How the Biggest Student Motivator in My Classroom is Top Secret! Shhh!

biggest-student-motivator Top Secret! A file folder with "top secret" stamped on it. For Secret Stories

I would never have dreamed that the biggest student motivator in my kindergarten classroom would become…wait for it…a PHONICS PROGRAM. Yep. You read that right.

What originally was a last-ditch hail mary attempt – became my ride-or-die. After spring break, during the nightmare covid school year, I had a mere few weeks to try to close a gap that seemed bigger than the Grand Canyon. To my surprise, not only was the gap closed, but the spirit, excitement, and sheer LOVE of reading were born so quickly in my kindergarten classroom I knew I'd found something magical.

I'm going to share with you how I implemented the Secrets in just a few months – and how I now start the school year with them!


first-day-in-kindergarten-ready-for-kindergarten

Speaking of something that should NOT be kept a secret…Everything you need to know before your child heads to kindergarten!

I'm MORE than happy to tell you EVERYTHING that kindergarten teachers would love for you to know before that first day in kindergarten. Some things you just don't know, you NEED to know!

Download my FREE pdf, and you will be SO ready whether you start in the fall or still have a couple of years to go! YOU GOT THIS! 😉


The Secret Stories

I was thinking back to what first prompted me to investigate the Secret Stories. We were rounding the corner of Q3 and fast approaching our kindergarten finish line. We had started the year virtually, which was…traumatizing and also hilarious.

Have you ever done a one-woman show for 20 five-year-olds? Trying to keep their attention through the screen – with their parents watching?? Well…it's humbling. Talk about needing a great student motivator!

We had a brief period where we were in person – and then we were whiplashed back to virtual. Then in a blink, we were back again. My classroom was no different than anywhere else….we were painfully not where we should have been at the end of the year. I knew I wasn't alone. BUT…what if…

Could the secret Stories work for me in the last quarter?

I was intrigued by what I saw online – and had pretty much decided that I would wait until the fresh school year. But, I went on and messaged Katie Garner, the incredibly smart and talented creator of the Secrets. I had one student in particular that I thought the Secrets would be perfect for, and I wanted her thoughts.

She suggested I just go for it – because ANY of the stories is better than NONE of the stories.

I thought to myself…”If it doesn't work – then we've only wasted a few weeks. BUT…what if it DOES work?” I went straight to my principal and laid out my wish, wanting to make sure she would be ok with this little experiment. She said to go for it.

AND GO FOR IT I DID.

My excitement became the student motivator – until the secret stories took over

I couldn't wait to get the book and the posters in the mail to dig in. I started listening to little pieces of PDs that Katie had posted, and I think I watched every video on IG and FBook. Here's what stuck out to me that had (and still has) me SOLD. (In fact – if you have never heard of this program – I've linked the website at the end of the post. CHECK. IT. OUT.)

I'm positive I can't provide any eloquent science as she can. And in the same way, when we get all technical and formal with our kids – they check out! They're 5!

Katie gave the example of our brain having a front door and a back door. Think of your own home. The front door is usually more formal, and guests will be using this entrance. The back door, however, is where family and friends come – shoes are kicked off, and it's much more relaxed.

THE SECRETS enter the brain THROUGH THE BACK DOOR.

When I was growing up, my mom would ask me what I learned at school. She said I would rarely tell her – and if I could, it was with little to no excitement. (FRONT DOOR)

BUT…then I'd start bouncing around and could tell her what every single person wore that day, who sat by who at lunch, who was not getting along at recess, who liked who, etc. (BACK DOOR)

The letters act just as the kids do – and they LOVE it.

Think about it. As kindergarten teachers, we start the year by telling our kids, “A says ‘ah' like APPLE.

Then we turn around and point to our calendar. Do we say “A-gust?” Nope. AWW-gust. The A is already doing something different.

Just as your kids will usually do the right thing in a line IF you are watching…the letters do too.

But turn your back, and usually, your kids will break into pairs and ‘act up' – letters do the same thing.

AND THE KIDS LOVE IT. The Secret Stories will become the most natural student motivator you could imagine. They will be able to tell you every single Story in detail. They'll go home and tell their parents. Get ready because they will see secrets EVERYWHERE. TRUST ME.

Dig in and discover it for yourself. If you have already gotten your book and posters and aren't sure where to start – hopefully, this will help you out!

Secret Stories Book

In the front of your Secret Stories book, you can read all about the science. In the back of the book will be the red paper that the stories will be printed on. Carefully cut/tear those pages out. Get a 3-ring binder and insert the red pages into page protectors. This will be your TOP SECRET BOOK.

When I started at the end of Q3 – I just built up suspense after hanging the posters – and presented the book as you see here. Now that I start at the beginning of the year, I switch things up a bit.

Since my posters are already hung up from the get-go, I start drawing their attention to them around week 3. Dropping hints that they are secrets and pointing out that they are hiding in all of their names. THAT gets them going. They will start to notice them in more words. I tell them that when they are ready – The Secret Keeper will make a surprise visit and give us The Secrets in a book!

secret-stories-book Cover for secrets - 3 ring binder with free downloadable print 'do not open'

Secret Stories Posters

There are COUNTLESS ways to display your secret stories posters. The red posters, like the ones in the picture below, also come with yellow frames around them. There is a pastel version that comes in squares as well. Some people do “creative cutting” with them – but there is one thing that you must do.

HANG THEM ALL UP AT ONCE. TRY TO HANG THEM TOGETHER as much as your space allows.

I know. It crossed my mind too, to hang them up as they learn the secrets. Or try to stick with the scope and sequence and only share stories as we get to them. That kind of defeats the purpose…

Think back to “August.” Or their names. Why wouldn't we have the tools there for them – when the need arises? Why would we hold them back? Those that are ready for them will devour them. Those that aren't will still be exposed and will pick up on far more than you can imagine. And – they will ENJOY the process.

From an IG post @kacibollskids: BIG student motivator!

✨👏🏻The secret's out! I couldn’t wait any longer to rearrange the walls in my classroom to start this program! Now, I didn’t get all the creative cutting and laminating finished that I had planned on… but I simply could not let another day go by without jumping feet first into this!
(I feel like I might have a future career in being a hype-woman after the way these kids reacted.😂👏🏻
)

I cannot wait to share with you what happened on day one in regards to the sparks that I saw flying around their little brains… The Secret Stories-  hold onto your horses because this little kindergarten class in Nashville Tennessee is about to blow the roof off with their excitement!🙌🏻👏🏻❤️

secret-stories-posters Collage of red ss posters displayed in a kindergarten classroom

They will be excited about the secrets – if you are. Your delivery is the first student motivator

From an IG POST @kacibollskids:

✨Yalllll….we headed into spring break today ALLL excited about The Secret Stories!!

✨Facts:
1. I am Super serious about hooking these kids— thus my extremely intense “shhhh!” face
2. I have never had a pinky promise with 24 freshly hand sanitized pinkies
3. I have never had a secret code phrase like “macaroni doodle all the day”
4. I have never had 14 girls and 10 boys and let me just say drama reigns supreme in this classroom 😉
5. I have never been more “teacher tired” in my liiiiife

FROM an IG post @kacibollskids:

🔐Well, well, well…..I wondered if coming back from Spring Break would lessen the excitement about our Secret Stories. NOPE.
🍀What about the surprise visit from Blarney McFiddle?! NOPE. (I mean…that DID cause quite the ruckus this morning and I am going to piece together some truly awesome bits of that to share 😆…) BUT….

I’m truly amazed at how intrigued they are, and I’m so excited to see how their writing and reading grow these last 9 weeks together! @thesecretstories, you are pretty brilliant! I was hesitant to start so late in the year…but it’s the PERFECT year to start! We’re making up for lost time, and THEY are driving the train!! 🙌🏻

Secret Stories Better Alphabet Song

There are a TON of things I've not even started to do with Secret Stories yet – I've been learning as I go! However, this is a MUST. The better alphabet song is a game-changer. We didn't do this that first year, as quite honestly I just overlooked it! I start the year with this now, NEVER missing a day – and it's even suggested to do it 2x a day! My kids love it. We just plug it into our morning meeting slides so we never forget!

The secret keeper. Talk about motivating.

As I shared above, the first year when I started with the Secrets during Q4 – I just got them excited and shared the secret book. Now I get them all excited for a surprise visit from The Secret Keeper. I do a quick change in the bathroom – and yes…they know it's me! (Well…I did have one last year tell me that “The Secret Keeper” has the same shoes as me! So not ALL of them will know! ha!)

I come out to a little 007 on my phone, present the book, and return back for my quick change. When I come back out – they are going nuts. (I ask our librarian to come to hang out while I'm changing to keep the chaos at bay.) I ask them what happened – and then when I get the book, which has arrived in a little briefcase-esque bag – I present them with their own ‘tools' to get them going.

From an IG POst @kacibollskids

You know you’re a kindergarten teacher when…this idea seems like the only obvious way to hook your kids.😆

My kids have been patiently awaiting the arrival of “The Secret Book!”. I have overheard the following:
”Maybe if we straighten up our desk area The Secret Keeper will come?”
”Does ‘The Secret Keeper’ like snacks?”
”Is ‘The Secret Keeper’ friends with the tooth fairy??”

Stay tuned to see how the actual quick change in the class bathroom worked out! Because yesterday these kids met “The Secret Keeper” 😂 (which quite possibly ended up looking like a secret creeper…I’m very curious to start getting parent responses re: “the detective that came out of the bathroom…then left”.
Totally worth it. 😉

It's NO secret. The proof is in their work. Their excitement. Their growth.

There is nothing like seeing a five-year-old walking around the classroom with a little magnifying glass, taking notes in their notebook. It is quite surprising when they ask if they can search for secrets if they finish their work. They will find secrets in sight words, in their names, in books…it doesn't end! The best student motivator will be…the students!

Just be ready to say things like, “I'm sorry your child has been disputing family time to point out secrets on cereal boxes and menus.” 🙂 Just kidding…no parent has ever been frustrated that their kid is PUMPED about learning to read.

secret-stories Samples of kindergarten work - writing and drawings reflecting secret stories
Click to see my kindergartners in action during morning meeting! 🙂

If you are interested but skeptical – I was too. Do you think it sounds too good to be true? I thought the same thing. Talk to your principal, and invite them into your classroom. When it took off like wildfire in my classroom, I invited my principal, the dean of instruction, our literacy coach, our enrichment coach – and anyone who would come in and experience it firsthand. We ended up getting a set for every K, 1st, and 2nd classroom.

I promise – if YOU are excited. THEY will be. And THAT's no secret.

If you want to read about some other ways I focus on student motivators, you might also like to read these!

2 Simple Kindergarten Classroom Management Ideas That Save The Day

What is a Desk Pet? How Are These Adorable Little Things Successful?

comments +

  1. Amy Huffer says:

    Some secrets aren’t meant to be kept! 😉

  2. Katie Garner says:

    I could not love this any more!! I’m so glad that you shared what you do with the Secrets and how you do it. This will be such a huge help to SO many teachers!!!❤️ And your videos are the BEST!!!!

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