Wednesday, December 30, 2015

FAVORITE LESSON OF 2015: Super Secret Silent Letter Spies & FREEBIE

As 2015 rapidly comes to a close, I've been in a big reflecting/goal setting mood. And let's be honest, since I've been on break I've actually had the time (and brain capacity) to take a few moments to truly reflect on this past year. While personally this year has been one of the most challenging of my life, in terms of teaching it has been truly FABULOUS. I am completely head-over-heals in love with teaching and that has really made this year so incredibly wonderful!!

As I was considering what went well, what my teaching goals were for 2016, I was thinking about what my favorite lesson was from this year. There was no doubt that my best lesson for 2015 was our super secret silent letter spy experience! This was a phonics lesson that taught the initial silent letters wr, kn, and gn. Generally this is not an easy concept for my fab firsties because, seriously, why does knob have a silent "k" and nab does not, or gnat have a silent "g" and not doesn't? It's one of those things that requires straight up memorization, so I knew that I wanted to have my kids experience silent letters in a way that would be fun, memorable, and engaging so that they would be willing to put the effort and energy into learning the content. Thus, the super secret silent letter spy lesson was born.

My lesson ideas come when I least expect them -- while driving, in the shower, brushing my teeth, etc. (I've actually realized recently that it's often when my brain has time to slow down and just think...which sadly doesn't happen all that much...) Anyway,  one morning as I was brushing my teeth, it hit me...I could teach silent letters by doing a super secret silent letter activity! I had purchased several UV pens years ago because I knew that one day I'd find some lesson to use them for and now was the time! (Teacher confession time: the number of things that I buy with no particular plan in mind for, but know will come in handy someday for some lesson that I haven't yet thought of yet is embarrassingly out of control. #teacherproblems) I could write the silent letters in invisible ink from the pen and then shine a blacklight to help my scholars understand that while the letter is there, it's so silent and sneaky it's like you can't even see it.  This reminded me of Hope King's Spy Headquarters lesson and Chris Pombonyo's 5 Senses lessons. Channeling my inner Hope and Chris (aka, my teacher role models), I took some of their tips and ideas (like how to setup the room and the awesome finger scanning app), and this lesson began to snowball into my favorite lesson of 2015!!!


For this experience, my firsties were super secret special agent spies who had to search for the hidden secret letters. I believe that lessons should be experiences for students; these experiences should be so exciting, engaging, and memorable, they can't help but learn the content. By peaking their curiosity, engaging as many of their scenes as possible, helping them get into character with costumes, hats, props, etc. all work together to really help sell this experience and learning.


I wanted my students to truly feel like spies who were working on various missions, so my classroom setup was crucial for this! Using white string and blacklights, I was able to create a laser effect to add to the secret agent spy theme. The students LOVED ducking and climbing under and over the "lasers" though the day!! Below was our classroom setup.


So, this was such an awesome part of the experience. Before my firsties even entered the room, they were already completely hooked and intrigued. As my students lined up outside the door in the morning, I told them that there was some incredible things going on in our room that day and only super secret spies who were recruited for the mission would be allowed into the room. To see who was allowed in, each student had to scan their finger upon entry. As they placed their finger on my phone, the following messages appeared...

Then, they were either granted access or denied access to come into the room. There is a hidden button you press on the app if you want someone to be granted access. Of course, all of my kids were granted access to come in, but anyone else who tried to enter the room was denied (there is a loud alarm-like/siren sound if this happens -- it's great!!!!). My kids LOVED it when the 2nd graders, high schoolers, and even our principal was not allowed to come in. Seriously, keeping the principal out was the best thing ever to them. It definitely made them feel super special and really helped make the experience that much more awesome!

I learned about this app from Chris. It's a free app called "Phone Security" The colors, sounds, etc. are fabulous and really made the experience so awesome from the moment the kids walked in the door.


Now that the classroom was mission ready and the secret agents were granted access to the room, it was time to hit the content. While the costumes and craziness of this lesson were so fun, the point is definitely the content, which in this case was silent letters. (As teachers we always want to check to make sure that extras we're doing add to the content, not detract.) Here was an anchor chart poem that I wrote to help introduce silent letters to the students. 

I told my firsties that some letters sneak to the front of words silently. While they make no sounds, they are still there. The task of the secret agent spies was to find those super silent letters in words. They would complete 5 missions through the course of the lesson. While we took photos with the lights on, the students actually completed all their missions in the dark with the "Mission Impossible" theme song playing in the background.


Mission one was was an interactive journal sorting activity. Students were given two pockets to sort words with and without initial silent letters.

They worked in the dark and then highlighted the silent letters in those words that had them. Just to note, highlighter shines extra bright in blacklight, so this made highlighting so fun for the kids!!!


For their second mission, students had to sort pictures into their different silent letter sounds in their interactive notebook! This mission was a step further than the first mission as now students couldn't just look at a word to identify whether or not it had a silent letter; this time they needed to know how to spell the word to identify the initial silent letter.


At station #3 for their third mission, students needed to write and draw different silent letters under the correct silent letter flap in their interactive notebooks! This was great because it allowed students the freedom to write as many silent letter words as they could think of. Some students referred back to previous missions for words and their spellings, while others were able to think of and spell words on their own.


This was definitely our favorite mission (as well as being the idea that initiated this whole lesson)!! While the other missions were completely independently, this mission the students did in small groups with me. When they arrived at this station, there were 12 words on the table.

Some words were ones with silent letters while others were not. If the word had an initial silent letter, I had written that letter down in invisible ink so that the students couldn't see it. However, when we shinned the light onto the word, if there was a silent letter it would be revealed. The spies thought this was just about the best thing in the world!!!!!!

As we went through each word, the spies recorded the words on their mission paper. If the word began with a silent letter, they would highlight it on their mission form.


After completing their missions, all the agents had to debrief with an exit ticket to test their comprehension and application of silent letters!

The secret agent spies all did an awesome job! Mission accomplished! They continued to wear their silent letter crowns and badges through the week because they were so excited about them!!!


You can download a FREEBIE of Mission #1 on my TPT store HERE or purchase the whole pack (anchor chart, all 5 missions, student shirt tags, and crowns) at my TPT store HERE (on sale through NEW YEAR'S)!!!!!

I absolutely loved this lesson for so many reasons! It was fun, exciting, the students really got into and enjoyed it, and they learned the content. Seeing my students so happy while learning makes my teacher heart absolutely melt. Especially with content that is normally very challenging for my kids, to have them laughing and eager to learn was completely awesome!!

As a side note, another thing that made this lesson special for me was that my mom helped me set it up! She happened to be coming out to my school for another event the night before the lesson, and so I roped her into helping me go buy the materials and setup all the strings. I NEVER could have done it without her help! Having a second person to help with attaching the string to the ceiling and furniture made such a huge difference. Seriously, if it were not for her I would probably still be setting this up. My mom is my number one cheerleader and supporter, so being able to have here there with me as I setup and be so involved made this lesson even more special to me. Thanks, Mom!! I love you!!

2015 for me ws filled with so many fun and exciting lessons, but this one definitely takes the cake. It was an absolutely fabulous year and I am EXTREMELY EXCITED for 2016! I cannot wait for some of the things we have planned for this year in first grade! I already know, 2016 is going to be the best year yet!!!

If you'd like to join in the fun of sharing your favorite lesson of 2015, use the photo below and add a picture of your favorite lesson!! Be sure to use #favoritelessonof2015 on social media!! Can't wait to celebrate all the awesome teachers, their hard work, and fav lessons from this year!!!



  1. Amazing! Your students are so lucky to have such a fun and CREATIVE teacher!

    1. Ya'll are SO sweet, Deserae' and Michelle!! It was wonderful to meet you all this weekend! I love your post about suffixes -- I'll definitely be doing that with my firsties!!
      Looking forward to many future So Cal meetups with you both! Welcome to the blogging journey!!
      xoxo, Danielle at Once Upon First Grade

  2. Click here if you want to read the review of a great monitoring app

  3. WOW!!!!!!! what a creative lesson!! As I read your post, I really want to be one of your students. Thank you for sharing this GREAT activity.