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’ve Ever Wanted to Know About The Secret Stories® Phonics Posters!

phonics posters for reading

Secret Stories® "Original" Phonics Posters
The Creatively-Cut “Original” Secret Stories® Posters!

(Note: This post was written before the NEW Decorative Square Phonics Posters were created, but you can view them here, as well as in the video and pictures, below.)
Secret Stories Decorative Squares Phonics Posters
Pretty Phonics Posters

Which Secret Stories® phonics poster-style is the MOST popular? 

The winner for K-2 teachers is…...“The “Fun & Funky” Phonics Posters Kit! These are especially popular with early grade level, primary teachers, as their size allows for easy visual access from anywhere in the classroom where kids are reading and writing. These are often paired with a set of  “Dual-Use Placards” for manipulative, hands-on use in circle time, guided reading, centers, etc….  (The Porta-Pics are also popular for individual use, both at school and at home, assuming that the little ones don’t try and “eat” them! ;-)
 
The winner for 3-5 (and up, as needed) is….. The “Space-Savers” Phonics Posters Kit! These are most popular with resource room teachers (due to the smaller sized rooms) and with upper-grade level teachers who may have fewer students needing to reference them. Additionally, the Porta-Pics are equally popular for these groups for their portability (departmentalization, pull-out, home-reference, etc…)
You can find more info (as well as pictures) on both the Space-Saver Placards and the Porta-Pics (pictured further below).
SPACE SAVER Phonics Posters
So, you’ve laminated all of your Secret Stories® posters and are finally ready to hang them on your classroom wall…
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Posters Ready to Hang!

But on which wall?…. In what groupings??….. And in what order???

Is there a “right” way to hang the Secret Stories® Phonics Posters?

This is the most frequently asked question that I receive during preschool weeks, especially when I visit schools for ‘back-to-school’ in-service and professional development and teachers are setting up their classrooms.
The short answer is NO… not really. But there are tips and tricks to ensure that you (and your students) get the most “bang-for-the-buck” with regard to easy visual access, both for reading and writing, across the entire instructional day!

So here are some Must-Do’s….

1.  Hang ALL of them up! (Do NOT wait to “teach” them first!) 
Never wait to display a Secret until you have “taught” it first, as doing so defeats the whole purpose of using Secret Stories®, which is to accelerate access to the code, not limit it! Besides, the Secrets are not taught, they are “given,” and without any expectations, much like food that’s laid out on a buffet. Because Secrets are embedded into already social and emotional story-frameworks, kids will remember them, talk about them, and then suddenly begin using them to read and write words. This will happen years before their formal introduction as “phonics skills” on a traditional core reading scope and sequence…. IF they are all up and ready to share with learners, as needed! Secrets unlock the sounds in words that kids can’t read, and equip them with the letters they need to write words in the stories they want to tell. It is learners’ encounters with text throughout the course of the instructional day (and across all subject areas) that most often dictate which Secrets they need. For this reason, all of the Secrets must be up and ready to go, as you never know what’s looming just around the corner of your instructional day! Additionally, having all of the posters up requires learners to visually scan through all the Secrets they don’t know in order to find the ones that they do. This continual scanning process serves to increase learners’ visual acuity so as to recognize patterns in text— even those in Secrets that haven’t yet been told!
Kindergartners Stalking the Secret Stories® "Wall of Phonics Secrets!"
Students “Stalking” the Secret Stories® Wall!
And finally (and most importantly) hanging all of the posters up on Day 1 allows learners to begin driving their own instruction, as the letters in words they cannot read are the same letters that are in the Secret posters on the wall, thereby prompting them to ask for the Secret! By taking advantage of these teachable moments as they occur throughout the instructional day, we can foster learners’  “need-to-know” as the driving force behind their instruction and teach reading with the brain-in-mind!  

 

2.  Hang the Superhero Vowels®Sneaky Y® and “qu” posters above (or in place of) their “counterparts” in your regular alphabet display. 
I recommend hanging all of the posters together on one wall (which I like to call the “Wall of Secrets!”) with the exception of the Superhero Vowels®Sneaky Y® posters, which should be hung just above (or even in place of) their “like-letters” over your existing alphabet train (or whatever alphabet display is mounted above the main front board in your classroom.)
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters— Superhero Vowels®
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 Songwhich is the means through which learners acquire the individual letters and sounds using muscle memory in just two weeks to two months. (Note that the qu is somewhat of an exception to this, as it’s actually two letters, but it’s important for learners to see and understand that q won’t make any sound unless it’s with u, and that together they make ONE sound which is “kwa.” I actually used a permanent marker to write in the letter u after the q on my alphabet train, and referred to it only as “qu”…..it was like the imaginary letter “elemeno,” but IT was REAL—Lol!)
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet Vertical Anchor
QU from Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Vertical Anchor (full size shown, below)

 

Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet Vertical Anchor
Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Vertical Anchor (full-size)
for use with the BETTER Alphabet Song for Individual Letter Sound Mastery in 2 weeks – 2 months!
And on a side note, be sure that the picture cues on your existing alphabet train are accurate!  This means that the picture cue for the sound of the letter o is NOT an orange or an oyster, as o by itself can only make its long or short sound, as in oak or ox. Likewise, the letter should not be depicted with a picture of a xylophone or an x-ray (as is actually shown in the classroom alphabet picture, above) as those are its least likely sounds, with “ks” (as in box and ox) being the most likely. All too often, the publisher’s priority is finding a “pretty picture,” rather than one that actually depicts the most likely sound of the letter.  a letter’s most likely sound! Additionally, it’s also important to depict sound cues for both the hard and soft sounds of both c and g (cat/circus and goat/giraffe) with picture cues for both. For all of these reasons, I created the Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Alphabet Mini-Mats (in digital format only.) Not only are the Superhero Vowels®, Sneaky Y® and qu graphics already built-in, but its vertical display option makes singing those “lightening-fast” Letter Runs a whole lot easier! 
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet
Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet 
 with Vertical AND Horizontal Posting Options!
Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Song—
Individual Letter Sound Mastery in 2 weeks to 2 months
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet
(Vertical or Horizontal Format Options)
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet
Secret Stories® Better Alphabet (hard and soft C) 

 

Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet
Secret Stories® Better Alphabet (hard and soft G)
 
The Secret Stories® Letter Run Song
(w/the BETTER Vertical & Horizontal Alphabet Train) 
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet

Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet Mini-Mat

Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Mini-Mats for Individual Student Use 
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet Mini-Mat

3. When hanging the “Original” phonics posters, be sure to create a visual barrier between the Secrets!
Unlike the “Fun & Funky” Phonics Posters and the Space-Saver Phonics Posters which both have a yellow border that separates them visually when hung together on the wall, the “Original” Phonics Posters were designed to be “cut-down” clustered together to take up less space and still be large enough to see from anywhere in the primary classroom.
 
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters— "Fun & Funky"
Secret Stories® “Fun & Funky” Phonics Posters

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Posters— "Space Savers"
Secret Stories® “Space-Saver” Phonics Posters

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Posters— "Original"
Secret Stories “Original” Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters— "Original"
“Original” Phonics Posters “Cut-Down”

 

With no definitive border, the letter patterns on the original posters (when cut down) can appear to “run together” on the wall, which is why I recommend mounting them on a bright yellow or black backing (as explained in the Secret Stories® book) so as to provide a visual border between each one. I prefer bright yellow, although you can view several options in classroom pictures further down, below.

4. Ensure easy visual access from everywhere in the classroom they will need them!
I can tell you from personal experience that this is much easier said than done (as most of my classroom assistants who were tasked with moving all of the posters around to various locations in our classroom can attest!) Finding the perfect place in the classroom where students can easily access the posters, as needed during guided group, circle time, calendar time, whole group activities, independent writing at their seats, etc….was quite the challenge. My students were constantly jumping to find the Secret sound they needed (when reading) or the Secret pattern they needed (when writing) and it drove me crazy! I think it can be especially difficult in kindergarten and first grade classrooms where there are so many learning nooks & crannies, as this makes easy visual access to ANYTHING virtually impossible (aside from possibly, the ceiling!) I finally did settle on a good spot where they remained indefinitely, but each new classroom and grade level posed a new challenge, so don’t settle…. be creative! And don’t be afraid to try a different spot if the current one isn’t ideal….just be sure to bring your assistant a big, frothy Starbucks coffee when making the move! Also, keep in mind that the Dual-Use Placards and Porta-Pics as both offer easy solutions to this problem, as well providing the Secrets in a hands-on “manipulative” format for use by teachers and students around the classroom, as needed.
Phonics Games for Reading
Secret Stories® Phonics Porta-Pics for Portable Reference and Home Use

Secret Stories® Dual-Use Phonics Placards (aka “Space Savers”)

Secret Stories® Phonics — "Dual-Use Placards"
Secret Stories® Dual-Use Phonics Placards for Hands-On “Manipulative” Use
Secret Stories Phonics for Struggling Readers
Reading Sight Words with Phonics
Phonics for Sight Words
There are also “cut-apart” cards in the back section of the Secret Stories® book that can be used when students are working in very small groups or outside of the classroom, one-on-one with a volunteer.

Cut-Apart Phonics Cards in Back of Secret Stories® Book

Phonics Cards
Plus, check out these NEW Secret Stories® Phonics Flashcards that have the stories on the front and picture on the back!

Secret Stories Phonics Flashcards

phonics flashcards
Phonics Flashcard Games
Teaching Phonics in Guided Reading
Phonics Flashcards for Sight Words
Phonics Flashcards
And should you happen to have an extra set of Secret Stories® phonics posters lying around (after upgrading to Secret Stories® Version 2.0 or “inheriting” an extra set from another teacher) you can use them to make something that your kids will absolutely LOVE LOVED LOVE…. a class “big book” of Secret Stories® that kids can take home and share with their parents on a rotating basis, or even as a special reward!
Just re-mount them (if cut-down) on large construction paper and re-laminate the pages, and then bind them together into a book. Voile! A Secret Stories® Class Phonics Big Book— the perfect way to help educate your parents on what the Secrets are and how they work! 
Extra posters sets are sometimes also ordered by schools to post in common areas where kids tend to congregate…. in the hallways, on the wall by the cafeteria line, behind the check-out desk in the media center, the front office wall, etc…, as it’s a great way to spur conversation between students about “who knows which Secrets,” as well as help to educate the parents on what they are, as kids love to share all of the Secrets they know when walking with them around the school. It also helps to further enhance learners’ visual acuity for pattern-recognition in text.
Secret Stories® Phonics Parent Night
Below are some classroom pictures of the Secret Stories® phonics posters that show different ways to display each version. And I want to give special thanks to all of the awesome teachers who have offered us this sneak-peek into their classrooms by sending in pics!
 
Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets!"
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Poster— AR
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters with Student Names
Love this idea of putting students’ names on their “Secret Story!”
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 “Posting Phonics Posters” post to a close, I just had to share an AMAZING “Secret Stories® door transformation that added a whole new level of excitement to the first day of school for some very lucky first graders! It was created by Brandon McAnulty, the husband of Renee McAnulty. You can read more about Mrs. Mac and her famous first-grade munchkins, 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

HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!!

And if you’re just getting started with the Secrets, here’s a quick vlog 
for some good tips, tricks and how-to’s!
 
 
Download a FREE Sampling of Secret Stories® phonics posters and watch how fast YOUR kids start using the Secrets to read and write!
Free Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-)