** A guest post by Nancy Young **



My thanks to Dr. Kathryn Garforth for inviting me to provide teachers and parents with a snapshot as to why and how to integrate movement into reading and spelling instruction and practice. Let’s get moving!


Using Movement to Master the Reading/Spelling Code


Hop! Now reach up and pretend you are catching a ball! Now skip! Run!


Sound like an exercise class? We’re certainly up and moving, but these special movements connect to a fun way to learn and practice the skills needed to read and spell! 

Sound /h/ is spelled <h> 
Keyword: hop 
Action: hop
From Secret Code Actions

Using movement to learn – where my journey started…


My passion for integrating movement into the learning process began soon after I started up my private practice in which I taught students who were struggling in the classroom. My students had usually been sitting for much of their school day – spending more time than their classmates at a table or desk because it took so long to do (or try to do) academic tasks. For students diagnosed as ADHD, sitting still for long periods was especially tough. 

Whether dealing with attention issues or not, I wished my students could have been playing outside or relaxing instead of sitting in a lesson. Sadly, their weak skills meant they needed to put in extra time and effort outside school to learn what should have been taught in school.

An active person myself, I wondered if my students might enjoy their lessons more if they could just get up and move while they were learning. I started with, “Let’s set up stations around the room and you can move from station to station while you practice!” They loved the stations! Then I moved on to “Let’s act this out!” when we were discussing the meaning and function of a word. When a student needed to learn about contractions, I suggested she model what a contraction does – on the floor! She stretched out and then contracted her body as she expanded and contracted the words! She smiled – just as my other students were smiling as they learned using movement! Lessons were fun for them, for me and for the parents (in my private practice I required that a parent be a part of every lesson).

My repertoire of movements soon grew to include movements for the sound-symbol correspondences of the English code. It’s not easy for a child in grade 4 to accept that they need to go back and learn skills that should have been mastered in kindergarten and grade one. Moving made the needed learning more fun! As a bonus, I observed that the students were so engaged and seemed to master skills more quickly using my special movements.  

Sound /n/ spelled <n> 
Keyword: nail  
Action: Nail a nail
From Secret Code Actions

One day, the mom of one of my students said, “Nancy, you need to create a book with all your movements so other teachers and parents can use them too!” It was a great suggestion! After a few years of work (including the completion of my MEd in Special Education, during which I investigated the supporting research) I was pleased to release my book Secret Code Actions. Available in two editions, one for teachers and another for parents, this unique resource presents fun movements and activities that help children learn and remember the sounds and symbols in English words. It also contains Clues and Alerts to help teachers and parents better understand what I call the secrets of the code.

Secret Code Actions


My book Secret Code Actions is grounded in the current research that says:

There is nothing natural about learning to read.



There is nothing natural about learning to read. It is not a skill we are born to do; we must rewire our brain to be able to read.


  • Instruction on the written code in words is necessary for most children.
  • Children with dyslexia require very explicit and systematic instruction, along with a LOT of practice to learn to read and spell.
  • Learning the secrets of the English code enriches the learning of all students.


My Ladder of Reading shows the wide range of ease in learning to read, irrespective of intelligence. It makes it clear that explicit instruction and practice are *crucial* for a much larger group than most people realize (both the pink and red groups), and ALL children can be advantaged by learning the fascinating secrets of the written code!


Additionally, my book Secret Code Actions is grounded in the current research that says:

Most children are not getting enough physical activity during the day.


  • Physical activity is essential for all children, but children are moving less and less. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to get our children up and moving.
  • Physical activity fuels the brain, increasing engagement and helping recall.
  • Physical activity is beneficial for children with ADHD.

Almost every day there is a new article or study recommending that children move more. Whatever the reason, from spending time on screens to less free play in general, most children are simply not as active as they should be.



Some tips to get you moving!  



So, how might teachers and parents get children up and moving while learning or practicing the English code? 


Plan your lessons or practice sessions so that you weave in movement throughout:

As part of your warmup:

  • Review previously learned concepts by practicing them using movement.

As a new sound-symbol correspondence is learned or practiced:

  • SAY IT (adult says the first sound in the word “bat” = /b/; child repeats the sound /b/)
  • SEE IT (child points to card with the letter b on it)
  • MOVE IT! (child pretends to swing a bat)
  • (Add on: WRITE IT)

As a brain break or to re-energize a child having trouble focusing:

  • Perform a skill-related movement


As part of lesson closure or at the end of a practice session:

  • Do a movement-based game or activity. 

Even if your space is limited, many movements can be done on the spot. In a small room, a student can run (<r> = /r/) on the spot, pretend to pump (/p/ = <p>), or act as if trying to dodge a page (practicing when to spell /j/ as <dge>). When the weather is cooperating, go and do the movements outside!


 When /ŏ/ (short o) is spelled <a>
Action: Walk the Wall! 
 from Secret Code Actions™ Chapter 4

Practicing reading/spelling skills using movement is a win-win!

I am passionate about the need to bring movement into the teaching of reading and spelling. I see it as a solution to the lack of time all educators and parents face. It is an engaging way for children to learn skills that are not always easy to master. Using movement to practice the secrets of the code provides unobtrusive and fun opportunities to provide focused learning and to provide the crucial repetition many children need.
During my professional development sessions for teachers, and presentations to parents, I always deliver this message to my audience:

We need to get our children moving as we teach the reading/spelling code!

Then, I get the audience up and moving as we practice a code-based concept!


Are you keen to learn more?


Are you keen to help your child or students learn or practice the secrets of the code using movement? The activities in my book can enhance any reading/spelling program being used in your school or at home. Book owners also have access to free downloads and resources on my website, including a teaching order of the concepts for those not already following a program. The Clues and Alerts will help children and adults learn about fascinating aspects of the English language!  

  • Check out some sample pages from my book (both Teacher and Parent Editions) at my website: secretcodeactions.com  
  • Check out my Youtube playlist  demonstrating “Split & Smoosh”, an activity featured in Secret Code Actions™ Parent Edition (and a free download for Teacher Edition owners)
  • Follow me on social media for up-to-date articles and tips:
    • Facebook       (@NancyYoungBAMED) 
    • Twitter           (@NancyYoung_) 

Have a blast moving while you are learning!

Nancy Young B.A., M.Ed.

Reading, Spelling, Writing Specialist
British Columbia, CANADA


Nancy Young B.A. M.Ed. (Special Education) is an experienced educator and speaker with extensive knowledge of evidence-based approaches to teaching reading, spelling and writing for both the general classroom and intervention programs. Her areas of specialty include dyslexia, ADHD, giftedness, and ELL. A certified Structured Literacy Teacher and long-time private practice educator teaching children with dyslexia, Nancy provides consulting support for teachers, schools and families across Canada. This includes training, coaching, assessment (Level B) and program development for students with dyslexia. 


Supporting Research

Research articles and books supporting the information presented in this blog post can be found in the Resources section of my website.


A PDF of my Ladder of Reading can also be downloaded from my website.