If you follow my daily (yes, I post daily, as Instagram has trained me well!) then you know it’s like a running “stream of consciousness” for me. (If you’re not on Instagram, I used to be you!!!) However, now that I’ve made the leap, you can find me …. and I highly recommend that you do too, as that’s where I consistently share some of the BEST “bang for the buck” teaching ideas for making the hard stuff (like phonics) easy for young and struggling readers!

Instagram is also where I came across the Kelli, a second grade teacher in Daytona, Florida, who I want to introduce you to tonight. Her posts showing how she uses the Secret Stories with struggling readers in her classroom were so detailed and insightful that I knew they would save other teachers a TON of time and spark a million more ideas! So, without further adieu, here’s Kelli…..


My name is Kelli Gunkle and I am a first grade teacher turned second grade teacher in Daytona Beach, Florida. I have been teaching for 5 years in a low-income, DDD, turn-around school with many struggling readers. If you are not familiar with a school climate like the one I teach in, you may have some questions about what all of that means.

In a nutshell, 90% of our students are on free and reduced lunch. We have been a D status for 3 years which placed us in “turn-around” status. This simply means that if we do not earn a C or better we will be taken over, closed down, or turned into a charter school. I tell you this to paint a tiny picture of the environment that I truly have the pleasure of working in.

read to self secret stories

People often look at statistics and status’ and use those as reasons not to be somewhere. I look at statistics a little differently. All of what I told you above is why I teach at my school. It’s why I get up everyday and teach my heart out. It’s why I don’t have time for the cute stuff.

My first year of teaching, like most teachers, I was very aware of the perfect classrooms. Don’t get me wrong, I love anything that is aesthetically pleasing….who doesn’t?! More and more though, I was seeing too many “cute” activities and too little rigor. Activities that would get people to “pin, pin, pin” or “like, like, like,” but none that had much substance to move our struggling readers.

I am lucky enough to work for one of the best principals in our county, and under her training, I have learned a lot about choosing rigor over looks. The experience of working for this amazing woman taught me how to properly vet materials for quality before giving them over to my students. I don’t choose the craftivity; I rarely, if ever, even do them. Instead, I choose what I know is going to give my students the maximum instructional value, because our school just doesn’t have the time to “fluff” anything up.

Enter in the Secret Stories…. The past fall, I was looking for something— anything that could help fill the gaps in phonics with my struggling readers who were at least a grade level behind in reading. I was given the opportunity to loop with my class, and so was well aware of the gaps that they had. I went into this year knowing the holes that would need to be filled, but not knowing HOW I was going to fill them.

Through countless search attempts, I stumbled upon the Secret Stories website and started reading all of the reviews. I was hooked. The minute I read that students were ASKING to learn about letter sounds and phonics patterns, I knew it was what I needed for my kids. And while the Secrets may be cute, they are all “meat” and no fluff! And so, unbeknownst to anyone at my school, I ordered the kit, put up the posters, and let the magic unfold! I call it magic because that’s the only way to describe what happens once you let the “genie” out of the bottle and start telling the Secrets.

With the current status of our school, we are a revolving door of district, state, and management company personnel going in and out of our rooms on a weekly to monthly basis. We have extra trainings, new strategies, brand-new curriculum, and countless other responsibilities that all teachers have. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to learn one more routine, strategy, or program to implement in my classroom. My kids don’t have the ability to take anything else in. THAT is why I love Secret Stories so much. It runs itself!

The minute I told my students the first Secret, and that NO ONE could know what I was about to tell them— especially all of those people in suits that kept coming in and out of our classroom—they were hooked! They have been begging for more phonics Secrets ever since!

If you were to come into my classroom, you would be welcomed by one of my favorite sights—our Secret Stories phonics posters! My classroom is all pastel colors, so this set was perfect. My kids use these posters ALL DAY LONG to reference how to both sound-out AND spell words words. (Ignore the feet in the first pic, as it was a long day! ;-)

Secret Stories Guided Reading

guided reading group

I wanted my kids to be thinking about the Secret phonics patterns outside of reading block as well, so we started “catching” the Secret sounds wherever and whenever we came across them throughout the day! This could be during a math lesson, during I-Ready lessons, or during our read-to-self time. Whenever they find a Secret, they can “catch” it and add it to our collection.

Phonics Games Word Work

phonics for reading

i ready reading assessment

I bought a shoe rack, added the Secret Stories cards from the back of the book to each pocket, and on the side, placed a container for half-sized index cards and markers. This gives them everything they need to catch Secret phonics patterns and sounds during centers, small group, etc.

Word Work Word Study Secret Stories

Word Study Word Work

Watch the video below to see how we use this to “catch” Secrets!

Secret Stories Sneaky Y

I also use the Secrets heavily during small group time. As I mentioned above, our school is in “turn-around” status, so it is incredibly important to fill as many gaps as possible in the primary grades before students move on to 3rd-5th. In small group, we have learning targets and success criteria for the skills we are working on. The success criteria helps my struggling readers to see what steps they need to take in order to master their “I can” targets.

They know that they must achieve these smaller goals in order to obtain their greater goal. To that end, they rely on the Secrets when reading their word lists, as well as whatever they are reading for their weekly text.

Teaching Vowels Sounds

When practicing test-taking strategies, we use the Secrets to help identify the phonics patterns and figure out new words in the text. This helps them to become more familiar with the text before they read it.

secret stories reading test assessment

That way, when they are taking tests, they know to look for phonics patterns in unfamiliar words to help them. This makes them feel more comfortable when they working with more complex text, especially my struggling readers.

Secret Stories Sneaky Y®

To see how we use Thinking Maps with Secret Stories, watch the video below.

Secret Stories Mommy E / Silent E

The Secrets have changed the way I teach phonics and, if I’m being honest, I will never go back to phonics-based routines in order to teach my students how to read. They do not need to memorize; they need to WANT to READ!

Love of Reading with Secret Stories

The Secrets have given my students a “need to know” the sounds, rather than me having to force them to learn them. Now, they are ASKING me to teach them….they want to know ALL of the Secrets!!

In a profession where we have no time for the cute stuff, the Secrets have found a way to be adorable AND rigorous. What an amazing accomplishment!

If you have any questions, or would like to reach out, you can find me on , and

Happy New Year!
Kelli


For those of you who happened to catch a glimpse of the Secret Stories® Task Cards on and that Kelli was working on…..

Secret Stories Phonics Task Cards

…….you can download the fist little “batch” here. Once more is finished, we’ll let you know!


In addition to this, I’ve also posted a free Secret Stories® Guided Reader for fun some fun winter reading with your kids when you get back from the holiday. It will be free through this week, so be sure to download it now!

Secret Stories Guided Reader Like a Snowball

And finally, here are some of the cities that I’ll be in over the next couple of months, some of which require pre-registration.

For those in or nearby Ft. Worth/Dallas Texas, I will be speaking at ESC Region 11 at the end of January, and you DON’T need to be in Region 11 to come! Just click below for info on how to register.

Likewise, for teachers in Colorado, I will be at CCIRA again this year and presenting three sessions, with two already full, so hurry and register to reserve your spot in the third one. Just click on the link below for registration info.

The same goes for Illinois teachers in/around Kane County.
*Note that district professional developments days are not listed below, as they are not open to the public. You can find a complete list of all upcoming speaking dates
, as well as information on how to bring me to your school or district

January 2020

1/28-

1/29

February

2/5

2/7

2/18

2/28

March

3/14

3/26-3/28

April

4/1- 4/3

4/21- 4/22

4/28- 4/30


I wish you a very happy and healthy New Year, and remember to hit “reply” to this email and add me to your contact list so that you don’t miss what’s coming up NEXT….in about two weeks!

Love,
Katie

PS Never miss a Secret (or freebie Secret-surprise!) by subscribing to the Secret email blast here!

Everything You Need to Know Teachers Phonics Posters

I love watching the kids use our Secret posters on the wall to read and write whatever they want. It’s amazing what our youngest learners can do and how easily they can do it when we just give them the tools they need and let them ‘play!’

Which Posters/ Kit Should I Get?

For Primary K-2 Classrooms

If you teach at the primary grade levels, it’s important that students have easy visual access to the posters from anywhere and everywhere they read and write in the classroom. This means that they need to be large enough for them to easily see, as they will be their lifeline for reading and writing ALL. DAY. LONG. That’s why I don’t recommend the Space-Saver Kit for use at the early grade levels. They are just too small for whole-class reference, and if kids can’t see them, they won’t use them. For primary grades, the Original, Fun & Funky and Decorative Squares Kits all work perfectly….as do the Porta-Pics for individual student reference in school and at home (if kids don’t eat them!)


For Intermediate Grade Levels & Resource Rooms
The Space-Savers Kit is the perfect size for smaller resource rooms, as well as in upper grade classrooms, where fewer students will be referencing them.
Porta-Pics are also ideal for use at these grade levels, and especially with students who move between the regular and resource classroom (SpEd, ESL, Speech, etc…) as well as for home use. (Note: If the majority of your students struggle with reading and writing, you should always default to the larger size posters, regardless of grade level.)
So now that you have you’ve got your posters, it’s time to laminate them and get them up on the wall!
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters

But which wall, and in what order? What is the best way to display my Secret Stories® posters?

The most frequently asked question I hear with regard to the posters,  especially when visiting schools for “back-to-school” in-service when teachers are setting up their classrooms, is “What’s the best way to hang the posters?”
The short answer is that there really isn’t a “best” way to hang them, but there are some tips and tricks to ensure that students get the most out of them.

phonics posters for reading

Do I really need to hang ALL of the posters on Day 1? 

This is critical and I can’t say it loud enough….Put up EVERY SINGLE POSTER on Day 1! Never wait until you introduce a Secret to hang it on the wall. Waiting to hang them until you teach them slows everything down, as you “can’t control the code” and shouldn’t try to. It will only slow things down and prevent students from driving their own learning.

 

Imagine going to a buffet and being told that dishes would be served one at a time, when they were ready. This would defeat the entire purpose of going to a buffet, where is you can have instant access to EVERYTHING….and with no designated waiting time! Otherwise, you might as well just go to a restaurant where you’re at the mercy of the waiter or waitress, who gets to decide “what” you can have and “when” you can have it. (Not to mention, the things you might not even know you want/need until you see them—like the cake you didn’t know you wanted until you saw it!)

3 Reasons Why You Need ALL of the Posters Up! 

  • You don’t know what you need until you need it!
    You never know what’s looming around the corner of your instructional day, as opportunities for sharing Secrets are everywhere, and you don’t want to miss them! Unlike phonics rules that you have to “teach,” Secrets are just stories that you share. And stories are harmless, with no expectations, so you don’t have to worry about whether kids are “ready” to hear them. Share them like keys to help kids unlock the words they’re already reading and writing across the day! And because the Secrets are embedded into social and emotional story-frameworks that kids already understand, they love hearing them and talking about them…. even before they begin using them to read and write. Whereas traditional phonics skill introduction takes 3-4 grade level years, you can share a Secret in an instant, years before it’s formal introduction on a grade level scope and sequence.
  • Empowering students to “drive” their own learning!
    Learner-driven instruction is a key tenet of brain based learning. When we WANT to know something, that information is marked for memory and prioritized learning in the brain. All you have to do to start the ball rolling is set the stage by letting kids know that anytime they can’t read or spell a word, it’s probably because there’s a “grown-up” reading secret in it that they don’t know! This not only helps them to understand and account for letters not making the sounds they’d expect, but also triggers a need to know the Secret! And most importantly, with all of the posters up, kids are able to verify that there IS a secret in the word they can’t read, as they can see the letters in the word are the same as the ones on the poster…and then ask you for it! Literally every time they see a letter not making the sound that it should, they know that’s one more Secret that you haven’t told them yet, and they demand to know what it is!
Phonics Connections
  • Increasing visual acuity for easy pattern recognition in text!
    Having all of the posters up requires students to visually scan all of the Secrets they don’t know in order to find the ones that they do every time they read and write. This continual scanning process serves to increase learners’ visual acuity so as to more easily recognize all of the patterns in text—even the ones they don’t know yet. That means that long before you actually share the Secret, the phonics pattern is incubating….like a classmate whose face you recognize, even though you don’t yet know his name!

Is there a special way to group the posters on the wall?

I recommend hanging all of the posters together on one wall (which will be your sound wall, or your “Wall of Secrets!”) That is, with the exception of the Superhero Vowel®, Sneaky Y® and QU posters, which should be hung above or in place of their “like-letters” in your existing classroom alphabet.
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters— Superhero Vowels®
Superhero Vowels in Better AlphabetSecret Stories Phonics with Letterland
The purpose of this is to draw learners’ attention to their alternative sounds, as unlike most Secrets, which explain what letters do when they get together, these letters have their own individual Secrets! This allows for easier sound reference when singing The Better Alphabet Song, which is what’s used to fast-track individual letters sound mastery using muscle memory in just two weeks to two months. (Note: For the letter /Q/, I suggest using a permanent marker to write in the letter /u/ after the /q/ and referring to it as /qu/, as  /q/ never goes anywhere without /u/, and together they make ONE sound-  “kwa.” Even though the /qu/ poster will be hanging just above, it still helps to visually cement the two letters together into one for reading and spelling.)

Can I use my existing alphabet anchors?

The answer is yes, IF you they are “elephant-free” (Be sure to watch the video below to see what this means!)

Check over your existing alphabet anchors to make sure that the picture cues used for each letter accurately depict its most likely sound/sounds, as most do not. You might be surprised to discover lots “elephants” in your alphabet. If the letter /o/ in your alphabet has a picture of an orange or an oyster, that’s bad, as the letter /o/ (by itself) can only make two sounds— long (as in oak) and short (as in octopus). Equally concerning is if only ONE sound depiction for the vowels is shown, as kids need both to read and write!

Superhero Vowel A

Similarly, kids need to know both the hard and soft sounds of the letters /c/ and /g/ (as in cat/circus and goat/giraffe). Another letter to check is /x/, as often this letter is depicted with a xylophone or an x-ray—neither of which are sounds that /x/ is most likely to make. It’s most likely sound is “ks,” like in the words box and ox.

Better Alphabet Song Posters
better alphabet song poster g

For obvious reasons, instructional focus should always be on the most likely sound/sounds that letters make, not the least likely. 
All too often, a publisher (or TpT creator’s) priority is “pretty pictures” rather than accurate sound depictions.

Is there a Secret Stories® Alphabet?

Yes! I actually created the Secret Stories® Better Alphabet™ Anchors and individual student Mini-Mats for all of the reasons listed above. You don’t have to use them if your alphabet is “elephant-free,” as you have the Secret Stories® posters you need to use with your existing one. However, if elephants are everywhere, the Better Alphabet Anchors might just be the better option.

Due to the remote learning needs this year, I created a video version of the original Better Alphabet™ Song (which is song #1 on the CD or music download that came with your Secret Stories® kit). It’s been extremely helpful for online learning and student home practice, as the graphics are identical to the ones on the Better Alphabet™ anchors (and mini-mats) providing for consistent student reference. Like the Better Alphabet Anchors, you don’t need the video to sing the Better Alphabet Song that’s in your kit, but it is helpful, especially in remote learning. Below is a video about the Better Alphabet, as well as the video.


Click to view the Better Alphabet™ Video on TpT

Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet Mini-Mat
Both the classroom anchors and individual student mini-mats are available in digital format, with the Superhero Vowels®, Sneaky Y® and /qu/ graphics already embedded so you don’t need to use the ones in your kit.
The digital Better Alphabet™ Anchors includes both the “red” and “decorative” versions (to match the Secret Stories® phonics posters) in multiple size options to create a horizontal and vertical alphabet (for easy singing of the lightning-fast Letter Runs!)
Multiple Size Options for Horizontal & Vertical DisplayBetter Alphabet Song Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet
Better Alphabet Veritcal

Where’s the best place to hang the posters in my classroom?

I can tell you from personal experience that finding a place where kids can easily see ALL of the posters from everywhere they read and write in the classroom is easier said than done! They will be referencing them constantly— in whole group, small group, circle time, centers, and of course reading and writing at their desks. The posters will be their “lifeline” for reading and writing across the entire instructional day!
If kids can’t see them easily, they will be constantly out of their seats to locate the the Secrets they need to read and spell words….and it will drive you crazy! It’s especially difficult in kindergarten and first grade classrooms, given how much “stuff” we have at the early grade levels, which makes easy visual access virtually impossible….aside from posting on the ceiling, which one teacher actually did!
Secret Stories Decorative Squares Phonics Posters
Don’t be afraid to try different spots if the current one isn’t ideal. My poor assistant moved ours several times before we finally found the perfect spot. (So be sure to bring your assistant a big, frothy Starbucks coffee when making these moves!) Also, keep in mind that if there is no perfect spot in your classroom where all of the kids can see all of the posters, the Porta-Pics are a great alternative, as kids can keep them in their reading/writing folders for individual access and use.

phonics cards

Phonics Games for Reading
Secret Stories® Phonics Porta-Pics for Portable Reference and Home Use

If my posters are all on the wall, what can I use for “hands-on” lessons and activities with the Secrets?

It’s always handy to have an extra set of Secret visuals on hand, not just for lessons, but also for games and activities. The best “hands-on” options are the Dual-Use Placards and Flashcards, as they are sturdy, small and convenient for student use. The small “cut-apart” cards in the back of the Secret Stories® book are also helpful for very small group work and one-on-one practice. You can view all of these below.

The “Dual-Use” Placards 

SIGHT WORDS AND PHONICS]

phonics rules in reading series

 

The Flashcardsphonics flashcards

phonics flashcards with kids

The “Cut-Apart” Cards 

In the back of the book are “cut-apart” cards for use very small groups and one-on-one work.
cut apart phonics cards

The “Cut-Apart” Cards in Back of Book

Phonics Cards

I have the “Original” posters, so do I need to cut them down?

Secret Stories Phonics Posters

Unlike the Fun & Funky  and  Space-Saver Phonics Posters, which both have a yellow border that separates them visually when hung together on the wall, the Original Posters were designed to be “cut-down” and clustered together, so as to take up less space on the wall, while still being large enough to see from anywhere in the primary classroom. 

Phonics Posters

“Creative-Cutting” Fun!

Without a definitive border, the phonics patterns on the Original posters can appear to run together when posted “as is” close together on the wall, which is why they should be cut and mounted on colored paper. When cutting the posters, you can make them as simple or as creative as you like!

If I upgrade my Kit, what can I do with my old Secret Stories® posters?

If you decide to upgrade your old Secret Stories® Kit, you can always use your old posters to make a “Big Book of Secrets” that students will LOVE! It can be taken home and shared with parents on a rotating basis, or even as a special reward! It’s also an ideal way to connect parents with the learning…and the Secrets!
Take-Home “Big Book” of Secrets
All you need to do is back your old posters on large sheets on construction paper, re-laminate the pages, and “bind” them together using ring hooks. (If you really want to get creative, you can cover the front and back page in foil and glue plastic gems and feathers to make your book look super “secret!”) And Voile! Your very own class “Book of Secrets!” (And on a side note, you can also use your old Secret Stories® book as a parent “check-out” resource that parents can take home to remediate or accelerate, as needed.)
Additional Uses for Old Poster Sets
Some schools and districts intentionally order extra posters sets to display in common areas where kids tend to congregate—in the hallways, the cafeteria line, the media center, the front office wall, etc… This is a great way to spur conversation between students about “who knows what Secrets,” as well as to educate parents on what the Secrets are and how they’re used. It also helps to build learners’ visual acuity for increased pattern-recognition when working with text. (Schools will sometimes also purchase extra copies of the book to house in a parent resource room for parent check-out. These copies are often paid for with School Improvement Funds for Home/Parent Involvement.)

I wish I could see how other teachers display the Secret Stories® posters in their classrooms!

Your wish is granted! Below are more pictures that show all of the creative ways that teachers display the Secret Stories® phonics posters in their classrooms. And for many more ideas, as well free Secret resources and real teacher-talk, join the new Secret Stories® Support Group on Facebook!
Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets!"
Secret Stories Sound Wall
Phonics Posters
Secret Stories Phonics Sound Wall
secret stories phonics posters
Secret stories phonics fun
happy teacher phonics
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters with Student Names
Remote Phonics Lesson
Classroom Set Up
Phonics Fun with Secret Stories
Secret Stories Phonics Reading Classroom
phonics posters
Secret Stories Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
sound wall for reading and writing - secret stories
Secret Stories Sound Wall for Reading
And finally, check out these miniature Secret Stories® phonics posters in this adorable “Peep” Classroom, created by Mrs. Mac’s Munchkins!
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters — The "Peep" Version!
And to bring this very long “poster-post” to a close, I just had to share an awesome Secret Stories® Superhero door transformation! (You can read more here!
Secret Stories® Phonics Door

And here are some close-up pics….

Secret Stories® Phonics Door

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Door
Secret Stories® Phonics Door

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Door
Secret Stories® Phonics Door
Secret Stories® Phonics Door
And if you aren’t using the Secret Stories® yet, but you’re thinking about trying them, you can download a free poster “appetizer” pack and just watch how fast kids start using them to read and write!
Free Secret Stories® Phonics Posters

To ensure that you never miss a Secret,
subscribe to the Secret Stories® Newsletter!

And continue the conversation by joining the new Secret Stories® Phonics with the Brain in Mind Support Group on Facebook!

Secret Stories Phonics Facebook Group

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

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