Try This Reading Workshop Minilesson on Sensory Details!

Rebecca Leon

Hi, teachers! By now, you're probably settling in to the new school year. If you haven't had a chance to dig into the fantastic narrative nonfiction feature from the September issue of Storyworks Jr. (psst, it's about the Titanic!), we have great news! We've done some of the work for you! I have designed a Reading Workshop minilesson to go along with this riveting story.

Have your students grab their brand-new issue of Storyworks Jr., their Post-It notes, and pencils, and you're ready to go. This lesson is designed to be done after you have already read the article once as a class.

Teaching Point: How to look for details that help you imagine you're in a historical text.

  1. First, refresh your students' memories on the article. Remind them that you'll be working on ways to understand stories about history. Explain that when you read a historical text, you can put yourself in that time or place and think about what it would feel like to be there. There's someone who can help you with that: the author of the story. The author of a story often includes details that can help you see, hear, feel, and smell what's going on and imagine that you're with the people in the historical event you're reading about.
  2. Return to the beginning of the article and start reading. Do a think-aloud as you read. Pause to talk about the details that jump out at you and underline them for the class. Talk about how the details make you feel. Read up until "Jack imagined crowds cheering as the ship pulled in."

  3. Here's an example of a think-aloud: "In a few hours the Titanic would be at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean." Wow, I immediately have a picture in my mind.  I'm seeing this huge, beautiful ship sitting sadly on the sandy ocean floor with fish swimming by.  I think the author wanted to start off making a strong impression. [Continue reading] "More than 1,500 people would be dead. But at 11:00 that evening, April 14, 1912, everything seemed fine."  I'm feeling nervous, because I know what's going to happen. The people in the article don't, but I do. [Continue reading] . . . "brightly as diamonds." Look how the author described the sky. I'm seeing the sparkling stars. [Continue Reading] ". . . the hum of the ship's engines." Now I hear what Jack is hearing. [Read rest of section] I just read a lot of details that put me on the Titanic with Jack. I'm looking at "fancy as a room in the finest hotel."  I'm seeing a room with a big, luxurious bed with lots of pillows.
  4. Talk about the details you underlined and how they help you imagine what it must have been like to be on the Titanic. Reiterate that the author included these details on purpose, to help you put yourself in the story. Ask students what other details help them see or feel what it was like to be on the Titanic.
  5. Have students read the next section, "Too Quiet," and then turn and talk with a partner about which details helped you imagine being there. Hopefully, you'll hear students discussing the fact that the engines stopped and it was "strangely quiet." After students are finished with their turn and talks, bring up this detail and point out that the section header also gives you this sensory detail.
  6. Wrap up the lesson: Tell students that they can use this strategy while reading about any historical event. Have students return to their reading spots and continue reading the article, marking sensory details with a sticky note.

Of course, you should tailor this lesson to your own needs and to the specific teaching point you want to make. Here are some more ideas for practicing a strategy presented in your minilesson:

  • Have students keep reading the same article to practice.
  • Have students choose another Storyworks Jr. article to practice the strategy. You might guide them to the other nonfiction selections, such as the paired texts, Word Power, or debate.
  • Have students practice the strategy with their independent reading books.
  • Or, conversely, you could use a favorite minilesson you already have to teach a strategy, then have students practice it using an article they choose from Storyworks Jr. You can differentiate by distributing the lower-Lexile version of one of our articles to the students who would benefit from it.

Remember, Storyworks Jr. can be flexibly used however it works best for you. One question in the Teacher's Guide could become an idea for a minilesson. Our goal is simple: to provide you with the tools you need to do the invaluable work you do every day, and to make it as easy and joyful as we can. Please feel free to share your Reading Workshop minilesson ideas with us too! Email us at

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