Everything You Need to Know

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 USE IN PRIMARY CLASSROOMS (K-2)
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!)



INTERMEDIATE GRADE & RESOURCE CLASSROOMS:
While the Space Saver Posters are too small to provide easy visual access for reading and writing in the primary classroom, they are ideal small group reference in upper/intermediate classrooms, as well as smaller resource rooms.
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

Katie Garner Secret Stories LinkedIN pageSecret Stories BlogSecret Stories Facebook PageSecret Stories Youtube PageSecret Stories TwitterSecret Stories PinterestSecret Stories Instagram
Secret Stories® Phonics — Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!

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

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

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

Gratefully,
Marian M.
Kindergarten Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sight word don't work

And the sight word “parade” begins…

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

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

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

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

But there’s a problem.

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Stories® Phonics Brain Research
Click here to learn more

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

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

Individual Letter Sound Mastery in 2 weeks to 2 months!

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

So to answer Marian’s questions…

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

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

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

 

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

 


Katie Garner Secret Stories Linkedin pageSecret Stories BlogSecret Stories Facebook PageSecret Stories Youtube PageSecret Stories TwitterSecret Stories PinterestSecret Stories Instagram
Secret Stories® Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!

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Comments:

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

    Replies

     

    Katie GarnerApril 1, 2014 at 2:34 PM

      At this point in the year, you might want to ‘go all the way’ and try the “Letter Runs” with them! Here’s the link to that- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHUwuuXsh-0 ……….and don’t forget to try it BACKWARDS!!

     

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

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

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

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

    Reply

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

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

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

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

    Reply

  8.  

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

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

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

    Looking forward to meeting you in July,
    Katie

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

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

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

     

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

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

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  18. You’re so welcome, and as a new teacher, you would probably get a better perspective/ context if you watch the VLOGS, starting with #1 here….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziT4bautiGk ……

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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  25.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  29.  

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

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

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

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

     

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

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  34. Hello. I have a question. Why don’t you do all three A sounds– A as in apple, A as in gate, and A as in about? I have a chant that I made up years ago with the sounds, but it has all three common A sounds that beginning readers come across in their reading. Just wondered why three Y sounds, but not three As. Thanks for letting me know. Kathleen
  35.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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    Getting learners to ask “why” is actually our goal,
    as the “WHY” equals “CRITICAL-THINKING!”
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  44. I LOVE secret Stories! My students Love hearing the stories behind each letter or letter pair.

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It Takes More Than Individual Letter Sounds to Read and Write!

phonics posters

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!”
Kjersti Johnson- Kindergarten Teacher

Phonics on Steroids: “Warp-Speed” Access
to the Reading & Writing Code in Kindergarten!

A Guest Post by Kindergarten Teacher Kjersti Johnson
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Access to the Code in Kinder!

As teachers, I think we have all had that moment when we sit down with one of our students and they completely knock our socks off! This post is all about one of those moments.

Yesterday, I had just gotten my afternoon class of kindergartners settled into our Dailies….they were spread around the room, some reading, some writing, some listening to books on iPod shuffles, and a few shopping for new books.

I looked around to see who I would confer with (one of my favorite times of the day, by the way!) I started with Abel.

Now let me tell you about a little kindergartner named Abel.

He is one of the sweetest little guys I know. He has an amazing smile, and he is also VERY excited about learning!

He is an English Language Learner who entered kindergarten knowing 7 letters and 0 sounds. He worked SO hard the first weeks of school to learn his ABC’s and by October, he knew ALL 52 upper and lowercase letters! (the Better Alphabet Song was a huge success!)

So back to yesterday……
I sat down next to him and asked him to read to me. That’s when he pulled out Arthur’s Halloween.

I looked at him and said, “Oh, this looks like a great picture read. Can you tell me a story to go with the pictures?” This is kindergarten after all, and it’s a tough book! He gave me a strange look, and then…….He was READING it!

Later in the day, I had him read it again so that I could video it, and here he is reading Marc Brown’s Arthur’s Halloween.


ELL Kindergarten in October—”Spotting Secrets” in Arthur’s Halloween 


“Was” …..?

No problem with the “head-bop” trick!
Secret Stories® Phonics "Head-Bop" Trick— No More Sight Words!
Secret Stories® Phonics Head-Bop Trick for Fickle Vowels


“Night”
….with its tricky /gh/?
Got it!

Secret Stories® Phonics — The "gh" Secret!
Secret Stories Phonics Secret— Positional Sounds of gh

“Before” ….?
Didn’t stump him. He saw that Babysitter Vowel® o telling e to say its name!  He also spotted /o/ and /r/ who can “never make up their minds when they get together,” and read it like a pro!

“Family” ….?
That Sneaky y® didn’t trick him!

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Secret!
Sneaky Y® Phonics Secret

Then we got to “making”…. and guess who was able to use the Babysitter Vowels® Secret to figure out whether /a/ would be long or short?!
He knew it wasn’t right when he first read it, but then he remembered the Secret! (and please excuse me telling another student, TWICE, to go color their work! ;-)

ELL Kindergarten in October—Arthur’s Halloween with Babysitter Vowels®
Kinders Decoding Multi-Syllabic Words with Secret Stories® Babysitter Vowels®!
Secret Stories Babysitter Vowels®— How to Know Whether a Vowel Will Be Long or Short?

 

“House”….?
Rough-housing /ou/ and /ow/ saying “Owwwww!” No worries.

Secret Stories® Phonics — The "ou/ow" Secret!
Secret Stories® Phonics ou/ow Secret!

 

“Look and spooky”….?
Knowing the Secret, he switched sounds for /oo/ like a pro!

Secret Stories® Phonics — The "ou/ow" Secret!
Secret Stories® Phonics /oo/ Secret

I was BLOWN away! And so I made poor Abel read that page to everyone I could find! I was so proud of him! (and by the way, he is determined to read the whole book now, and I have no doubt that he will!)

This morning, I shared the video with my principal, our Dean of Students, and our LAP teacher. The question of how and when I use the Secret Stories in my class came up, and I thought to myself, “When don’t I use them???”

The Secrets aren’t limited just to “reading” time. We use them ALL DAY LONG,  which in half-day kindergarten, is only about 2 hours and 40 minutes. (Oh, did I forget to mention that I teach half-day kinder?!) That’s not very long, which is why getting the most bang for the buck in the short amount of time we have is critical. Secret Stories® makes what used to seem impossible EASY! (It’s like phonics on steroids!)

Literally not a moment that goes by that the kids aren’t spotting Secrets.

We look for Secrets in our poems…..

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets — Spotting Secrets in Poems

We use yellow and blue for “popcorn” words. We “butter” the new ones and put blue dots under the ones that we already know. Then we use a green highlighter to find Secrets.

And honestly, I have to say, now that the kids know the Secrets, I spend almost no time at all on memorizing sight words, except for the small handful that really break the rules and have to go to jail, as most of the words the kids can just read.

We look for Secrets in Science….

How Secret Stories Babysitter Vowels® make reading BIG words EASY... even in kindergarten!

 

Look at the picture above to see how many variations of the word hibernate we found when reading our big book in our whole group Science lesson! One of the kids spotted the er Secret, then another spotted the /or/ and /ing/ Secrets, and we were off! Next came the Babysitter Vowels®, which they used to help them figure out whether the vowels would be long or short. Some students knew the Secret sounds immediately, and others had to check the posters first before sounding out each part, but they were all able to read all of the words— and write them!

No one was left out of the reading and writing fun because we all had one thing in common— we all knew the Secrets!  That day, we did more reading and writing in Science than in our designated reading and writing blocks, combined! What better way is there to show beginning learners what these Secret skills are actually for!

My favorite thing is what happened the following day when I was working with a small group and heard Abel yell from his seat across the room, “Mrs. Johnson! Mrs. Johnson! Look, I found the word hibernate in my book!”

And sure enough, he had.


Even for an ELL Kindergartner in October, sounding out the word hibernate with the Mommy E® was easy!

 

We use Secrets when we write…..

See the /ow/ and /ing/  in snowing and the /ou/ in mountains!

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets in Writing
We look for Secrets when we read the directions on our math papers.

 

Words like draw and count with the “letters who love each other” (au/aw) and the “letters who don’t” (ou/ow) can’t fool us!

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets in Math
Spotting Secret Stories® in Math!

 

My kids are OBSESSED with these Secret Stories! ......Secret Stories "ou/ow" Phonics Secret!
As usual, ou & ow are not getting along!
My kids are OBSESSED with these Secret Stories! ......Secret Stories "au/aw" Phonics Secret!
The “anniversary” of au & aw Valentine’s Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I almost never have to read the math story problems to my kids anymore because they can do it all by themselves using our Secrets!

Secret Stories® has opened up so many possibilities…..there seems to be no limit to what my kindergartners can do. It has really changed everything.

And while I do still have kids that are just chugging along at their own pace, like sweet little Abel, they are ALL sucking up the Secrets— even those who are not always ready to apply them. And that’s okay, because I know they have the “keys” in their pocket that they will need to unlock the words they want when they are ready, just like Abel did.

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— "Secrets Make Things Important!"
Transforming letters and sounds from skills they have to learn
into Secrets they want to know!

Thank you, Kjersti!

I can’t thank Kjersti enough for that deep dive into all of the wonderful things that she’s doing in her kindergarten classroom. I will be doing a part 2 “follow-up” to Kjersti’s post, so stay tuned! (You can catch another post by Kjertsti here!)

And if you haven’t tried the Secrets but would like to try sharing then with YOUR kiddos, you can download this mini-poster “appetizer” anchor pack FREE! 

 

Free Phonics Posters by Secret Stories

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics— Mini-Poster "Appetizer" Anchor Pack!

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics— Mini-Poster "Appetizer" Anchor Pack!

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics— Mini-Poster "Appetizer" Anchor Pack!

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics— Mini-Poster "Appetizer" Anchor Pack!

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics— Mini-Poster "Appetizer" Anchor Pack!

 
 
 

 

 
Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-)

Katie Garner— Keynote/Featured Education Speaker and Literacy Consultant

For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here.

 

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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Katie Garner Secret Stories Linkedin pageSecret Stories BlogSecret Stories Facebook PageSecret Stories Youtube PageSecret Stories TwitterSecret Stories PinterestSecret Stories Instagram

 

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How To Teach Those “So-Called” Exceptions
to the Phonics Rules

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 is not an exact science, and neither are the phonics rules, as there are many “so-called” exceptions. However, we can “treat” unknown “exception” words in much the same way that doctors treat their patients, and by doing so, a logical, thinking-construct begins to emerge— one that greatly empowers learners and their decision-making when working with unfamiliar 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 with “So-Called” Exception Words

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)

 
Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

 

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….

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
The OO Secret

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. And of course, you can also pull out the handy “Head-Bop” Trick in a pinch to figure out those “un-figure-outable” words! (You can read more about this trick here.)

 

 

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/diagnostic thinking) process that true 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.

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

 

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

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 Vowels Are the “Heart” of Words

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!

How to Read Words that are Exceptions

 

PHONICS POSTERS
Secret Stories® Classroom Kit (book, posters & music download)

And if you don’t have the Secret Stories® Classroom Set but would like to get started with the basic “meat and potatoes,” which are the vowels, I would suggest you start with Secrets of the Superhero Vowels Bundle® on TpT.  It’s a great place to start!  And if you are already using Secret Stories® in your classroom, this digital vowel pack is a super handy supplement, as it offers multiple sizes of the graphics for various uses within the classroom and at home!

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
Secret Stories Superhero Vowels® Digital Bundle

Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-) 
Katie Garner— Professional Development Literacy Consultant and Keynote Education Speaker

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