Saturday, April 22, 2017

How to Teach the "Sounds of Y" so that kids GET IT!

The "Prequel" to the SECRET STORY about Sneaky Y®!
Yes, it really can be THAT easy! 

"The Secret Stories® are the lifeblood of our classroom.  They are always in view, always in our whole group and small group conversations.  We can't read words without them.  They are our best friends.  They are the tools the students are taking with them to second grade!"              
Tara S./ 1st Grade Teacher
I want to apologize for the long delay between blog posts, as I definitely overdid it this year with my conference and PD schedule, and now I have so many exciting things to share that I don't even know where to start!

So, I've decided to break up all that I want to share into bits and pieces over the next couple of weeks in a series of blog posts, so if you're subscribed to my blog, you won't miss a trick— beginning with a sale on the latest digital Secret Stories® product— "Sneaky Y®'s Secret! A SECRET STORIES® Reader w/Puppet Craft for 3 Sounds of Y!" 

This "prequel-like" story tells Sneaky Y®'s Secret, and explains how he actually got so sneaky!  I want to thank Susan Eklove and the "other" Susan of Poco & Pop for their brilliantly creative story and illustration adaptations.  (Keep an eye out for similar Secret Story "prequels" about the Superhero Vowels®, Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowels®, which are currently in the works!)

"Sneaky Y®'s Secret" will be on sale through Monday!

And for those who are reading this that 
don't know the "SECRETS" and are wondering about the sound that makes in words like they, play and day, that's not Sneaky Y®, that's the ey/ay Secret, as shown, below and discussed here this previous post.

And if you're following me on Twitter, or if you' "like" Secret Stories® on Facebook, then you may have have also seen these cute renditions by both students AND teachers....

Now this teacher really IS just "too cool!"  Ayyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeee!  
(And if you're reading this blog post as an email and can't view this video, it's definitely worth clicking onto the actual blog post to watch!) 

And there's lots more where that came from! 
Some incredible teachers from Washington State spent two months creating these wonderful videos to bring the Secret Stories® to life for their students!  

They sent me the following email—

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!

Daniel M. 
Kindergarten Teacher

Can you imagine how excited I was?!!  
What FUN their students must have in their classrooms!

I'll be sharing some more of these awesome clips in subsequent posts, but since r-controlled vowels I mentioned, I thought I'd go ahead and post this one about the er/ir/ur Secret now— LOVE the props!

ER/IR/UR Secret Stories® Fun & Funky Poster
And this is just a small taste of all that I've been saving up to share!  I promise that my next post will come quickly and be packed with even more big surprises that you definitely won't want to miss! 

There's just one more thing that I need to share now, as the deadline is fast approaching and one session is already sold-out!  It's the registration for the South Dakota Kindergarten Academy, where I'll be presenting TWO 2-day workshops June 19th-22nd for PK-2. Any PreK/Kinder teachers who were unable to get into the first session, you should definitely sign up for the second one, as the strategies and content covered in both sessions are applicable across all primary grade levels.  For more information on how to register, visit the Kindergarten Academy Facebook Page or email

That's all for now, but keep an eye out for the next installment, as it will be coming shortly!

 Until Next Time,
Katie Garner

FREEBIE-ALERT!! While you're checking out Sneaky Y®'s Secret on TpT, be sure to also snag the FREE Secret Stories® Guided Reader, Dean's Treehouse before it reverts back to a "for-sale" product early next week!
SECRET STORIES® Guided Reader— Dean's Treehouse

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Aha! Moment of Teaching

Another professional development day....
Oh joy, another 8 hours of sitting while thinking of all the productive things I could be accomplishing in my classroom!  

That’s what many teachers think when we hear the dreaded “training days” agenda.

That all changed in October 2016 when I heard Katie Garner speak about the Secret Stories® at my school.  It was the best 8 hours of any training I had ever attended.  I walked away with a renewed motivation.  I could not wait to share this tool with my students!   

Upon arriving at school the day after Katie's workshop, the students immediately noticed and questioned the “secret” posters hanging in our room.  I informed them that I had attended a top secret training and I was allowed to share the secrets with them as I felt they were ready.  Instant engagement!  And from that moment on, their curiosity has guided the introduction and instruction of the Secret Stories®.

Later that morning, I shared the first secret with my students.  We just happened to be introducing the sight word “the” and one of my littles noticed that it had a /th/ in it just like the secret poster on the wall.  So because they had noticed, I very dramatically told them the time had come.  I shut the door, gathered them together, and told them their first secret.  From then on, you could say the rest is history.  

Each time I introduced a new secret, it was because of their interest and recognition of the letters in the secrets to words they found in their names... while we were reading, doing calendar activities, completing morning work, during math instruction, or even just walking down the hallway!  

This is my ninth year of teaching, and my fourth year teaching Kindergarten, and I can honestly say this has been the most exciting year of my career.  I have seen so much growth in my students since introducing the Secret Stories® into our room, and the best part about it is... the kids LOVE it!  They are able to read, blend, manipulate word inflections, and write words with fluency, understanding, and confidence! 

Here is some of our writing from October— 
BEFORE Secret Stories®

Now check out our January "ocean-themed" writing— 
just two months AFTER the Secret Stories®

Students finding "Secrets" in their names— 
Er, ir ur love to go driving in cars......"ERRRRR!"

Mommy E® tells 'o' to SAY HIS NAME!

Au & aw have huge crushes on each other...."Ahhhhhh!"
Sneaky Y® will always be sneaky when he's at the end and thinks no one can see him!

The Secret Stories® posters— my favorite classroom visuals!
Here are some of our Secrets!
The Superhero Vowels® in our alphabet train—
and their 'short & lazy' sound-disguises!

Guest Post by— 

Chastity Sharp/ Kindergarten Teacher

George Ward Elementary in Elkins, West Virginia 

Thanks so much to Chastity for this peek into her classroom and incredible kiddos!  I'm excited to hear more as her kinders continue to progress this school year!

Check out the live Facebook Videos from my sessions this year at CCIRA in Denver on the Secret Stories® Facebook Page! (Just scroll down a couple posts down the page to find all 3 clips :)

Live Facebook Video of Sessions at 2017 CCIRA

For more up-to-date speaking information, 
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Monday, January 2, 2017

"Butter or Buter?" The Best Vowel-Trick EVER!

"Why do I have to write two T's in the word butter when I only hear one sound? 
And how do I know whether to make the long or short sound for the letter u?" 

As teachers, we know that the trick to figuring this out is based on the syllabic division of a word.
VCV (vowel—consonant—vowel) = "open" syllable = long sound (as in bite)
VCCV (vowel—consonant—consonant—vowel) = "closed" syllable = short sound (as in bitter)

But for early and struggling, upper grade learners,  this "trick" can actually be more confusing than the problem it solves, thus making an already difficult task seem even more complicated, especially for the average "concrete-thinker" (which early learners are).

If you've been following my blog (or are using the SECRET STORIES®) then you know how quickly and easily the Mommy E™ and Babysitter Vowels™ secrets are an easy-fix for this pervasive problem. This is because kids already know that when their Mommy (or Babysitter) is nearby, they have to behave and do what they're told! And when they are not, all behavior-bets are off!

Framing the abstract VCV/VCCV concepts in this way activates the affective thinking ("feeling") domain— an earlier developing area of the brain that is far more accessible to very young and/or struggling learners, making it a perfect "backdoor-route" for critical skill acquisition!

So let's take a peek at this kinder guided reading session to see just how easy it is...

These "social-emotive" (affective) learning connections to Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowels® are already deeply entrenched within the learner, and it is this inherent understanding that easily and effortlessly drives their decision-making when working with unfamiliar text. 
Excerpt from the NEW Secret Stories® Book—Version 2.0!

Simplified alternatives— like sparkly e or magic e are much less effective for a few reasons:
—Their identity/behavior is arbitrary and not rooted in what kids already know and understand (i.e. one more thing to learn)
—They often will only apply to single syllable, silent e words (bike, rake, use, etc...)

And bossy e, super e, lazy e, etc... don't provide much bang-for-the-buck either, as they work only when the vowel is an e—leaving learners high and dry when attempting to decode all other V—C—V/V—C—C—V words, like motor, making, radar, etc...

All kids need to know is that much like their own mommy, sometimes Mommy E® just has to get out of the house! And when she does, she'll put another vowel in charge, and that's the Babysitter. The Babysitter Vowel™ just does what Mommy would do if she were there, which is to tell any vowel that's one letter away, "You say your name!" Works like a charm every time!
The Babysitter Vowels™
See for yourself in this video clip...

Knowing about the Mommy E® and Babysitter Vowels® instantly equip even the youngest four or five year old learners with the "best-betting-odds for Las Vegas" when it comes to the most-likely sound a vowel will make in a word—even if it's a word they've never seen before!

That's the benefit of storing complex phonics skills in the affective learning domain, rather than the later developing, executive functioning centers. It's also why these brain-based tricks for critical phonemic skill mastery are a 'must-have' for every reading teacher (and their students!)

So back to the original question at the top of this post— 
"Is there an easy way for beginning learners to understand why there are two T's in words like butter?"

YES! But it's a "secret!" ;)
However, you can watch this short video clip from a recent staff inservice PD/workshop to find out!

Until Next Time,
Katie Garner 

Visit my speaker website 
to view my upcoming conference and PD dates!