Crystalizing “speech to print” connections for independent reading and writing in a way that even kindergartners can easily understand.
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!’
Sound Walls, Word Walls and the Science of Reading
The purpose of a sound wall is to clearly represent the connections between speech and print in a way that students can easily understand and use as a source of reference to read and spell words. It is a way to organize and display the different sounds (phonemes) heard in speech and the spelling/phonics patterns (graphemes) that represent them in print.
With advancement of new research on the science of reading, there is a clearer understanding of the roles that phonetics and phonology (i.e. “symbol to sound” relationships) play in beginning reading and spelling. Because learning to speak happens long before learning to read, teaching the connections between the letters on the page and the sounds they represent in speech is critical.
Unlike a word wall, which organizes words in alphabetical order so that students can find and copy them, sound walls are organized by sounds alongside the letter patterns that represent them.
The biggest difference between the two is that word walls give learners access to only a limited number of words, whereas sounds walls empower them with ALL of the phonics “building blocks” needed to read and spell ANY word. However, in order for students to actually USE a sound wall to independently read and spell, the “sound-to-print” connections represented must be obvious and easy to understand—even for a five-year old!
This is exactly what a Secret Stories® sound wall is, as while the Secrets explain the sounds letters make when they get together, the sound posters are what help them remember for independent reading and spelling.
In just one glance, students as young as kindergarten can instantly identify the sounds that the phonics patterns represent, and then use them to read and spell words. Rooted in brain science, Secret Stories® target “universal” social-emotional understanding by connecting letter behavior to kid behavior, making sounds easily predictable — even for kindergartners. The Secret posters are a ready-made sound wall that even that earliest grade learners can independently reference to read, write and spell.
How to Work Smarter, Not Harder
“The Secrets are so versatile and work great with our district-required sound wall. The kids reference the Secret Stories posters constantly to figure out words. The Secrets are the ‘backdoor’ in for sure!”
Secret Stories® Sound Wall Integration with Articulation Mouth Pics, as shared in the Secret Stories® Facebook Group.
“The (mouth picture/articulation) sound walls are proposed as memory supports, reminders to kids about how to articulate the proper phonemes (language sounds) for the proper graphemes (letters and letter combinations). …… as a practical memory aid, they’re weak (more useful for the teacher as a guide to presentation than to the kids as a guide to reading words).
I guess the idea would be that when a student comes to a challenging word, he/she could go to the word wall, find the right combination of graphemes and examine the pictures of the articulatory apparatus in the hopes that replicating that shape would lead to proper sounding out of that word.”
“My take? That’s far too cumbersome as a memory aid — about as practically useful as the lists of 3-cueing clues that some teachers provide: If you come to a word you don’t know, look at the picture. If that doesn’t work, read to the end of the sentence….. The problem is that these steps are neither much like real reading nor practical as efficient scaffolds. Memory aids need to be easy to access or people just don’t use them.” —Dr. Tim Shanahan
“Across various studies (Ehri, 2014; Ehri, Deffner, & Wilce, 1984; McNamara, 2012; Schmidman & Ehri, 2010) it has been found that such embedded mnemonic pictures can reduce the amount of repetition needed for kids to learn the letters and sounds, with less confusion, better long-term memory, and greater ability to transfer or apply this knowledge in reading and spelling.
If one relies on data – rather than reasoning – the answer is kind of a no-brainer — it is a good idea to use embedded mnemonics. It looks like, at least with regard to this feature, your previous program was better than the new one.”
“When it comes to teaching letters and sounds, no question about it, use embedded mnemonics. They work.” —Dr. Tim Shanahan
Targeting “Backdoor” Routes for Accelerated Learning
Aligning Phonics Skills with “Universal” Frameworks of Experience and Understanding
While the Secret Stories® posters on their own are an ideal sound wall, they can also be used in-tandem with any existing sound wall or reading/phonics anchor charts, helping to simplify and streamline the sound-symbol connections. This is because the Secrets align with what kids already know, providing a faster and more efficient route for learners.
…..rather than relying on “underdeveloped” auditory and cognitive processing centers for skill mastery.
This is especially true for teaching vowel sounds. They can be easily prompted with emotion-based cues that literally “land” learners in the correct sound — as opposed to relying on inherently weak areas for early (and struggling) learners, which include: developmental/cognitive readiness, language processing, auditory discrimination and articulation capability. It’s so much easier and faster to just sneak these skills through the brain’s social-emotional “backdoor” and avoid these learning “landmines” entirely. (The same goes for accelerating mastery of the individual letter-sounds with the Better Alphabet® Song — which uses earlier-developing, muscle memory to fast-track mastery in 2 weeks to 2 months, while at the same time, telling Secrets!)
Likewise, incorporating the Secrets with sound wall displays that use picture cues for words (rather than sounds) is also extremely helpful. For example, the picture of a saw on the card below depicts the sound of the au/aw spelling pattern. The picture of a girl on the card further down below depicts the sound for the er/ir/ur spelling patterns. These “word-based” picture cues are commonly found on most phonics posters and sound wall displays, yet they add extra and unnecessary steps that can be difficult for some learners — especially very young learners and non-native English-speaking (ELL/ESL) learners.
This is because using them requires students to first recognize what the object in the picture is, and second, have the vocabulary to name it. Third, they must understand the alphabetic principle of letters coming together to represent sounds in words. Only then will they be able to properly segment the sounds that they hear (step 4) so as to successfully identify which sound actually corresponds with the letters/ phonics patterns on the card (step 5).
Similar to vowel sound acquisition (above), each of these additional steps rely on inherently weak areas for early (and struggling) readers: developmental readiness, cognitive processing, auditory discrimination, articulation capability, etc..
Additionally, there is the added spelling confusion that can arise for learners when seeing all three sounds — er,ir and ur — alongside the picture of a girl, as only one actually represents the correct spelling of the word girl. Likewise, the same visual confusion would arise with learners seeing both au and aw to represent the sound heard in the word saw.
And then there’s the problem of learners knowing which sound the picture actually represents — the initial, medial or ending sound. This can be especially difficult for beginning readers and ESL students who are often still learning individual letters and sounds and focusing more attention on initial and ending sounds. All of these reasons help to explain why, with traditional reading instruction, it takes 3-4 grade level years before learners acquire the “whole” phonics code needed to read and write.
Fast-Tracking Phonics Pieces of the Reading Puzzle
The pieces of the phonics code are like the pieces of a puzzle. Every piece is important. The more pieces you have, the easier it is to see how those pieces fit together and make sense. The fewer pieces you have, the harder it is to see how they are connected, and the less it makes sense. Not to mention that it’s no fun to play with a puzzle that’s missing half the pieces! Seriously, what would be the point?
Like the pieces of a puzzle, each piece of the phonics code is important. The more pieces kids have, the easier they can put them together and actually use them to read and write — and the more motivated they will be to do it! That’s why it’s actually harder to go slow when teaching phonics for real reading and writing! And with the Secrets, you don’t have to.
Kids need as much of the phonics code as possible, as soon as possible to “power-up” skill-transfer to daily reading and writing — the ideal place to hone them! Only then can learners begin to make sense of text that’s all around them across the instructional day. That’s why it’s critical to hang up ALL of the Secret Stories® posters on Day 1, as this ensures a comprehensive sound wall with access to ALL the code kids need to read and write!
The Secrets work with any existing reading curriculum or phonics program to fast-track more of the code kids NEED to read and write. Taking advantage of early developing, social-emotional centers in the brain, Secret Stories® crystalizes the connections between sound and print to empower beginning readers and writers. t’s a simple formula really….. the more phonics Secrets kids know, the more words they can read and write!
R-controlled vowels are traditionally taught at the end of first grade or beginning of second, but shared as a Secret, kids can have it in the first week of kindergarten!
I started teaching The Better Alphabet™ Song on Day 2 of school in August. I put all of the Secret Stories Posters up on Day 5.
On Day 6 my life changed.
I told a Secret, and from that moment on, my kindergartners wanted to know more and more and more. They were finding those Secrets everywhere! I had a student who entered into our class with no real gusto for learning letters or to read, according to his parents. This student became obsessed with looking for Secrets on the wall, finding those patterns in text, and writing them down. He would literally get a blank piece of paper and copy all of the Secrets he knew from the posters on the wall.
He would ask everyday if we could learn a new Secret, and if he saw any letter patterns in words that were on a Secret poster, watch out! He had to learn it. I would have been impressed had he been the only one, but it was every student in the class! They all wanted to know the Secrets!
Writing is where I began seeing the most notable change. Students were drawing speech bubbles for an animal writing project in late September. Inside the speech bubbles were the words “meow” for cats, “hoot” for owls and “nay” for horses. Those tricky phonics sounds that my students typically did not even hear in words were now being incorporated into their writing using the Secret posters on our wall. They referenced them constantly to read and spell. My students didn’t just “know” the secrets, they were owning them!
In reading, we assess students three times a year using FastBridge to determine which need reading interventions. My students were tested and I did not have one student qualify as needing intervention. The Reading Team was curious and wanted to know more about the Secrets. We’ve just completed the second round of testing, and again, none of my students were in need of intervention help. I have taught kindergarten for 14 years and this has never happened.
My students continue to excel in reading and writing, and I am happy to report that all of my students know 100% of upper and lowercase letters, as well as the sounds associated with each letter symbol, thanks to the Better Alphabet™ Song (even the child who came in knowing no letters and only yelled at me when I met him). And it’s only January!
During parent teacher conferences, the Secrets were a conversation that kept coming up. Parents wanted to let me know how impressed they were that their child already knew about blends and digraphs. They wanted to tell me how often their child comes home and shares the latest Secret. The parents were loving the progress that they were seeing just as much as I was.
Today they earned a celebration, and the idea that my students came up with (on their own) was to eat a popsicle, watch a Curious George Episode, and dress up as a Secret Story.
I am attaching a picture of me as “Mommy E” and a group photo that we took!
You can see a real joy for learning on the faces of these children, who are better because of your passion to make the reading and brain science accessible to teachers, and applying a creativity to make strategies that work!
Angela Wolfe, Kindergarten Teacher
Sound Wall = A Brain Based Phonics “Buffet”
Imagine going to a buffet, only to be told that items would be served one at a time, with the waiter deciding “what” you can have and “when” you can have it. This would effectively turn your buffet into a restaurant, defeating the whole purpose of why you go to a buffet in the first place, which is to take what you need with no waiting! At a restaurant, you’re at the mercy of the waiter or waitress who gets to decide “what” you can have and “when” you can have it.
Reading & Writing Across the Entire Instructional Day
Text is everywhere, which means so are Secrets! With a Secret Stories® Sound Wall, students have access to whatever they need to read and spell words across the instructional day. That means that kindergarten and first grade students don’t have to memorize all of the sight words with phonics patterns in them they haven’t been taught. Instead, they can learn the Secrets they need to easily decode them, regardless of which grade level scope and sequence they’re “supposed” to be on!
And with virtual learning, kids need access to the Secrets/ Sound Wall outside the physical classroom — wherever and whenever they are reading and writing. The Porta-Pics are an easy and inexpensive “portable” sound wall that kids can reference at home or anywhere outside of the regular classroom or resource classroom.
Prompting the “Need to Know” for Learner-Driven Instruction
Secrets make things important to kids, fostering a “need to know” for prioritized learning and marking information for memory in the brain. Secret Stories® transform the phonics skills kids have to learn into “secrets” they want to know! And the more they know, the more they want to know….and they’re all on the Secret Stories® Sound Wall, just waiting to be discovered!
Secrets are like the piece of cake on a buffet that you don’t know you want until you see it! That’s why they should ALL be up on Day 1!
A Guest Post By Melissa Gregory —Kindergarten Teacher at Title I School in Ohio
Kindergarten- End of October
Who says kindergartners can’t have access to ALL of the code needed to read and write in a short amount of time????
By the end of the FIRST NINE WEEKS, these cuties are taking off in reading AND writing, and are so excited to be word detectives finding ‘secrets’ in every word they see!!!
Kindergarten Writing in Mid-November
I shared the above videos and comment with Katie back in October. It was my first year teaching kindergarten, and having taught first grade for the past ten years, I was just floored by what the kids were able to do. They loved for me to take the ‘Secret’ book and go through all of the grown-up reading and writing sounds that they know. They begged to do it every morning, and were the first ones to get mad and remind me if I got busy and forgot. They loved to pretend to be the Superhero Vowels when they were playing in the drama center (so cute!) On the 100th day of school, I asked them to write about their favorite part of kindergarten, and almost all of my kids said it was learning the Secret Stories! They had such ownership of their learning and were so proud!
My Journey from First Grade to Kindergarten
My name is Melissa Gregory, and I am a kindergarten teacher at a Title I School near Cincinnati, Ohio. This year was my first year teaching kindergarten, though I’d taught first grade for many years. I sent Katie the video of my class in late October, as I wanted her to see how fast my kindergartners were soaking-up all of the Secrets! These little kindergartners knew ALL of the them by the end of October, even though they were still learning their individual letter sounds with the Better Alphabet Song.
Having only taught first grade before, I had no preconceived notions about what kindergartners were “supposed” to do, and so we just “played” with the Secrets all the time. The Secrets were not only their favorite stories, but also their favorite “toys.” They didn’t just “know” them, they were actively using them to read and spell words! With every day came new growth and discovery, and being new to kindergarten, I felt like I was learning right along with them. I was just so excited that I had to share it, and from the moment that Katie posted our little video back in October on Facebook, we both began receiving so many comments and questions. Most wanted to know if the Secrets they knew in the video actually transferred to their reading and writing, and if so, how? So, Katie asked me to track of all of this year’s data and write this post.
This comment, in particular, sums up what many who saw the video back in October were curious to learn—
I am not understanding how this transfers into their reading & writing since it is done in isolation. Is there any assessment data showing how well kids can actually read? I show my students many videos and we sing many songs too, but I don’t see all kids accessing the information later in their reading and writing.
Thanks for any insight you can provide!
My background in first grade…. Having taught first grade in a large school district for the past ten years, this past year was to be my first ever teaching kindergarten. Our district had expanded from four Early Childhood Schools to six, and I was moved to a new building and placed in kindergarten. My new school was a Title 1 and Title 3 school, with both ESL and free and reduced lunch population.
I had been using Secret Stories in first grade for the past seven years, alongside the Lucy Caulkins Reading and Writing Workshop Model, which our district had adopted several years back. Secret Stories was a game-changer for me, as it gave my first graders more of the phonics “code” they needed to actually do reading and writing workshop! As a result, my students had always shown unbelievable growth—not just in their reading, but in their writing, as well. Knowing the Secrets gave them confidence to tackle new words in reading, write more complicated words in their stories, and even figure-out unknown words in their story problems for math.
As early grade teachers, our students are just learning how to “do” school, and so testing is not what is most important, nor should it define them. However, data is extremely important to principals, as well as to district and state-level administrators, as it provides a “snap-shot” of current student performance. If you were to look at my data from seven years ago and compare it to my data now, you would see a huge difference. Yes, I am sure that I have become a better teacher over time, but the truth is, I didn’t have my secret weapon, and so I couldn’t give it to my students. That’s what the Secret Stories are to me and my students. They are our secret reading weapon, and they continue to be the BEST gift I could ever give my kids!
Before I discovered Secret Stories, I had to do weekly word practice and a phonics focus, and so my calendar looked like this…
Sight Words, Word Families, and Phonics Rules (a.k.a. “Before Secrets”)
Everything was taught in isolation and nothing was authentic….or fun. Students would learn the sight words, word families and phonics rules for the week, and then we would move on with hope that they could retain those words and rules. There was no spiral-teaching, except for the weeks we reviewed, and those were only for the sight words, not the word families or phonics rules. I look back now and wonder how my class ever reached the levels required by the end of each school year? During the week, I would use rainbow word worksheets, word sorts, letter tiles and magnetic letters to practice the sight words, and I had a block of time set aside for word study each day.
Becoming Secret Word Detectives
The first thing that you notice when you start telling Secrets is how they naturally integrate with everything that you are already doing. They are literally everywhere! I no longer needed to set aside time for word practice or phonics “kill and drill,” as the kids were naturally using them ALL DAY LONG—in reading, in math, at lunch, in art…..anywhere and everywhere there were words, they found Secrets! Skill-reinforcement was “baked-in” to everything that we were already doing—across all subject areas, as the kids were constantly using them to read and write words. They loved being word detectives and spotting Secrets wherever they were hiding! My teaching became more authentic, which made learning easier and more natural for my students.
From day one, I had all of the Secret Stories posters hung in my room, and I started showing my kids how to use them. I explained that the Secrets were the “keys” they needed to “unlock” words, and I modeled using them for this purpose constantly. Whenever we came to a word that they couldn’t read or spell, I told them the Secret, and then showed them the poster and reminded them how they could use it to read and spell other words on their own. And off they went! During free choice time, they pretended to be the teacher, using the pointers to show and tell the Secret Stories, and then calling on their friends to make the sounds and show the motions. They referred to the posters constantly, sometimes to actually read or spell a word, and sometimes, just to “play” with telling their story and making their sound. I actually have the posters hung on both sides of my classroom so they can easily see them from anywhere, which just goes to show how much the kids use them!
Letters Behave Like Kids
The day I told them the first Secret Story, my teaching changed forever. Having a way to make phonics make sense just made everything we were already doing so much easier! Five and six-year-olds may not understand (or care about) letter sounds, but they do understand that letters behave differently when they are together with different friends, just like they behaved differently with different friends. In the Secret Stories, kids saw their own feelings and behaviors reflected back, which is why they loved hearing and telling them so much. The Secrets come from a place that kids can easily identify with and understand, like, for example: how a line leader is supposed to behave, when to (and when not to) be sneaky, not getting along with your classmate, being left out of a group, having to listen to your mom (or your babysitter!), and even what it would be like to have super powers! The Secrets make kids wonder. They made them curious. They make them think. But most of all, the Secrets make them want to know more Secrets!
My first graders had always learned the Secrets quickly, which is what made our Reading and Writing Workshop take off, but when I moved to kindergarten, I wasn’t sure how this would go. At curriculum night, I shared with parents that I was unsure about how kindergartners would do with Secret Stories, since I’d only used them in first grade. But I also told them that if their kids were going to be reading and writing in kindergarten, then they were going to need them!
Our end-of-year standard for kindergarten was mastery of: individual letter sounds, 25 sight words, and three digraphs- /sh/, /th/ and /wh/….and that was it. My first grade teacher-brain couldn’t help but wonder what in the world kids were actually supposed to be able to do with that?! However, I knew that, as a kindergarten teacher, I would be spending a lot of time on individual letters and sounds, and would need to focus on those first. I was even concerned that giving them the Secrets might be too much…..oh boy was I wrong!
Word Work Playground
The Daily Calendar
At the early grade levels, the entire day is a playground of word exploration and play! I actually shared the first Secret before I’d even introduced any of the individual letters and sounds. It was the Secret about au/aw, which I told them on the first day of school during calendar time. (I remembered seeing Katie doing this in a kindergarten YouTube video and so I thought I would do the same.) I asked the kids how many of them knew what a “secret” was. I told them that there were special secrets that could only be told to very special kindergartners, and that these secrets would help them to become better readers and writers. I also made sure to let them know that they could tell their parents (or loved ones), and that when they go home, they could pretend to be the teacher and teach the Secret Story to them.
School starts in early August, and we do Calendar Time every day, so since we would be “reading” the word August on a daily basis, it made sense to explain why the /A/ wasn’t making the sound it was supposed to (based on the sounds it makes in the Better Alphabet Song, which we also sang every morning and afternoon). To understand why, the kids would need to know the Secret about au/aw.
The picture below is not of me or my class, but I found it on one of Katie’s blogs, and it gives you the idea.
Whenever I told them a Secret, I would make a huge deal about how they were ‘grown-up’ reading and writing secrets, and that no other kids were allowed to know them! Then throughout the rest of the day, I would introduce other Secrets, as we needed them to read and spell words that we would frequently use or encounter (i.e. student names, high-frequency sight words, color words, math words, etc…). Then we could use these Secrets to crack even more words that we came across. Once you begin telling Secrets, there is a sort of “snowball-effect,” which quickly takes on a life of its own, as the kids start to drive their own learning!
Over the next two weeks, I had introduced them all authentically. I purposefully searched for ways to introduce them to the class that would be meaningful.
I introduced Secrets to help us read and write the names of students in our class. Kids love to talk about, explore and “play” with their own names, as well as their friends’ names. They especially loved keeping track of whose names had which Secrets in them, often alerting visitors to our class that they had a Secret in their name, but then refusing to tell them what it was….because of course, it’s a “secret!”
I introduced Secrets that we found in our read-aloud mini-lessons. And while I don’t have a picture of this from my own classroom, I did find this video of Katie doing the same.
Word Study in Math
When talking about Math Workshop, I introduced the Secrets that we needed to read those words (/th/ and /sh/). I really wanted the kids to see the Secrets as their own, personal keys to unlock any word—not something that was confined to our reading lesson. The video below demonstrates this point.
As we practiced walking around our building, trying to learn where places were located, I would point out the Secrets in words that we saw on the walls. I asked parents to send in environmental print, and we would use the words they brought in each day to teach more Secrets. For example, to read the store name, Target, we learned the Secret about /ar/.
When we saw the word Walmart, we needed the /al/ Secret to crack it, along with the previously learned Secret about /ar/. Learning was authentic and continually spiraling. Secrets were shared and re-shared, with the kids never tiring of re-telling old Secrets and learning new ones. And all this was happing simultaneously to picking up the individual letters and sounds with muscle memory, via our Better Alphabet Song (sung twice a day, every day!) I actually caught one of my little guys, who was obsessed with this song, singing it to himself at recess, and I recorded it, as he was just so cute! It’s the video below.
Now I’ll admit that teaching all of the Secrets in the first two weeks of kindergarten isn’t what Katie says to do in her book, but my kids were so hungry to hear more Secrets, that I thought, why not? After all, they’re just stories….and who worries about telling kids too many stories??
I know what you’re thinking (especially if you teach kindergarten), but before you judge, just remember that I wasn’t “teaching” skills, I was telling stories! Stories that they loved and would beg to hear! Also, having never taught kindergarten before, I had no preconceived notions about what kindergartners could and couldn’t do. All I knew was that they kept begging me to tell them just “one more Secret”….and so I did! And every one that I told came back to me like a boomerang in our daily reading and writing—which would only motivate me to tell more! (I literally could not keep a secret- Lol!)
The more Secrets I told them, the more they wanted. The more Secrets they had, the more words they could read and write. Secret skill transfer to reading and writing was easy and natural, as it is only for these purposes that Secrets were shared, so kids automatically made this connection, unlike with an isolated phonics skill lesson. And unlike a phonics “program,” Secrets aren’t grade-specific, and there are no scripted lessons to follow, making it easy to work them into everything you do—any time, any where, and for any purpose….without any prep!
One of the first things that I discovered in kindergarten was that five-year-olds were just as excited to hear the Secrets as I was to tell them! The more excitement I showed, the more they showed, and the more they were learning without even knowing! Without any prompting, they were finding Secrets everywhere, and then telling each other their “secret” sounds. I was constantly amazed at how their little eyes lit up every time they spotted Secrets that they knew in words—from reading passages, to the cafeteria menu, to signs in the hallway. I was even told by parents that “Secret-spottings” were happening at home on newspapers, magazine covers, and even on signs! These little kindergartners were quickly realizing that everywhere there were words, there were Secrets, and that they had the keys to unlock them.
My “original” Secret Stories book….well-loved and well-used! Kids loved to play with it at centers.
On the 100th day of school, I asked my kids to write about their favorite part of kindergarten, and almost all them said it was learning Secret Stories! These kids were on fire, absorbing and learning everything they could about this ‘grown-up’ world of reading and writing! All day long, they were pointing them out, and I would tell them that we were “stamping our brains” with new Secrets each time we found them in text.
If we were reading poems, they wanted to circle the Secrets. In read-aloud, they wanted to come up and put highlighter tape on the Secrets. Even in math, science and social studies, they were always “on the hunt” for Secrets. They were obsessed, and it was wonderful! It was so much fun watching their excited conversations about what the Superhero Vowels® were doing, and whether they would “say their name” or be “short and lazy” (if Mommy E® or the Babysitter Vowels® weren’t around). Both their reading AND writing just soared!
To see just how obsessed they were with the Secrets, check out this video that was sent to me by one of my parents of their child’s birthday party. In the caption, the father wrote, “The secrets really ARE everywhere!”
Secret Stories to Sound Out Words for Reading
When my students are reading and come upon an unknown word, I don’t tell them what it is. Instead, I tell them to look for the Secrets.
Several years ago, when I started teaching first grade and hadn’t yet discovered Secret Stories, my kids were usually unsuccessful when attempting to sound out most words, unless they were simple C-V-C words, like cat, bed, cut, etc… Now that my kids know the Secrets, they wouldn’t even start sounding out a word without first noticing the Secrets that are in it. For example, before they knew the Secrets, my first graders might try to sound out the word first like this, “ff-ih-ruh-ss-tuh,” making each letter sound individually. With the Secrets, even my kindergartners will automatically say, “f-ir-st,” because they immediately notice the Secrets and blends.
This is another reason why it is so important that all of the Secret Stories posters are up on your wall where kids can easily see them, as it’s the first place they’ll look when they can’t read or spell a word. It’s also important to encourage them to use the motions or action that naturally goes along with each story sound. Unlike a “program” (i.e. Zoo Phonics, Letterland, Jolly Phonics, etc…) the Secret Stories motions aren’t arbitrary actions that you have to know and remember, but just the natural physical response of engaging in the action/making the sound, like holding the steering wheel and slamming on the pretend brakes when saying, “Errrrrrrrrr” (for er/ir/ur) or sticking your tongue out and making a mean face when saying “thhhhhhhhhh” (for /th/).
We don’t just “stamp our brains” with the pictures, but with the sounds and actions as well! All children learn differently, and the more modalities we can incorporate in our learning, the more connections we make in our brains! Secret Stories’ multi-sensory instruction activates all of the senses—see it, say it, do it and even FEEL it— for deep learning, which is why the Secrets “stick” so easily, even for kindergartners. The visual below is actually from Katie’s session handout, but I wanted to add it here to show how a multi-sensory approach to instruction (especially for phonics) helps to forge deeper learning connections in the brain.
Kindergarten in December
The following videos are of students in my class, who you will see looking up at the wall behind them to find the Secrets they need to decode the words they’re trying to read. I always give them a little time before asking what Secret (or Secrets) they see. These clips are from early December, back when they were still learning how to actively decode new words. As their decoding ability improved, we were able to focus more on fluency, which you will see in later videos further down below.
*Note that these are “cold” readings of instructional-level text, which means that it offers some challenges, based on their current reading level, which of course, is different for each child. Most often, in guided reading, I intentionally select more challenging text (rather than easier books) so as to give them words that they might struggle with a bit, so as to help them stretch and grow as readers.
Teaching the Reader, Not the Reading
The Secret Stories reach every child. My ESL students and little ones on IEPs were able to pick them up just as easily as the rest of my kids. No matter how a child learns, the Secrets just make sense. Kids who aren’t yet developmentally ready to read still love to hear and tell the stories—talking about them like they would their favorite TV or video game characters. But for kids who are ready, these simple stories open up a whole new world of reading and writing for them to explore! Because the Secrets apply to everything we do in kindergarten, reinforcing them is easy and can be done with high, medium and low-level learners, simultaneously. While higher-level learners are able to transfer knowledge of the story to the sounds and letter patterns they need for reading and writing, lower-level learners are simply enjoying knowing and telling the story, not yet realizing the power that it holds.
The first time that I did a Running Record on a child in kindergarten after having introduced all the Secret Stories, I was in shock! Our reading was off the charts, and so were our scores. Once my kindergartners had successfully gotten me to spill all of the Secrets (yes, I blame them!) they were unstoppable. The best part of teaching kindergarten was watching the extreme progression from kids knowing little-to-no letter sounds to becoming full-fledged readers! The transformation was incredible. The second best part was seeing their excitement as they evolved as readers and writers. I only wish that I would have recorded this child at the beginning of the year when he still didn’t know all of his letters or sounds!
Kindergarten Reading Level – Late Fall
Kindergarten Reading Level – Winter
It was around this time in mid-December, just before the holiday break, that I sent Katie the following update….
I just completed our F&P (Fountas & Pinnell) assessments yesterday and today on my kindergarten class! Our kids have to be at a level D by the END of the year, and more than half of my kids are already there, with 10 reading between levels F-I! And most didn’t even know their letters and sounds at the beginning of the year!
Not having ever taught kindergarten before, I am just floored by their progress! I was in first grade for the past 11 years, so I was not sure how quickly kindergartners would learn the sounds and put it together in order to read fluently. Well, by December, they were reading and comprehending!!!!♥️If anyone ever wonders if the Secrets work in Kindergarten, they should hear these angels read and comprehend. I myself am amazed! Sorry, but had to brag about Secret Stories! I know all of the teachers out there who use it will get it! 🙂
PS We also do Maps Testing, and I can’t wait to see the difference in overall growth from September to December! I will share that when I get it.
Below is my kindergarten F&P data showing where we were in December, as well as their overall growth by the end of the school year.
“Fountas & Pinnell” Reading Level Assessments
Note that by the end of the school year, 50% were reading at “end of first grade” level, having passed level J (the highest level-assessment allowed for kindergarten by the district). This is compared to 6% of kindergartners, district-wide (including students from non-Title I schools).
Our district also uses MAP Testing with a projected RIT score to show where kids should be by the end of the year. Those who use NWEA MAP will better understand the data below. For those who don’t, the projected RIT score is for Spring. As you can imagine, several students had already surpassed the projected RIT score by Winter testing. Our administration looks at the percent of projected growth met, which should be around 100% by the end of the year. Anything above that indicates how much more a student grew than was expected from their RIT score.
On average, there should be about a 10-point growth from Fall to Spring. The assessment data below shows growth from both winter and spring. Keep in mind that these assessments are just a snapshot of the entire child, and do not inform what is good overall growth. They are most useful to ensure that all students are continuing to move—from the lowest to the highest. Average student growth on this assessment is traditionally between 80%-120% percent. My average student this year in kindergarten was over 200%.
Kindergarten “Map” Testing – Reading
As I stated above, while data is important, it provides only a snapshot of the whole child, especially in kindergarten. Secret Stories have improved my scores immensely over the years, so I no longer worry about testing, as we are always way ahead of where we need to be, midway through the year. Not having to worry about teaching the “reading” means that I can focus more on teaching the reader. That’s where I can invest my time and energy, not on sight word lists and reading “practice!”
Word Work Activities and Phonics Play
Midway through kindergarten, my class had become highly-skilled word detectives, and our “word work” was never limited to our reading block! We circled and highlighted Secrets in the stories and poems we read, put highlighting tape on our big books, and were always on the look-out for Secrets hiding both in and outside of our classroom! Reading and writing was never limited to an isolated “phonics” or “word work” time; it was immersed into every part of our day! Whenever Secret phonics patterns were spotted, we would circle or highlight them. Then we tap out the word, chunking each Secret Story sound together (instead of saying the letters sounds individually). For example, if we came across the word thirds in Math, we would highlight the letters /th/ and /ir/, and then tap and sound it out as, it out as “th-ir-d-s” (as opposed to “t-h-i-r-d-s”). We would even use a large magnifying glass to show how the Secret letter patterns should jump out at you before you start reading them!
Using a document camera, we would look at poems, like the one about leprechauns, below. We would then circle all of the Secrets we could find and read it aloud, together. If you walked into my room, you would see that no matter what paper I put in front of them, they would all find and circle the Secrets before I even mentioned looking for them.
Secret Stories Hunts
Another fun opportunity for phonics play is going on Secret Story “Hunts,” as this is a great way to strengthen beginning learners’ visual acuity to quickly recognize letter patterns in text. While we often do this at guided reading with our little books, we also like to “hunt” for Secrets in words all around our classroom. We can hunt for words that contain a specific Secret Story pattern, or for words with any Secret Stories patterns! We can also use a timer to make it into a contest to see who can find the most—although to win, they have to be able to READ all of the words that they “captured!” Another fun twist is to extend the hunt to the hallway, the cafeteria, the principal’s office, or even the entire school! The picture below shows the kids going on a Secret Stories Hunt around our classroom.
“Sentence of the Day” and Focus Words
We also have a “Sentence of the Day” book, which we make and do together every day. The students start at the carpet with me, and I introduce the sentence and our focus word.
For example, in the video below, the sentence was, “She is not in school today?” with the focus word, not.At the beginning of the year, I would have to read the sentence to them a few times, but at this point, they are doing a cold read of the sentences to me. We literally take apart the sentence. The students look for Secret Stories, punctuation, capitalization, plus anything else they happen to notice, and then we pull out one word, and think of more words that rhyme with it.
This is a great way to reinforce awareness that if they know how to read and spell the word not, then they can also read and spell the words lot, hot, rot, shot, etc… or, as in the next clip below, if they know how to read and spell the word will, they can also read and spell words like: hill, pill, fill, chill, etc… This activity is a powerful one, as it reinforces everything they know about reading and writing, and provides an easy to way to informally assess their ability to apply the Secrets. It’s also a great way to increase phonemic awareness, as well as recognition of word families for both reading and spelling, but without causing confusion between simple word letter patterns (like -op, -at, -it, etc…) with Secrets (which are the sounds letters make when they don’t do what they should!)
Once we have finished, we then read the sentences three or four times (or more at the beginning of the year). Then the kids go back to their seats, write the word four times, and then write the sentence in their very best handwriting. When finished, students will raise their hands and read it to me. When first starting to read, I have them point to each word as they are reading it so that they can practice one-to-one correspondence, which some students continue doing through the year.
Merry-Go-Round Phonics Instruction
I can’t stress enough the importance of activating all of the modalities in learning practice—the visual, the auditory and the kinesthetic. Whenever we would spot Secrets, we would always reference the poster (visual) while making the sound (auditory) and doing the motion (kinesthetic). By presenting information to the brain from as many angles as possible, Secret Stories fosters deep connections that learners can’t forget. Katie talks about how Secret Stories offers kids a “merry-go-round” for learning that just keeps spinning, giving kids who need it more time “jump on,” and giving them never-ending opportunities to do so. We keep our merry-go-round spinning by always taking the time to re-tell the story, reference to the poster, and engage in the action with the sound. This constant reinforcement of what the Secret is, where it lives (on the wall), and the sound (or sounds) it makes helps to ensure that our merry-go-round never leaves anyone behind—regardless of where they are in the learning process.
Whenever we stand in line before leaving the classroom, one student gets to take my pointer and be the teacher, pointing to the different Secret Stories posters (or words on other posters) hanging in the room. Whatever words were pointed to, the kids would have to read as quickly as they could. This simple game actually had a big impact on their learning, and was well worth the extra five minutes it took to line up. It was during these short, little 3-5 minute windows that I first began to see them evolving into readers before my eyes! Their writing was also improving with each passing day, as they got better and better at using the the posters to transcribe the sounds they heard into readable words.
Using Secret Stories with the Reading and Writing Workshop Model
Our district has used Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Workshop Model for the past 15 years. Before the Secrets, I would follow the Readers/Writers Workshop books like they were my Bible!
I was teaching first grade when I first heard about the Secret Stories from my sister, who was also a first grade teacher, as her school had just purchased them. She would rave and rave about them, telling me all about her school’s success. I was intrigued, but as with any new “program,” I was a little apprehensive. The last thing I needed was something else to teach, and I didn’t really want another book with more lessons that I would have to squeeze into my already overstuffed day. But once she explained how easy it was, and that it really wasn’t a “program” at all, I was all in!
I decided to purchase it with my own money and immediately begin introducing it to my first grade class. Some of my first graders at the time were already reading, while others were still working on letter sounds and sight words, though all of them were captivated by these little “secret” stories. A wave of learning began to rise across the different levels in my classroom, with everyone taking something away from each Secret that I told.
I could write a big word on the board, like for example, vacation or assumption, and while my stronger readers would use the Secrets to silently sound out the word, my lower-level readers would be equally excited to just look for the Secrets and tell their stories while acting out their sounds. Despite the different levels, we could all go back and blend the letter sounds and Secrets together to read the word aloud. To me, this is the epitome of what Katie refers to as, “Buffet-Style” Instruction, with all level learners able to come to the table and “eat” what they’re ready for! The result was a no-prep “multi-tiered” word work activity that not only reinforced the Secrets, but also that no matter our age or grade level, if we knew the Secrets, we could figure out 99% of the words we encounter! (And if you’re wondering how this would work with words that don’t follow phonics rules, that’s actually the most fun part….getting to be “Word Doctors,” which you can read more about here.)
Phonics Units of Study /Phonics Workshop Model
This school year, our district adopted the new Lucy Calkins TCRWP Phonics Units of Study/Phonics Workshop for kindergarten and first grade. This was another thing that I was concerned about when moving to Kindergarten, as I was unsure how to incorporate Secret Stories with a phonics program.
We didn’t receive our TCRWP Phonics Units Teacher Kits until October, so during a professional development on how to use them, we were told to begin on book 2. given that book 1 was geared toward the very first few weeks of kindergarten and we were now two months in. Once I got started, I quickly realized that my students already knew all the concepts—not only book 2, but in book 3, as well. So I had to jump ahead to book 4, and even then, I was able to skip several more lessons that my kids were already able to do.
The reason I was able to skip so many books was not just because we’d already learned all of the skills presented, but because we had been using them daily in everything we do. And while this might seem as though it would present a conflict, it’s actually quite the opposite! Because we didn’t need to engage in any of the phonics skill introduction or practice work in the program, we were able to take full advantage of the open-ended, extension activities for authentic reading and writing that the program offered. The Phonics Units turned out to be a perfect “playground” on which we could flex our Secret Stories “muscles” in a variety of ways for reading and writing!
In the Phonics Units of Study, Lucy Caulkins stresses that in order for beginning learners to be able to transfer phonics skills to reading and writing, they need faster access to them. But unlike the Phonics Units, which deliver phonics skills by grade level across kindergarten, first and second, Secret Stories fast-tracks the WHOLE code in kindergarten by giving kids a way to understand letter sound behavior—so they don’t need to memorize everything, or learn through rote practice. So then, why wait? The more tools we bring to the table, the more value we can take away….and that goes for any reading series or program!
Prior to adopting the Phonics Units of Study, our district required kindergarten students to know 25 sight words by the end of the school year, while first graders had to know 115 before moving on to second grade. In December, I decided to go ahead and test those students who were ready on all of the first grade words, even though our district only requires the 25. Suffice it to say that I actually had to contact our central office and complain (in a nice way) that the online entry system would not allow me to enter anything above a “99” in the field for kindergarten because it only registered two-digit numbers. (They changed it for me! :-)
So here we were, barely half way through kindergarten, and most of the kids could already read all of the 115 first grade words or more! (You can imagine how cocky they were, especially the ones with first grade siblings!)
Kindergarten Sight Word Mastery (Baseline & Mid-Year Assessment)
I’ve always loved using Secret Stories with Writers Workshop, as the two really do go hand-in-hand! Each day I do a mini-lesson and I model, model, model! Then, before students go back to their seats to begin their own writing, we spend a few minutes discussing what they notice in my writing—highlighting, circling, or using highlighting tape to mark all of the Secret Stories that they see. When they are doing their own writing, they are using the Secret Stories posters constantly.
As they tap their arm to segment the sounds that they hear in each word, they know which Secrets make each sound, and can refer to the posters to see how to write it, or just to self-check. Each student also has a Porta-Pic in in their desk folders for easy access that they can refer to anytime they are reading or writing. Kids can take them home for reading and writing there (since they won’t have access to the posters) as well as to their resource/pull-out classrooms (for those who go).
The following video clips show our Writers Workshop time at the beginning of the school, as well as midway through the year. You will notice that at the beginning of the year, students focus more on drawing the pictures and just trying to get some letters down on the page, whereas by the end of the year, they are writing books.
Kindergarten Writing Workshop – Fall
Kindergarten Writing Workshop – Winter
Play-Based Learning & Phonics Fun
During center choice time, my students love to use the puppets and pretend to be the teacher teaching the Secrets. Recently, one student asked if we could make Superhero Vowel puppets. This led to an entire STEAM lesson, and ended with our making puppets for all of the Secrets, and even putting on our own puppet shows!
I divided students into groups of four, and each group had to design and create their own puppets using supplies from our classroom, and then create a skit. Once they made their puppets, they worked with their partners to rehearse their skits. Then each group presented their puppet show to the class. Once all of the skits were finished, students sat and shared their puppets and the sounds that they made.
Play-based, cooperative learning is so much more valuable than any scripted lesson, not to mention a lot more fun! With the Secrets, kids already own the skills, so the real learning lies in their discovery of how to use them. In early grade classrooms, there are endless opportunities to “play” as readers and writers! And I believe that this is why the kids love learning the Secrets so much—because they give them more to play with! They associate the Secrets with fun, play, and stories!
Here are some short clips from our Secret Stories puppet-play—
/ch/ and /ed/
Short and Long Vowel Sounds (a.k.a. Superhero Vowels & their ‘Short & Lazy’ Sounds)
The 3 Sounds for Y (a.k.a. Sneaky Y®)
Reading fluency is key as phonics skills become second nature, and one way to encourage it is through song! We love to read, write and SING our way to fluency! First, we read a book about our favorite animal, then we write about it, and then we sing about it! Check out this talented little one sharing her “All About Animals” writing about raccoons, to the tune of “Party in the USA!” It’s adorable!!
As a teacher in a Primary K-1 building for over 13 years, when students would leave, I wouldn’t get to see them again unless they come back to visit. When they did, I would always ask them to read to us, and then I would let my little ones ask them questions. Once question that they always ask is, “What did you learn that helped you the most?” and the response is almost always, “Secret Stories.” I love knowing that I have given them a gift that continues to help them grow as readers and writers, long after they leave my classroom.
Teacher Expertise in Phonics Secret Stories
The best way to start Secret Stories is to jump right in and don’t overthink it!
Secret Stories give beginning grade learners easy access to all of the code they need to read and write long-before they will be formally introduced by your reading series or phonics program (as per traditional grade level scope and sequences). THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM—it’s a gift!
All you have to do is tell the story and then plug in its sound (for reading) or the letter patterns (for spelling/writing). Telling a Secret to explain strange letter behavior will never (I repeat, NEVER!) conflict with anything else you are doing—no matter what reading series or even phonics “program” you are using! It’s simply giving meaning to letters and sounds that would otherwise have none—and thus, would need to be repeatedly practiced as “skills” (instead of stories).
While Secret Stories is systematic and explicit with introduction of “most-needed” (highest-frequency) first, you can also share and use Secrets as you need them throughout the instructional day! Never limit them to just language arts time, because remember, they’re not a “program,” they’re tools for both you and your students! Secrets should never be taught in isolation, but immersed into everything that you do, and talked about everywhere you go (which kids will naturally do anyway whenever they see words!)
Remember to take advantage of every opportunity to make your students’ learning authentic, but don’t wait too long to introduce all the Secrets. And to all my fellow kindergarten teachers out there, DO NOT WAIT for kids to know the individual letter sounds before you start telling them Secrets! That’s like waiting for kids to learn Bob’s name before introducing them to Tabitha, just because her name has a /th/ in it!
And most important of all, GET EXCITED! If you’re excited, then your kids will be excited! (This is actually the easiest part, as you won’t be able to help yourself!)
Children are like sponges, soaking up everything around them to grow. And my little sponges grew beyond my wildest expectations! All I had to do was feed them the Secrets, and then watch them grow into real-life readers and writers!
There’s an elephant in your classroom.
And it’s huge.
You sweep by it every day in your classroom, several times in fact, and probably without ever even noticing. It’s most conspicuous during morning calendar time, as that’s its favorite time of day.
If you can’t see, watch this.
So now that you’ve spotted the elephant, it’s time to get rid of it!
Think of Secret Stories® as your “elephant-exterminator!” The Secrets are the logical explanations for letter sound behavior that learners’ brains crave! They are the reasons WHY letters “do what they do” when they don’t do what they should!
Giving Beginning Readers Easy Access to “High-Leverage” Phonics Skills
There is perhaps nowhere that elephant exterminator is needed more than on our morning calendar, especially when it comes to the letter Y!
It’s literally everywhere, and not once can it be found making the ONE sound that beginning grade learners are told to expect it to, which is “yuh!” as in: yellow, yes, you and yak.
Instead, it makes different sounds, one that seem belong to other letters, like in the words: January, February, May, July, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday,
Y is literally everywhere, yet not one time does it ever say, “yuh!”And the classroom calendar isn’t the only place these elephants like to roam.
We can see their tracks on the “boy’s” bathroom and in the books that we read “by” so and so author. They are even hiding in many of our favorite words, like: mommy, daddy, candy, etc…
It seems we have elephants running around everywhere!
Making Phonics Make Sense
When you don’t make sense, it’s time to tell a “Secret!”
Time to load-up on that “secret” elephant-spray so that we can make the sounds of Y make sense, and in doing so, give kids a much-needed reading and writing tool! (If you want to read more on this “elephant-extermination” process, read this article.)
And now, there is a “new and improved” elephant spray in the form of a power-packed guided reader that’s all about Sneaky Y® and his sneaky shenanigans! It’s called Sneaky Y’s Secret and it explains how Sneaky Y® got to be so sneaky! (Special thanks to Susan Eklove for the adorable text and Poco & Pop for the beautiful illustrations!)
If you are subscribed to the Secret News Blast, you should have already received a free download link for the Sneaky Y® Guided Reader in your email. If not ,subscribe now and never miss a Secret!
In closing, remember this “cool dude” from the video up above?
He’s not really Fonzie, but a kindergarten teacher from Washington State, and I he’d sent me the following email, along with that adorable video clip….
My name is Daniel and I teach kindergarten in Washington State. Last year my school district adopted a new reading curriculum and when my team examined the leveled readers before the start of the school year, we were initially in shock. We had no idea how our students were expected to read the new complex text introduced so early in the curriculum. After our initial reaction started to subside we got very motivated to create and find innovating and engaging methods for teaching more advanced phonics skills.
Around November I stumbled across a pin on Pinterest with the Secret Story posters for the R-controlled vowels, etc… I had seen it before and I thought it was a neat idea, but I had never clicked on the link. When I clicked on it and found your website and realized the scope of how many secret stories there were, I got really excited and shared it with my teaching partners who shared in my enthusiasm. They were the perfect solution to our problem! We made up a few secret stories on our own before convincing our school to purchase them for our grade level, but by January we had them and made the full commitment to implement them.
By the end of the year, we had by far the most students reading the Beyond Leveled Readers in the district, and many students needed even more challenging text. By the summer I started presenting about the Secret Stories to other teachers in my district and adjacent ones, and ever since I have been trying to share this amazing resource with as many teachers as I can.
After last year’s success, we wanted to step it up a notch this year, so we decided to create a video where we acted out every Secret Story. It took us 2 months to complete, but we are proud of the result. We’ve had our students watch it many times and they are making even more connections to the stories. Sometimes it is a gesture that one of us did that resonates with them, or remembering who acted out the story that helps the students remember the sound. It has proven to have been a very useful project and new resource.
We had a lot of fun doing it, and we would be honored if you had some time in your schedule to watch it. Thank you so much for this amazing resource and inspiring us to want to be the best reading teachers for our students as possible!
Until Next Time,
PS The registration deadline for the week-long South Dakota Kindergarten Academy this summer is fast approaching, and the preK/Kinder days have sold out. For all those who were unable to get into the PK/K workshop, you are encouraged to sign up for the 1st/2nd grade workshop, as the strategies and content covered in both sessions are applicable across the primary grade levels!
For information on bringing Katie to your school or district for workshops, click here.
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/elephant-2Bin-2Bthe-2Broom.png496372Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2017-04-22 03:00:002021-02-04 10:08:14How to Teach the Sounds of Y (a.k.a. Sneaky Y®) so kids just GET IT!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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!
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 xylophoneor 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.
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.
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 Display
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!
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.
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.
I have the “Original” posters, so do I need to cut them down?
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.
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!
It Takes More Than Individual Letter Sounds to Read and Write!
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
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
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! ;-)
Rough-housing /ou/ and /ow/ saying “Owwwww!” No worries.
Secret Stories® Phonics ou/ow Secret!
“Look and spooky”….?
Knowing the Secret, he switched sounds for /oo/ like a pro!
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!)
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….
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!
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!
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.
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!)
For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here.
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/sample_er_ur_ir_color.gif502600Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2015-01-17 00:57:002021-01-10 15:07:08“Phonics on Steroids” for Kindergarten Reading and Writing
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