run amok! All they do (and it’s usually the vowels that do it!) is make sounds that they are perfectly capable of making— but it just might be their next-most likely ones! Watch the video clip below to see what I mean!

 

When working with patients, doctors must ask themselves, “How many different ways can I look at this? How many different ways can I solve it?” Beginning and struggling readers must also employ this kind of diagnostic thinking when attempting to sound out unknown words, asking themselves, “What else can it be?….  What else could I try?” Engaging in this type of analytical, problem-solving is often referred to as “thinking outside the box,” and the key to doing it effectively is to first know what’s IN the box!

Thinking Outside the Box to Decode Words and So-Called “Exceptions!”

phonics exceptions

This is why knowing the Secrets is so important for beginning and struggling readers, as the Secret Stories® equip them with everything that’s IN the box so that they are more easily able to think outside it— something that working with text demands!

The ou/ow Secret….

Ou ow play really rough and someone always gets hurt and says— “Oooowww!” 

(as in words like: our, round, how, now)

But, flying overhead is Superhero O, who happens to be o & w‘s all-time, favorite superhero, ever!

If ow ever spots Superhero O flying overhead, they stop dead in their tracks, and yell—

“O! O! O!” 

…which is why ow can also say O! (It’s “default” sound)

(as in words like: blow, flow, glow, mow)

 

 

The Secret (and default sound for ow) makes sounding out most words with this common pattern easy, even for kinders, which means that words like: how, now, about, around, etc, commonly found on sight word need NOT be memorized! As with the Secret, kids can just READ them! Plus, kids can learn the ou/ow Secret in an instant, even if they haven’t mastered all of the individual letter sounds yet, as it still makes sense. Memorizing a sight word however, can take some students forever… especially those with little to no home support, as they are less likely to use it enough to make it stick. And even more importantly, knowing a sight word allows learners to read one word, whereas knowing a Secret empowers them to read and write thousands!

Now let’s consider a word like you

The ou isn’t doing what it should, according to the Secret. Still, the sound it IS making in the word hasn’t really strayed too far away… at least not so far that a good word doctor couldn’t easily figure it out! And here’s how…

A “Hierarchy of Likelihood” Approach to Decoding (a.k.a. Thinking Outside the Box)

1.  First, try the most likely Secret Stories sound for ou (as in house)….. NOPE, it didn’t work!

2.  Next, try the individual sounds for the letters and ….. BINGO!!! We got the word!!

In this case, we got it on the second try.

Now, had we not struck gold on our first “out-of-the-box” attempt, we could have worked our way further down the list of possible sound options and turned this puzzle into a sort of problem-solving/critical thinking game….

3.  Try the sounds of other Secret Stories patterns with o or  u, like the Secrets for oo, oi/oy or ous. For example, in the word could, the ou is making the default-sound for oo (as in book) and kids who know the oo Secret might try that sound as one more possible option.

oo phonics story

And of course, you can also pull out the handy “Head-Bop” Trick in a pinch to help kids easily figure out those otherwise non-decodable words, like: of, come, love, some, what, was, etc.. (You can read more about this trick here.)

sight word activities

thinking vowels head bop

 

4.  It’s the PLAGUE!  It requires a specialist! When we’ve exhausted all options and have no more tricks up our sleeve, we must surrender to the word, which means we have to memorize it!

Why Not Just Memorize Tricky Sight Words?

Here’s why— because it is within this “figuring-out” (a.k.a. analytical/critical-thinking) process that deep learning lies! Not just learning how to read, but learning how to think! Our brain is a pattern-making machine, and this patterning process of thinking-through all available options is its natural way of doing things. “If not this, then that…” Our brain is continually patterning-out the best  available options in everything that we do.

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
 

We think, “I’ll park in the front, but if I can’t find a space, I’ll try the back, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try the next lot over. If I can’t find anything there, then I’m giving up and going home, as I’m too tired to walk that far.” We don’t think— “I’ll park in the front, but if I can’t find a space, then I don’t know what I’ll do!” (This is similar to the way in which kids often handle words that are exceptions, which is to throw their hands up in surrender the minute that letters don’t do exactly what they should in a word.)

Seth Godwin, author of Looking for Patterns (Where they don’t Exist! writes,

“Human beings are pattern-making machines. That’s a key to our survival instinct— we seek out patterns and use them to predict the future. Which is great, except when the pattern isn’t there, then our pattern-making machinery is busy picking things out that truly don’t matter.” 

The Brain is a Pattern-Making Machine

Our brains are hardwired to look for patterns, and the Secrets are patterns— not abstract letter patterns, but patterns of behavior that are designed to mimic learners’ own behavior.  The ability to classify incoming information quickly into categories (based on the patterns we know) means the brain can use easier rules to deal with the new input, which is less stressful than always having to deal with things that haven’t been seen before. Knowing the Secrets equips inexperienced beginning and struggling learners to identify the best course of action when sounding out new words, and not knowing the Secrets means having to say, “It just is… It just does… You just have to remember….” when they can’t read or spell a word.

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

Another benefit to reading words rather than just memorizing them is that it sparks more optimal brain circuitry, as evidenced by numerous studies, including a recent one by Stanford University Professor, Bruce McCandliss, which you can read more about here. 

 

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics— Stanford University Sight Word Brain Study
Stanford Brain Study on Sight Words Post

Just to be clear, some words are just better to memorize, as mentioned when discussing the word could, up above. But most are not, especially if they now the Secrets and can easily read them! Consider that every sight word that a learner memorizes is one less opportunity to reinforce their “sounding-out” (decoding) skills that you work so hard to teach, and more importantly, one less opportunity to flex their “critical thinking/problem solving” muscles!

Now before you read any further, watch this video.


It’s easy for teachers to empathize with Ricky’s struggle to read words like: boughs, through, rough, cough and enough. Like many students in our guided reading groups, Ricky diligently attempts to decode what seem to him to be ‘un-decodable’ words and becomes understandably frustrated in the process. Ultimately, Ricky just closes the book and gives up, convinced that the sounds letters make just don’t make sense. Many of our students feel the same way.

How To Think Like a “Word Doctor” to Decode Text

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

In the same way that a doctor works through various options to heal a patient, we can do the same to “heal” the words that are stumping Ricky…. or at least to help make them more “figureoutable!” ( I know it’s not a word, but I really like it!)

First, we need to know another Secret…

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
Click Here to Learn the gh Secret

The gh Secret

Gh will make different sounds, depending on where they are in line (i.e. in a word)

When they are at the FRONT, they’re glad!

There, they make the hard g sound, saying….

 “Gosh, this is Great!  We’re going to Get to Go first and Get in before anyone else Goes!” 

(ghost, ghoul, ghastly, etc…)

When they are in the MIDDLE, and surrounded by lots of other letters,

they are silent and are too afraid to say anything and make NO SOUND at all

(sight, thought, straight, etc…)

When they are at the END, they’re not at all happy and they always complain.

Here, they make the fff sound, saying….

“This is no ffun! We’re so ffar away it’ll take fforever ffor us to get to the ffront!”

(rough, enough, cough, etc…) 

Now let’s play “Word Doctor”….

A Reading/ Phonics Word Doctor

bough

No problem with the ou as it is doing just what it should (see ou/ow poster up above)

But gh is a different story, as it is not making the sound that it should, which is “fff.”  So let’s try one of the only TWO other sounds that it can make, and voila! We got it! The gh is silent! The gh Secret is everything that’s IN the box when it comes to all of the possible sounds that gh can make, making it easy for learners to deduce the next most likely options when it doesn’t do exactly what it should!

 

rough

Like in the word you (mentioned at the top of the post), ou is not making the sound that it should, but by simply trying the individual sounds for both and u, we can easily get the word! In this case, ou is making the short u sound. And thankfully, gh is doing exactly what it should when it’s at the end of a word!

cough

Just as with the word rough,  ou is not making the sound that it should, but is making one of their individual sounds, instead. This time, it’s the short o sound. And again, the gh is doing exactly what it should.

enough

Once more the ou is not making the sound that it should, but it IS doing the next most likely thing, based on our “hierarchy of likelihood” (way up above at top of post), just as it did in the words you, rough and cough.  In this case, it’s making the short u sound. And once again,  gh is doing what it should.

through

Now this one’s a little trickier— bordering between being “fun to figure out” and “just easier to memorize,”  I would probably go with the latter, but it is gratifying to know that with a little “out of the box” thinking, we CAN crack this word, should we chose to!

The ou is not making the sound that it should, nor is it making the o or u sound, but just like the word you that was mentioned at the top of this post, it is making the most likely sound of its “cousin” oo … and by cousin, I mean another similar Secret that looks like it could be a possible relative, as it shares a common relative, which is o.  (The sound for oo can be seen in the oo poster way up above.)

And then we have the same problem with gh that we had with a couple of the other words up above— nothing that a good word doctor can’t fix, as gh is just being difficult and refusing to talk, as is his prerogative. However, it does require an extra analytical step to crack the word, which may be one too many to make it worthwhile. Thus, it merits the time, energy and space in the brain that’s required memorize.

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

This video clip shows a group of first graders playing “Word Doctor” and applying some critical analysis and diagnostic thinking to the word light. While they can already read the word, they bothered by the fact that i is bothering to say his name when there Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® in sight!


Patterning IS Thinking

Brain Based Reading

The following excerpt is taken from 12 Design Principles Based on Brain-based Learning Research by Jeffery Lackney, Ph. D.

Pattern making is pleasing to the brain. The brain takes great pleasure in taking random and chaotic information and ordering it. The implications for learning and instruction is that presenting a learner with random and unordered information provides the maximum opportunity for the brain to order this information and form meaningful patterns that will be remembered. Setting up a learning environment in this way mirrors real life that is often random and chaotic.

The brain, when allowed to express its pattern-making behavior, creates coherency and meaning. Learning is best accomplished when the learning activity is connected directly to physical experience. We remember best when facts and skills are embedded in natural, spatial memory, in real-life activity, in experiential learning. We learn by doing. facilitated in an environment of total immersion in a multitude of complex interactive experiences.


Hmmmm…. that sounds a lot like the class in the video!

The Superhero Vowels® and their “Short & Lazy” Sound Disguises

Secret Stories Phonics Posters

For a quick overview of the Superhero Vowels® and their “short & lazy” sound disguises, watch the video below.

And the last little doctor tool that I want to share before signing off is about the vowels, as they are the most likely culprits when words just won’t sound-out correctly! Vowels are the “eyes, ears, nose and throat” of a word, which is why good word doctors should always check them out first! They offer the best window into what’s most likely wrong. Sometimes it’s an issue with a Secret (as with the words we’ve seen in this post) but other times fixing the problem requires having a few “vowel-fixing” tricks up your sleeve— something that every good word should have!

decoding exception words
Learn more word doctor strategies, including, the “Thinking Vowels/Head-Bop” and the “Hungry Thing” to crack tricky vowel sounds here and watch the video down below!

How to Read Words that are Exceptions

How to Decode “Undecodable” Words So Kids Don’t Have to MEMORIZE Them

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Secret Stories® Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!

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Shhhhhh! The "Grown-Up" Reading & Writing Phonics Secrets!
What letters DO when they DON’T do what they should!

Have you ever wondered WHY letters make all of the crazy sounds that they do? Or how you could possibly make them make sense to a five-year-old who just wants to play with their shoe and lick the carpet?

 

Letters are like kids. 

They behave beautifully and do just what they should (i.e. make their proper sounds) when they are separated and can’t get a hold of each other…. like, for example, when they’re up on the wall.
Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets!'— Individual Letter Sound Mastery in 2 weeks- 2 months!

But when they get together, all bets are off and the bad behavior begins!

phonics poster
Secret Stories® Phonics— Brain Based Reading
You Can’t Think Outside the Box Unless You Know What’s IN It!

But like us, letters also have “Secrets!” And knowing their Secrets makes it easy to understand their behavior. These are the “grown-up” reading and writing Secrets!

Phonics Posters
CLICK FOR FREE SAMPLER PACK

Teachers who know the Secrets never have to say to their students, “It just is….It just does…You just have to remember” when telling them how to sound out or spell a word. They just tell them its Secret! 

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets!" — Making Phonics Make SENSE!

However, these ‘grown-up’ reading and writing Secrets are SO big that students have to earn the right to hear them! (with creative/critical thinking, awesome answers, beautiful behavior, perfect patience, caring kindness, automatic attention, dynamic discussions, ready responsibility, keeping clean, collecting compliments, etc…)

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets!" — Brain Based Tools that Make Phonics Make SENSE!
Starting with the Secrets— An Introduction

Secret Stories®— An Introduction

When I used to teach kindergarten and first grade, I would often tell my kids that they were “too little” to hear the “BIG grown-up Secret” that they’d spotted in a word, and that if they ate lots of vegetables every night that week, then their brains might be big enough by Friday for me to tell them! Needless to say, the parents of my picky eaters (half my class) thought I was magic, as their kids never could explain clearly enough for them to understand why exactly they were gorging on vegetables every night! 

Secret Stories® Phonics — The "Grown-Up" Reading & Writing Secrets!
“What letters do when they don’t do what they should!”
By transforming letters and sounds from “skills they have to learn” into Secrets they want to know, we can align phonics instruction with learners “need-to-know” which marks the information for memory and prioritized learning in the brain. Doing so forges deeper learning connections for easier skill retrieval.
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Prompting "Need-to-Know" for Prioritized Learning in the Brain!
Sparking a ‘Need-to-Know’ for Prioritized Learning!
Within this learner-driven context, the instructional-tables are turned, as students beg their teachers for more and more pieces of the reading and writing code!
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Do YOUR kids know the "ph" Secret?
   Do YOUR kids know the “ph” Secret?

Shifting Phonics Instruction from Brain-Antagonistic to Brain-Compatible

And here begins the shift from “Brain Antagonistic” to “Brain-Compatible” instruction, allowing for twice the learning gain in half the time and with half the effort.

The result is an ongoing,  student-driven cycle of learning that is natural and seamless. Learners’ desire to know more Secrets catapults phonics skill introduction beyond traditional, grade level walls, empowering early learners with accelerated access to the “whole” reading and writing code.

Secret Stories® Phonics — Shifting Phonics Instruction from "Brain Antagonistic" to "Brain Compatible"

Breaking Down Grade Level Walls that Limit Learner Access to the Code





When I was teaching Kindergarten, I would always tell the Secret about au and aw on the very first day of school, during our first morning calendar time (and shortly after I’d finished calming my criers, yellers, screamers, and runners, etc..)

Phonics Posters
Click here to learn the au/aw Secret!
Au & aw have HUGE crushes on each other!
Whenever they have to stand right up against each, side-by-side in a word, 
they get so embarrassed that they always put their heads down and say—
 “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh” 

 

After telling them the Secret, I would say— 

“Just look at all of the words that have this grown-up reading and writing Secret:Autumn, awful, awesome, Austin….  If you didn’t know the Secret, you wouldn’t be able to read these words, but now you know the grown-up reading & writing Secret!” 

 

Phonics Instruction
Admittedly, I taught this Secret knowing full well that virtually no one in my class knew the difference between a letter and a number and a squirrel, and most certainly wouldn’t have been able to recognize the letter A if it fell from the sky and landed on their head. (Fun Fact— I’ve actually had this happen before, as one day the letter A (from my wooden Pottery Barn Kids Alphabet Set) fell off the wall and hit a little guy on the top of his head, prompting him to yell, “Hey! That ‘number’ just hit me!” ;-)
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets

So what was my reasoning for teaching the au/aw “second-grade skill” on the very first day of Kindergarten?  That’s easy.  Because it came up! And because it would keep coming up every single day, throughout the entire month of August (not to mention in a bunch of other words, too!)

The word August was written in big, bold letters at the top of our morning calendar, which we would be reading and talking about on a daily basis. Moreover, had any of my little guys actually known the letter A sound,  not explaining it would have been like tossing a giant monkey wrench into their existing pattern (i.e. what they thought they knew about the letter a).

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— "Teaching the READER, not the Reading!"
Not accounting for this obvious discrepancy would not only make me look like the world’s biggest liar every time we sing our BETTER Alphabet Song, but it defy the brain’s system for learning as a pattern-making machine.
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— The Brain is a "Pattern-Making" Machine
Patterning is the brain’s way of doing things. It is the essence of how we learn.

The brain is always seeking-put patterns and creating new ones. This is the learning process.  It is critical thinking at its most basic level. Patterning is, in a nutshell, the brain’s way of doing things!

And this is yet another example of how we can use the brain science to inform and enhance our teaching practices as we shift phonics instruction from brain-antagonistic to brain-compatible!

And so, having told them that they were “big enough” to hear this very important and very grown-up Secret on the very first day of school….

Then two things that happened on our way to lunch….

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Early Learner Access to the Code!
Gifted Gus

1. A little boy named Gus (who had come to school with a note pinned to his shirt, by mom, telling me he was gifted) pointed to a sign above the fire doors and yelled, “Look! The letters that are in love are in that word! Aaahhh-to-maaa-tik…… aah-to-maa-tik…… AUTOMATIC!  Hey, I can read that word!!!!”

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Early Learner Access to the Code!
Lu-Lu
2. A little girl (who thought her name was Lulu when it was actually Leslie) and had been playing with her shoes most of the morning) also yelled out, “Look teacher, look!” (pointing to the same sign above the fire doors) “Ahhhhhh…. ahhhhhhh…..We LOVE letters….ahhhhhh!” while simultaneously making the “in-love” gestures—arms to the side, head tilted, batting eyes—the whole works!

These two very different, yet equally awesome outbursts demonstrate why telling that particular Secret on that particular day was ABSOLUTELY the ideal, not to mention perfectly developmentally appropriate for both students— regardless upon which grade level scope and sequence the au/aw phonics skill officially falls.

High, medium or low…. the Secrets can be readily shared with ALL learners, with no harm and no fowl, as we’re not “teaching” skill, we’re giving them. It’s like food that’s been laid out on a buffet, ready for the taking, but without any expectations….just lots of modeling and use.

Both learners were “given” the same key to unlock text at the same time. One understands that it can be used to unlock words and one does not, but they both have the key, and that’s what counts! 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Early Learner Access to the Code!
Accelerated Access to the WHOLE Reading & Writing Code!
Knowing the Secret gives Lu-Lu the same skill base that Gus has. She just doesn’t know quite what to do with it yet, which is why modeling of its use is key! Lower-level learners cannot afford to miss the bus and be left behind grade level skill for skill introduction,  as they need more time to incubate them, not less.

By giving Lu-Lu the same “keys” (i.e. Secrets) to unlock words that “Gifted Gus” has, we eliminate the learning curve and waiting time. That way, once her little light bulb pops on, she is ready to “hit the ground running” and start using the Secrets she already knows to read and to write.

Otherwise, learners like Lu-Lu often don’t acquire these critical pieces of the code to successfully cross over the instructional-hump that is learning to read in K-2, so as to be prepared to read to learn in 3rd and beyond.

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Early Learner Access to the Code!
Note the “instructional-hump” so clearly depicted (mid-page, left) in these awesome sketch notes!

 

“Back Door” vs. “Front Door” Instruction

The brain develops back to front, with the earlier-developing, affective “feeling” networks more primed for learning than the slower developing, higher level, processing centers. It’s through these backdoor learning channels that the au/aw Secret is so easily acquired by both Lu-Lu and Johnny.  And whereas Johnny is ready to take the next step and use it for a purpose (i.e. reading and writing), Lu-Lu is not… but she owns the Secret!
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Do YOUR kids know the "au/aw" Secret?
“Awwwww, it’s Valentine’s Day!”

 

“It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things you don’t care about. Deep understanding depends on making emotional connections between concepts. Emotion guides our learning. If something is emotionally stimulating, it is marked for memory and prioritized for learning in the brain.”

—Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang 
Mary Helen Immordino Yang
And if you really want really want to see what engagement can look like in an “impromptu” phonics discussion,  check out these first graders from  Mrs. Mac’s First Grade Class.  It’s one of my all-time favorites!

Channeling phonics skills through the brain’s backdoor via social-emotional “feeling” domain makes learning easy and effortless. By embedding high-leverage, phonics skill concepts (like Superhero Vowels®, Sneaky Y®, Mommy E® and Babysitter Vowels®) into familiar, social and emotional “story-based” frameworks, inexperienced (and upper-grade, struggling learners) are easily able to predict the “most” and “next most” likely sound behaviors of letters in text— even in words they have never seen before.

Secret Stories Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowels® for EASY decoding of BIG words!
Yep, it’s really THAT easy!!!
The Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Secret!
“The LIE About  Y”
Watch this quick clip to learn the Secretsof the Superhero Vowels®, Sneaky Y®, Mommy E® & the Babysitter Vowels® and start sharing them with YOUR class tomorrow!

Stories Put the Whole Brain to Work, and Act as “Memory-Enhancers” in the Brain

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Stories act as "memory enhancers" in the brain
Stories put the whole brain to work and are the most effective way to activate multiple areas of the brain simultaneously for enhanced, multi-sensory learning.
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Taking Advantage of "Learning Loopholes" in the Brain
That’s is not to say that all learners will immediately apply the Secrets they know to reading and writing, as doing so requires a certain level of developmental and cognitive readiness be attained, but like Lulu, learners can build the visual acuity needed to easily recognize the pattern (i.e. Secret) in text and the ability to instantly recall its sound. And these are the “keys” she will need to unlock text when she’s ready.
So don’t wait! The more tools that learners bring to the table each day, the more value they will be able to take away!

If you’re a kindergarten teacher, I bet I know what you’re thinking…
“Great! My kids will know the au/aw sound, but they still won’t be able to recognize the letter D!”  

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Fast-Track Individual Letter Sound Mastery to 2 Weeks to 2 Months!
No worries, as that part is just as easy! We don’t even need any Secrets for the individual letter sounds, as when letters make the sounds that they’re supposed to, all is right with the world! That’s not to say that teaching the individual letters and sounds is easy—which is why we don’t teach them, we give them! Just like with the Secrets, we can follow the brain science to access a more easily-accessible “backdoor” route for skill mastery by way of muscle memory!

“How to Be More Interesting than a Shoe When Teaching Letters & Sounds”
The individual letters and sounds are easily acquired simultaneously with Secrets by tapping into muscle/motor memory via the BETTER Alphabet Song! For early (and ELL) learners, muscle memory is a far more reliable pathway for letter sound mastery than the traditional path of cognitive processing. Acquisition time is just two weeks to two months, and that’s for both preK AND kindergarten! And during this timeframe, you’re also tossing out Secrets (as they come up) throughout the instructional day—continually adding to learners’ ever-expanding reading and writing tool-boxes! Just watch the video below to see how it’s done!
“The BETTER Alphabet Song”
which is also used in the Letter Run video
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— The BETTER Alphabet "Vertical" Anchor
BETTER Alphabet “Vertical” Anchor 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— The BETTER Alphabet "Vertical" Anchor

And when you’re ready to take it up a notch, you can try your hand at the Letter Runs! They can be sung backward and forward, and to ANY tune to keep that bar high! Click on the link under the picture below to hear the Letter Runs sung, “Jedi-style!”
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets—  Mimicking Decoding and Encoding with Music!
For more free musical brainteasers, click here!

And don’t forget to grab the FREE Secret Stories® Sampling and start sharing the Secrets in your classroom!  You can also grab the FREE Common Core Literacy Posters with Secret Stories® phonics graphics-supports, as well as the FREE “made-to-match” Science Posters… all of which are pictured, below.

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets Mini-Anchor Posters
FREE SECRET STORIES® MINI-POSTER SAMPLE ANCHORS

 

FREE Common Core Literacy Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
CLICK FOR FREE COMMON CORE LITERACY POSTERS
(“made-to-match” Math & Essential Questions sets also available)
FREE Common Core Science Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
FREE PRE/KINDER COMMON CORE SCIENCE POSTERS

 

FREE Common Core Science Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
FREE FIRST GRADE COMMON CORE SCIENCE POSTERS

 

FREE Common Core Science Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
FREE SECOND GRADE COMMON CORE SCIENCE POSTERS
FREE Common Core Science Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
FREE THIRD GRADE COMMON CORE SCIENCE POSTERS

 

22 comments:

  1. My students refer to the Secret Stories posters constantly! They are BY FAR the most- used resource in my entire first grade classroom!! You and Deanna are both just so amazing!
    Thank you both so much…. what an inspiration this is!!!!!!
  2. Wow, thank you, that’s so wonderful to hear! And your students’ frequent and ongoing use of the SECRETS is actually a testament to YOUR teaching and the abundance of opportunities you obviously provide to engage with text!

    And the fact that your students DO take the time to reference the SECRETS when they read and write only further indicates that the literacy opportunities you provide are personally meaningful to them….. so congrats to you again!!!

  3.  

    Your stories are fabulous. I teach a group of 26 first graders with very diverse needs. Your program is both visual and auditory and the children “hook on” to the stories easily. They can imagine the t and the h that sticks out their tongues when they stand together because they have learned the story behind the sounds. My ESOL students love to retell the stories and feel excited to apply what they know when they are reading. Last year, I bought your program. I don’t have your new posters but they look great. Thank you for finding a method that reaches so many students.

     

     

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  5. And thank YOU for taking the time to post and let me know!!
    Building that excitement is more than half the battle so keep up the great work and definitely keep me posted here and/ or on the Secret Stories blog….. You might just be a monthly winner of a new Secret Stories kit!!! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!
    :)

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  7. I am so excited I just read your Secret Stories posting on Deanna Jump’s Blog! I can’t wait to get your program so I can use it in my Kindergarten classroom!! I’m always thrilled when I find one more piece to use in my room to add to the foundation of “bricks” they need while keeping them engaged and excited! Thank you to both of you!

     

     

  8.  

    I love the “foundation of bricks” analogy and you are so right!
    The SECRETS simply provide a way for learners to ‘own EVERYTHING yesterday’ when it comes to ALL that is necessary to read and write, thereby shifting focus to the REAL goal of the game….reading for meaning & writing for a purpose!

    Requiring learners to wait until the 3rd grade for comprehensive sound-skill ownership (especially when we’re requiring students to begin reading and writing in Kindergarten) just makes NO sense….. not if there’s a developmentally appropriate/ ‘backdoor-way’ for learners to own them all from the get-go!

    Prolonging introduction/ acquisition of these critical skills over a period of multiple YEARS is what causes learner-focus to remain on the ‘bricks’ rather than on getting ‘up and over the wall’ where the REAL fun begins!!!!!

    Okay, I’m jumping down from my soapbox now ;)

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  11. I teach preK (4 and 5 year old class) and my little guys just eat the Secrets up! I also used your Better Alphabet Song (from your CD) and honestly I was was blown away that the little ones were actually able to pick up the individual letter sounds so quickly! It’s just unbelievable what they can do with these and how much it changes everything you do in the way that you teach!

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  12. Sounds like you could write my next ‘Secret Session’ post!!
    That’s awesome to hear and I’m thrilled to hear that you’re using the SECRETS in preK, as so many times I will see preK teachers shy away everything but the music pieces on the CD and it just kills me!

    Telling SECRETS in preK & K is like taking your class to a buffet- those who are are hungry for them will eat them and those that aren’t will still enjoy going along for the ride, establishing a sort of “catcher’s mit in the brain” in preparation for future recognition & instruction!!

    Thanks so much again for posting and I hope you will share more about your experiences so as to inspire other preK teachers to take the leap in rethinking what’s possible at that level!

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  13. I have not seen your secrets before, but it looks like a wonderful way to teach how and why these blends make the sounds they do! I’ll certainly be using much of your intel! Thanks so much for sharing ~ I think my kids are really going to latch onto these tips and be much better readers for it!

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  14. I have not seen your secrets before, but it looks like a wonderful way to teach how and why these blends make the sounds they do! I’ll certainly be using much of your intel! Thanks so much for sharing ~ I think my kids are really going to latch onto these tips and be much better readers for it!

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  15. I have not seen your secrets before, but it looks like a wonderful way to teach how and why these blends make the sounds they do! I’ll certainly be using much of your intel! Thanks so much for sharing ~ I think my kids are really going to latch onto these tips and be much better readers for it!

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  16.  

    Thanks for the wonderful comment, and I hope you will keep in touch regarding use of what’s shared, as I would love feedback on your experience at your specific grade level in the classroom!! :)

     

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  18. I love this! What a great way to introduce/teach those pesky digraphs!

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      …. and vowel combos, and blends, etc..!! As we move forward with Secret Sessions I’ll be sharing the ‘secrets’ for EVERYTHING that happens in language at least ‘5 times or more’ so as to ensure learners have logical explanations for why letters do (or don’t!) make the sounds that they do… so stay tuned!

       

     

     

     

  19. So cute! All kids love secrets. Wonderful way for kids to remember this sound.

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  20.  

    Thanks for posting! Would love to know what grade level you teach and for how long you’ve been using them?

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  22. I found you through Deanna jump and I am very intrigued by this!

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  23. That’s great, I’m so glad to hear it!! Things will only get ‘more intriguing’ from here… I promise ;)
    LoL…. so many new things to see when you take learners through the brain’s ‘backdoor’ rather of the traditional front ;)

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