Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Story of Dd


“I’ll be back for lunch,” called the King to the Queen as he went out for a walk in the royal forest with his favorite dog, Dasher. He had his camera with him; he liked to go with Dasher because Dasher helped him spot birds to photograph.

It had been raining the night before and the trails through the forest had gotten muddy. Mud clung to the King’s boots and to Dasher’s paws. This did not stop the King and his dog from staying out all morning.

The King took many photos. Towards the middle of the day, just before lunch, he and Dasher walked back to his castle. As they arrived at the back door, the King carefully took off his boots and left them outside so as not to track the mud inside the castle. In stocking feet, the King went to the washroom to clean up for lunch. He forgot to tie up Dasher at the back door and when no one was looking, Dasher ran inside, muddy paws and all, and tracked footprints all over the downstairs rooms.

“What’s for lunch?” asked the King as he pulled his chair up to the table.

“Mopping up’s for lunch, that’s what!” said the Queen

“Mopping up? What are you talking about? I asked you what’s to eat?”

“A Dozen Duck Dumplings.But Dasher tracked mud all over the downstairs. You’ve got to clean it up before you get the lunch I made.”

Ask: Do you hear all the /d/ sounds in what the Queen said? (Repeat her reply.) (Yes.)

“OK, I’ll clean it up.” But the King was rich and lazy, so he told his servants to clean up the mud that his dog tracked in. The Queen ate the whole dozen duck dumplings and didn’t leave any for the King.

He drove to a drive-in diner for lunch.

Ask: Do you think he went to Denny’s or Wendy’s? (Denny’s) Why? (It starts with a D. )

That night they made the letter D. The King made his look like this: D. The Queen like this: d. Ask: Did they get along the day they made D? (No)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Story of Cc

Ask: Do you think the King and the Queen will get along today? (Yes.)

At breakfast the King looked up from his plate of waffles and he noticed something moving out in the garden. “Is that a gray fox?” he wondered. He put down his knife and fork and picked up his binoculars for a closer look. “No, it’s a stray cat,” he said to himself, “and a friendly-looking one at that.” He called to his wife, the Queen, to come see.

She peered through the binoculars and remarked, “That’s a fine looking cat, but skinny! We’ve been wanting a pet now that our children have grown up and left the castle. Let’s care for him. I’ll get a brush to brush his fur.”

“I’m sure the cat is hungry. I’ll go chop up some meat from spareribs leftovers that we ate last night.” said the King as he walked to the royal pantry. He chopped up a nice bowl of meat and put it out on the back step. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Here, kitty kitty, kitty. Breakfast time!” he called.

The cat, who hadn’t eaten any proper food in days came running at the King’s call and, purring, ate the meat that the King had chopped up. When the King pet it, it purred loudly. I’ll bet you’re a good mouser, too,” said the King, who knew that they had need of a good mouser.

Ask: What do you think the King meant when he said, “I’ll be you’re a good mouser?” (He meant that the cat would be able to catch mice.)

The cat followed the King into the parlor where the Queen had found an old brush to groom the cat’s fur. The cat purred even more happily and then curled up in the Queen’s lap. Its purred so much and so loudly it sounded like it had a motor going inside. “I think we should call this cat ‘Motor Mouth’ because it sounds so loud when it purrs.”

“That’s a good name, Queen. We’ll call our new cat ‘Motor Mouth’ or ‘Motor,’ for short.”

The King and the Queen loved their new cat Motor and they decided to make a letter for the first sound in the word, cat. The King made his look like this: C. The Queen made hers look just the same, only smaller, like this: c.

Ask: Did the King and Queen get along that day? (Yes.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Soundabet VoiceBox Books

If you're interested in what I'm up to in my classroom in regard to Soundabet Activities, link on over to my Misterkindergarten blog where I discuss the VoiceBox today (Sept 23, 2008).

I may make the pdf files available to people who want to do a DIY Voicebox kit.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Story of Bb

Ask: Look at the King and Queen’s Bs. Do you think they’re going to get along? (No.)

Ask: Why do you think that they won't get along? (Because the King’s B and the Queen’s b don’t look the same.)

One bright and sunny day the Queen looked out the window and said, “Here he comes again! And he forgot his hat.”

“Who?” asked the King.

“The boy with the boat and binoculars. He forgot his hat. H's is going to get sunburned,” said the Queen.

“I’ve got a hat I can loan him,” said the King.

“I don't think it would fit him. Grab some sunscreen instead. You can put some on his face and arms and legs when you get to the pond,” said the Queen.

"I don't think he likes sunscreen," said the King, who had gotten to know the boy quite well and enjoyed spending time with him.

"Well, don't let him talk you out of it," said the Queen.

Ask: Do you think the King will put sunscreen on the boy? (No.)

The King felt happy when he saw the boy with his boat. He enjoyed being near the water’s edge whenever he could, and being with the boy made his enjoyment even keener. The water seemed to sparkle with happiness. The royal pond was large, a lake really, almost a mile across, so big that you needed binoculars to see across it to the other side. The King got his hat, his binoculars and joined the boy at the edge of the pond.

“Hi boy,” said the King. “I’ve got some sunscreen for you.”

“I don’t like sunscreen. It makes my skin feel funny,” said the boy.

“Well, are you sure? The sun is awfully bright today.”

“Yes,” said the boy. “Let’s launch my sailboat.”

The boy and the King spent a happy afternoon sailing the boat back and forth across the pond. Three hours passed in what seemed to both of them to be only minutes. Late in the afternoon the Queen came out of the castle and walked down to the pond to find the boy and the King still sailing the model boat. She noticed that the boy’s face, arms, and legs were bright pink.

She walked up to the King and asked, “Did you put sunscreen on the boy?”

“No, I didn’t. He said it made his skin feel funny, and he didn’t want any,” said the King.

“I thought you hadn’t. Look. He’s sunburned. We’re going to have to go in now before it gets any worse.”

Later that evening when it was time to make the letter B, the King made his letter look like a line with two loops, one on top of the other. The Queen made only one loop, the loop on the bottom. She left off the loop on top, just like the boy didn’t have a hat on top.

Ask: Did the King and Queen make letters alike that day? (No.)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Soundabet Display Cards

Soundabet Display Cards are designed to show the Soundabet as a whole.

I mount mine to a Display Board like those you see in a science fair --- three panel boards that open up to a 4 feet wide by 3 feet tall rectangle. With the side panels folded in, they are two feet wide and three feet tall. These are available through office supply stores like Office Depot and Staples.

Mount your Display Cards to a Display Board like this so you can put it within reach of your students and move it around the room.

The cards themselves are similar to the Flash Cards in terms of the images on them. But the Display Cards are half the size of the Flash Cards. The Flash Cards are for more detailed discussions of single sounds individually.

Here's my Soundabet Display Cards mounted to an X-Acto Display Board in action.

You can use this photo here as a guide for laying out your Display Board.

The Story of Aa

Before telling the story ask the students to look at the A and the a. Are they the same shape? (No) Tell them that since the shapes are different, they must have not gotten along really well in this story.

One day in late summer the Queen woke up from a happy dream about apple pie. She decided to make an apple pie for herself and the king to enjoy at tea time that afternoon.

She went to the royal kitchen and found all the ingredients she would need to bake her apple pie except the most important ingredient of all.

Ask: What do you think the most important thing you put in an apple pie is the most important ingredient? (Apples.)

The Queen knew that you can use any kind of apple in an apple pie, but she preferred green apples in pies more than red apples because green apples are more tart. Green apples taste better when you bake them in a pie.

She asked her husband, the King, to hike out to the royal orchard to pick some apples for her pie. Whisper: She forgot to ask for green apples. But she did tell him to get twelve nice apples. “Get fresh crisp apples,” she reminded him. “Twelve of them.”

The king met many people who wanted to talk with him on his hike up to the orchard on the hillside behind the castle. It took him a long time. When he finally arrived at the orchard he noticed that the best apples were near the top of the tree. He could see that he needed a ladder to reach them. So the poor King had to walk all the way back to the castle to get it. Using his ladder he was able to pick the twelve of the freshes and most crisp apples in the kingdom. He put them in his bag and he walked home happy to have done his work so well. He did not get back to the castle until the middle of the day.

“I’m home,” he called as he came through the door, tired from the hike.

“Did you get twelve nice apples?” asked the Queen.

“Yes, I sure did. I got a dozen apples. Twelve of them, fresh and crisp just as you asked,” replied the King. He opened the bag. “Aren’t they beauties? I had to use a ladder to reach them.” He felt proud of himself.

The Queen looked into the bag of apples. "They're RED!" she exclaimed. "Didn't I tell you to get green?"

"I don't think so," answered the King, but he wasn't sure.

Ask: Did the Queen ask him to get green apples? (No, she forgot to say what color to get.)

It was too late to get green apples, so she baked the red apples into the pie. At tea time they sliced off the right side of the pie and tasted it. It tasted disappointingly bland. No one asked for more.

That night, when the King and the Queen went upstairs to make the letter A for the first sound in the word apple /a/, the king made his like this: A so it looked like the ladder he used to pick them.

The Queen made letter a like this: a. Her a looks round, like a pie that no one would finish.

Did they get along? Do their letters look the same? (No.)

About Soundabet Flashcards

Soundabet Flash Cards are for showing your class the Soundabet Sounds one at a time.

The Flash Cards are similar to the Display Cards in terms of their images and content. Display Cards are meant to present the Soundabet all together as a whole.

By contrast, Flash Cards are intended for a deeper journey into each Soundabet sound individually.

I've found what seems to work best is to introduce just one card each day beginning with the letter A. I begin early in the kindergarten year with A.

On each successive day, I do a quick review of all the letters presented beginning at A and going through in ABC order until we reach the letter of the day. I deliberately scramble the cards we have yet to look at so that we see (very briefly, and in passing) other letters.

Thus, let's say we're on the nineteenth day of the program and letter S is the one we're going to talk about today. We'll review the first eighteen letters quickly, A, B, C, D, E, and so on all the way to R. But guess what? The card behind R is not S! It might be any letter. I just quickly name it and keep going until S finally turns up. (I've put S near the end of the stack so we have to look through almost all the remaining cards to find it.)

When we finally find the letter of the day we sing it, then tell it's story.

First Sing the Song

You can use them in any way you wish, but I suggest singing a song set to the tune of "London Bridge" to introduce each sound. The song for the card pictured above goes like this:

Look at the /s/ we hear in soap,

/s/ /s/ /s/ soap,
/s/ /s/ /s/ soap
Look at the /s/ we hear in soap,

/s/ /s/ /s/

Next Tell the Story

I've written story starters for each of the Flash Cards. The purpose of the stories is to explain why the upper and lowercase letter forms sometimes match in form (as they do with Cc, Oo, Pp,
Ss, Uu, Vv, Ww, Xx, Yy, and Zz).

As you will see in the stories, the King invents the uppercase forms while the Queen invents the lowercase forms. On days they get along, they invent very similar forms. But as couples sometimes do, they sometimes have difficulty getting along with each other. On those days, they invent forms that differ in form (as with the rest of the letters, Aa, Bb, Dd, Ee, Ff, Gg, and so on).

These story starters used to be printed on the backs of the Flash Cards. Now, to keep the price of the Flash Cards from becoming astronomically high, I just e-mail the story starters to you.

The story starters are intended as just that: a jumping off place. What I really hope is that you will use your imagination to add detail and fill in the narrative with details that fit your students well.

As time allows, I will post here the stories as I tell them to my students. They're more fully developed stories. I'll begin with the story for the letter Aa.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Flash Cards and Display Cards are Back!

If you want to order Display Cards and/or Flash Cards, they are now back in stock.

The Flash Cards no longer have the stories on the back. However, I can e-mail you the stories. In the weeks ahead, I'll post longer and fuller versions of the stories here on this blog.

To order, these or other Soundabet materials, send me an e-mail:

dangurney (at)

I'll pdf you an order blank you can fill out and mail to me.

I'll post more about these products and talk extensively about how to use Soundabet in your room beginning in about a week.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Soundabet's Back

I've been getting a lot of requests to reopen the Soundabet business. But in just one month off I've been camping, sailing, hiking, kayaking, and reading. I haven't felt so good in YEARS. I've lost some weight and feel a whole lot better.

Having your own business is HARD work!! I can't work that hard anymore.

But... I do have some leftover stock of DVDs, CDs, and King's Queen's, and Game Cards. Look in the photo.

I'll sell them the old-fashioned way: by order blank. E-mail me at dangurney (at) By return e-mail, I will send you an attached PDF file that is the order form. Print it, fill it out, send it to me a purchase order from your school or a check or money order to my PO Box:

Dan Gurney's Soundabet
P.O. Box 2255
Sebastopol, CA 95473

I'll fill it pretty quick, maybe in the evening after I've folded my sail, and send it by US Mail to you.


Early Beginnings, Part 3

In the last post I talked about how pressure began to build on kindergarten teachers to teach basic early literacy skills. In 1996 I went to a workshop where I learned to use a pre-reading assessment tool developed by Roland Good III and Ruth Kaminski at the University of Oregon. Their tool is called Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy, or DIBELS, for short.

Kaminski and Good had reviewed the research that identified the skills that beginning readers use as they become good readers. The research made it clear that students who would become good beginning readers could do three things much better than students who would later struggle with beginning reading. The three skills are:

Alphabet Naming:
The ability to quickly identify the names of letters, in both upper and lower case forms.

Initial Sound Fluency:
The ability to identify the first sound of a word.

Phoneme Segmentation Fluency
The ability to take words apart into their component sounds.

Kaminski and Good’s contribution was to develop a test of these three skills that could be used by classroom teachers with a minimum of fuss and training. The idea was to help teachers identify students who would be likely to struggle in early reading lessons and help them before they experience trouble. I thought that this was a great idea and I began using DIBELS with enthusiasm right away.

DIBELS results confirmed what I had guessed intuitively about which of my students were struggling, and DIBELS gave my intuition solid-seeming numerical scores as evidence of my concern for them.

The other gift DIBELS brought to me was to bring into clearer focus just what phonemes English employs. In the phoneme segmentation subtest, I would ask students to break simple words into their component phonemes. I would say a word like “March” and the student would be expected to break it into its three phonemes: /M/ - /AR/ - /CH/.

You’d think someone who had been teaching kindergarten for some years would be able to tell you exactly what sounds our language has, but I couldn’t do that, and DIBELS helped to bring me closer.

As I gave students the tests, I became acutely aware that I was testing skills I hadn’t taught them. It felt unfair to do that.

So I began, haphazardly, to teach my class those “extra” sounds that English has. Most of these sounds are usually spelled with two letters. Their written forms are called digraphs, and they will look familiar to you: /NG/, /TH/, /SH/, /CH/, /OU/, /OO/, /OY/, /AR/ and so on. I noticed immediately that when I taught my students these sounds they could do better on the DIBELS assessments.

It felt disorganized, though. I presented these letters one by one to the class, and sometimes I felt like I was giving too much emphasis to some of these sounds while ignoring others. The dissatisfaction I felt about the disorganization lasted more than a year.

One day, as I was driving to the hardware store, for whatever reason, I was thinking about the ABC song. Someone long ago must have felt much the same way about the letters of the alphabet themselves. They decided to make a song out of it, borrowed a children’s tune written by Mozart (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) and made a memorable song, the ABC song. We all know it. It gives the letters a fixed order from A to Z and helps us rehearse it until we know it.

Like a bolt of lightning, the solution to my problem struck me: The genius of using a song to hold the ABCs together, I realized, could be extended to include all these extra sounds. Within an instant Soundabet was born. I felt like a new father. It seemed to me to be an earthshakingly good idea. It would make learning to read so much easier for students if they were taught all the sounds they might be expected to decode, from the start.

I spent the next few weeks thinking carefully about exactly what sounds Soundabet ought to include and which sounds I ought to leave out. I carefully considered which spelling to include for the various sounds. I consulted several books on the subject, especially Diane McGuinness’s Why Our Children Can’t Read.

Over the next year I began to use Soundabet in my classroom. The results were spectacular. Parents got excited. People began to talk. It wasn’t long before the Sonoma County Office of Education’s Reading consultant, Kevin Feldman visited my room. He saw Soundabet in action and asked me to do a workshop at the County Office of Education.

I agreed to do it, thinking back then there would be only one workshop. About 25 teachers showed up at that first workshop and a few tried Soundabet in their own schools. Their enthusiasm led to another workshop, then another, and another and soon I was asked to do a CD and a video, and before long I opened an Internet store.

Soundabet Beginnings, Part 2 of 3

Last Saturday I told about the confusion I felt in 1967 when I first attempted to teach reading as a high school volunteer. I learned that being able to read is not the same as knowing how to teach reading.

Fast forward nine years to 1976. I was reading Dr. Seuss’s Hop On Pop to a three-and-half year-old boy named Eric.

“Let me do it!” Eric told me.

“Do what?”

“Read Hop on Pop. I know it.”

“Really? OK, here.” I handed him the book. “You read it to me.”

And he did. Fluently. Page after page.

I was impressed because learning to read had not come easily to me. I could not read as skillfully as Eric until far into second grade. “Perhaps,” I thought, “he isn’t actually reading. Perhaps he simply memorized the book.” I pointed to a word on the page and asked him to tell me what it was.

“Town.” he told me, correctly.

“Wow. That’s right. It is town. How do you know that, Eric?”

“I just know it,” he told me.

Was Eric born literate? I wondered. Of course not. Someone must have taught him. His dad was an English instructor at a nearby junior college. Probably his dad taught him to read. I wished I knew.

I found myself pulling books off the education shelf at the public library. I studied Jeanne Chall, Rudolf Flesch, Romalda Bishop Spalding. I immediately saw that there was disagreement between the “look say” and the phonics camps. How to teach reading was controversial!

Like many other educators, I saw value on both sides. Eric seemed to read whole words. But when he came to a word he didn’t know, he sounded it out. He could sound out nonsense words.

It seemed to me then—as it does now—that the key to reading is sounding out words, as the phonics camp insisted. How did Eric learn the sounds?

I was pretty sure that Eric had not been through a formal phonics curriculum. He had not done worksheets. He could not recite any phonics rules. He simply seemed to know the sounds letters might (and might not) make.

Though I had no reason to teach reading, I wanted to know more. I thought that someday I might like to try to teach it. Of all the books I read, Romalda Bishop Spalding’s book, The Writing Road to Reading, seemed particularly helpful. Studying it, I became vividly aware that the English language has far more sounds than letters. English had sounds I didn't even know it had!

For example, I didn't know that the /th/ sound in "with" is not the same sound as the /th/ sound in "the" because the first sound is unvoiced and the second is voiced. They are related to each other in exactly the same way that the sounds /f/ and /v/ are related, as minimal pairs. Because the two /th/ pairs looked the same, I thought they were the same. But they aren't. Spaulding advocated a method of teaching reading by emphasizing sounds—by writing them—using their various spellings. It's a good approach, and if you click on her name, above, you can visit a website about her approach.

Fast forward another five years. I was in charge of my first kindergarten class at Dunham School. Kindergarten was different then. I was not expected to teach students to read, but simply introduce them letters and numbers. There was no pressure to do much else.

In early February, on the 100th day of school in my first year of teaching, we were popping 100 kernels of popcorn in oil in a pan, the old-fashioned way, before microwave ovens. I felt immense pride when one of the most advanced readers in kindergarten that year, David, looked at the words on the cellophane bag. His eyes widened and he sounded out his first word. “P-O-P-C-OR-N popcorn.” I felt immense pride and success as a teacher. David's performance in February would not put anyone at the head of any contemporary kindergarten class.

By 1996 pressure began to build on kindergarten teachers to cover pre-reading skills called phonemic awareness. I went to a workshop that gave me a tool to measure phonemic awareness skills called Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy, or DIBELS for short.

It was using DIBELS assessments that led directly to the invention of Soundabet.

Earliest Beginnings

Soundabet first began more than 40 years ago when, in high school I served as a volunteer teacher in East Palo Alto's Saturday School. Gertrude Wilks started the school to help primary students who were falling behind in reading and math.

I did not know how to teach reading.

I remember two things quite clearly. First I remember the opening assemblies that kicked off the day. They felt almost like a church service: a sermon and some singing. Everyone gathered to hear a pep talk delivered by Ms. Wilks expressing her faith in the power of education followed by a rousing sing-a-long featuring "We Shall Overcome" "Down by the Riverside" and other anthems of the Civil Rights era.

The second thing I remember is the confusion I felt as I tried to help my third grade boy.

Saturday School didn't train us to teach reading. It was assumed, reasonably enough, that if we could read, then we could teach reading.

The confusion on his face ... was painful to see.

First-hand experience, however, taught me this: Knowing how to read and knowing how to teach reading are two entirely different things.

I knew I could read. I knew I did not know how to teach reading. I remember trying to explain to my poor student that the letter "o" made the short u sound and the letter "f" made the v sound in the word, "of." The confusion on his face as I tried to explain this to him was painful for me to see.

At that point, I thought that it was simply a matter of me learning the skills of teaching reading. In 1967 I would not have guessed that there was a good deal of disagreement about how people learn to read. I could not have known then that over the course of my lifetime much would be discovered about what's going on in brains as they learn to read.

Back then I didn't worry too much about any of this. Back then I had no idea I'd spend a good part of my life working on this problem.

Next Saturday I'll talk about the earliest days of my teaching career.