Building Knowledge

Environmental Learning Extensions for the End of the Year!

Allison Friedman

Storyworks’ May/June play offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of scientist and nature writer Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring exposed the dangers of the pesticide DDT—and sparked the environmental movement in America. We know your students will be deeply inspired by Carson’s bravery and determination, and eager to learn more about both her and what she fought for. Here are a few resources to get them started:



TO READ: A history of the environmental movement

TO DO: Make a timeline

This slim but richly detailed Smithsonian book guides students through the history of environmental activism in America, from the 1960s to the present day. They will meet the movement’s key players, including Carson, and read about defining moments in the history of our country’s conservation efforts.

LEARNING TASK: Have students pick 5-10 events from the book to pull into their own timeline of the environmental movement. Each entry should include a brief description of the event and an explanation of why it was important. (Students can craft their timelines either on paper or using a free online program like RWT Timeline.)



TO EXPLORE: An interactive website about the food chain

TO DO: Draw a diagram

Our play introduces the concept of the food chain, explaining how toxins like DDT can move up the chain from one living thing to another. This inviting interactive website will help students explore the concept further, breaking down different creatures’ roles in the chain.

LEARNING TASK: After they’ve explored the website, ask students to illustrate their own annotated diagrams of a food chain, picturing different plants and animals of their choice.



TO READ: A thought-provoking poem

TO DO: Write a short essay

Jane Yolen’s poem celebrating Earth Day powerfully echoes the themes of our Carson play.

LEARNING TASK: Invite students to write a short essay answering this question: What would Rachel Carson have thought about this poem, and why?



TO READ: A biography of Rachel Carson

TO DO: Write a scene for the play

This engagingly written account of Carson’s life will help kids learn even more about the inspiration for her work and its impact on the world.

LEARNING TASK: Ask students to choose another episode from Carson’s life and write it into a new scene for our play. They should use the existing scenes in the play as models.

Five Books to Teach Earth Day

Anna Starecheski

With Earth Day coming up this month, we wanted to share with you a few great books to add to your classroom library. And of course, as a Storyworks and/or Storyworks Jr. subscriber, remember that you have access to the archives, with many stories perfect for Earth Day!



Luna & Me by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw tells the true story of Julia Butterfly Hill, who also happens to be the subject of the play in the March/April issue of Storyworks Jr.! Julia went to extreme lengths to save a redwood tree named Luna from being cut down by loggers—she actually lived in Luna for more than two years. This picture book version of her story makes a great companion to our play, and is delightful on its own as well.



One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul is another story of an inspiring woman who did incredible work for the environment. Isatou Ceesay saw a huge problem in her home country of Gambia: plastic bags were everywhere. Isatou figured out a way to recycle the plastic bags and transform her community. This picture book is great as a read-aloud or as independent reading for your more struggling readers.



Wishtree by Katherine Applegate is beloved by many, and for good reason. It's told from the point of view of a wise old oak tree watching over a neighborhood. This story celebrates nature in a way kids can understand and appreciate, all while telegraphing a clear message of acceptance, friendship, and hope. This longer book is ideal for readers in grades 3-6.



Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty is a delightful, educational picture book that's ideal for struggling readers. It's just what it sounds like: The history of the Earth, told from the point of view of Earth. It's packed with fun facts and is sure to enthrall your science-minded kids!



Who Was Rachel Carson? by Sarah Fabiny tells the story of an incredible environmental activist who warned the world about the dangers of DDT and pesticides. We know that the "Who Was" series is a staple of classrooms everywhere because of their kid-friendly approach to biographies, and this one is exceptional!



Learning Extensions for World Water Day

Allison Friedman
Storyworks’s March/April Paired Texts feature tells the inspiring story of how a new well changed life for one 13-year-old girl and her community in rural Mozambique. It’s the perfect article to share with your students in preparation for World Water Day, on March 22, which raises awareness about the importance of access to clean water. And to help them delve even deeper into water problems and solutions around the world, here are four fascinating learning extensions:
TO WATCH: An animated video about water access around the world
TO DO: Make an infographic
This simple, clear, and captivating animated video from charity:water—the amazing organization featured in our article—will give students an overview of the global water crisis and how people are helping to solve it.
*Note: Parts of the video may be upsetting to some students. Make sure to preview it ahead of time to make sure it’s appropriate for your class.
LEARNING TASK: Have students use the information in the video to create an infographic about worldwide water problems, solutions to those problems, and the effects of the solutions.
TO READ: An fun, approachable nonfiction book
TO DO: Write a short story
Funny, colorful cartoons keep students engaged in this fact-packed book about water’s role in people’s lives, around the world and throughout history.
LEARNING TASK: After they read the book, invite students to write a short story imagining a day in their lives without clean water.
TO EXPLORE:website about how to save water
TO DO: Take a quiz
This kid-friendly Environmental Protection Agency site offers actionable tips on how to use less water—so students can help save the planet, one drop at a time!
LEARNING TASK: Ask students to explore the “Why Save?” and “Simply Ways to Save” tabs on their own. Then partner them up to play the WaterSense quiz game together.
TO WATCH: video about the water cycle
TO DO: Conduct an experiment
Where does drinking water come from? Students will find out in this lively video breakdown of the water cycle.
LEARNING TASK: Watch the video together as a class. Then divide students into small groups and have each group pick one of the “Classrooms Experiments” as a project.

Learn More about Deaf Culture

Anna Starecheski

We love our paired texts from the March/April issue of Storyworks Jr.: "Say Hello to Julio" and "Meet Alice Cogswell." In fact, we love them so much we’re offering them as a free sample for all teachers to use, even if they don’t subscribe to Storyworks Jr.! These articles tell the stories of two young deaf people: Julio Navarro, who is 13 and goes to a school for the deaf in New York, and Alice Cogswell, who lived two hundred years ago and was trapped in a lonely world until one man saw that she could learn. Deafness is often misunderstood, so we wanted to give your students some resources to learn more.



TO READ: A funny and moving graphic memoir about growing up deaf

TO DO: Draw a short comic

El Deafo came out a few years ago and is already a beloved classic. Cece Bell tells the story of how she became deaf at age four, and how she learned to see her deafness as a superpower rather than a disability. Your students, even reluctant readers, will be drawn in by the graphic novel format.

LEARNING TASK: Have students draw a one-page comic putting themselves into a scene from El Deafo. Ask some questions to get them inspired: What would you like to do with Cece? Is there a scene in the book you would have liked to be a part of? 



TO EXPLORE: A list of famous deaf and hard of hearing people

TO DO: A research project

This site has a comprehensive list of all sorts of prominent deaf and hard of hearing people paired with short blurbs about them.

LEARNING TASK: Have each student pick one person from the list and do further research on them. They can compile their findings in a short essay or on a poster.



TO WATCH: A Q&A video

TO DO: A class discussion

This video shows kids meeting a deaf person and asking her questions.

LEARNING TASK: After watching the video, hold a class discussion. Were there any questions that you hadn't thought about before? Are there any that weren't asked that you would want to know the answer to? How does this video help you understand what it's like to be deaf?



Short Nonfiction Leads to Rich SEL

Anna Starecheski

For the September issue of Storyworks Jr., I had the honor of writing about an amazing young girl named Jesselyn Silva. Jesselyn is 11 years old, and she loves to box. I was bowled over and inspired by Jesselyn's passion and dedication, and I hoped Storyworks Jr. readers would be too. But I never could have imagined the lesson one class got after reading her story.



Upstate NY teacher Teresa Weinmann saw that Jesselyn's story could open the door to an important social-emotional learning lesson on the importance of being yourself. And she had the perfect person to help her deliver this lesson: her friend Karen. Karen is a mother, an insurance agent, a singer, and a boxer. Teresa invited her into her classroom, and what followed was an experience her students will never forget.


Karen started by showing some photos of a boxer from behind. She asked the students what they saw, if they could tell if it was a man or a woman. The kids' minds were blown when Karen declared "Well, it's me." She talked about gender stereotypes and was thrilled when she asked the kids what kinds of jobs girls should have. "Any job," one boy said. And what kind of jobs should boys have? "Whatever they want." These kids had the right idea already!

Karen spoke about her journey to finding her passion in boxing and how it makes her feel strong and confident. 

She told the students that they can be anything they want to be, and that it's important to do what you love and be true to yourself. They discussed positive words they could say to themselves when they feel down or defeated by themselves or others. 

The conversation went in many directions, from bullying to being a male ballet dancer to not judging someone by how they look. And then came some fun!



Karen showed the kids her boxing equipment and even taught them some moves! But the learning wasn't over then: Teresa gave the kids paper boxing gloves and had them write positive words to describe themselves on one glove, and on the other glove they wrote phrases that might encourage them when they are faced with a challenge.



A short nonfiction story about an incredible young girl led to a learning experience these kids will never forget. We are always thrilled when teachers take a story from our magazines and turn it into something we never could have imagined. Do you have a story like Teresa's? We want to hear about it

4 Nonfiction Learning Extensions on Climate & the Environment

Anna Starecheski

One of our most important goals at Storyworks Jr. is to inspire your kids to want to learn more. The nonfiction article, “The Killer Smog,” from the February 2018 issue, is a great way to spark more learning about the environment, current events, and the industrial revolution. Another great thing about these learning extensions is that they offer a wonderful opportunity for self-directed constructed learning environments. We hope that the resources below will captivate and inspire your students!




TO READ: An information-packed book about how you can help the environment.

TO DO: A science-connection project and discussion.

The Everything Kids’ Environment Book explains environmental issues in ways kids can understand, and suggests some super fun science experiments to deepen understanding!

LEARNING TASK: For a specialized whole-class project, see the “Smog in a Jar” project on page 4. Do the project as a class and have a discussion about what they learned. Remember to bring ideas from the Storyworks Jr. article into the discussion!



TO WATCH: An educational video from National Geographic

TO DO: A compare/contrast exercise

This awesome video tells the story of another pollution problem London has faced: the pollution of the River Thames. The video explains how the river got polluted and how people managed to fix it, making it a great companion piece to our article.

LEARNING TASK: Have your students write a compare/contrast essay about London’s two pollution problems and how people helped improve conditions. 



TO READ: An inspiring book about real people doing their part for the Earth.

TO DO: A debate or persuasive writing activity

Heroes of the Environment is an incredible book of stories about real people who have done amazing things for the environment. The level might be tricky for some of your students, so feel free to break students into groups based on ability and work closely with the lower-level groups.

LEARNING TASK: Have your students pick out the hero from the book that they think had the greatest impact. If everyone picks the same hero, have them write persuasive essays about why they chose their hero. If there are a few heroes that come up, have the class debate about which hero had the greatest impact. 




TO READ: An infographic about air pollution in the U.S.

TO DO: Make a plan of action

This infographic from the American Lung Association tells you how to lower your risk of air pollution.

LEARNING TASK: Have students create a poster educating people in your town or city on how they can reduce air pollution.


How a Mini Story Opens Up a World of Learning

Anna Starecheski

Here at Storyworks Jr., one of our missions is to open doors of curiosity in your students’ minds. Even our short pieces are great jumping-off points for further exploration.  We were especially taken with our February 2018 Word Power feature on Stubby, the World War I hero dog that captured the hearts of Americans. The topic is a springboard for further exploration about working dogs, World War I, and America in the early 1900s. We also find that learning extensions such as these are a great way to incorporate self-directed constructed learning environments into your classroom. We love giving students the opportunity to focus some time and energy on things that fascinate them. Here are a few resources that will get your students started.

TO WATCH: The video “Into the World of Military Working Dogs”

TO DO:  Write a compare-and-contrast essay

Check out this video from the Storyworks archives about military working dogs.

LEARNING TASK: Ask your students to describe how being a military dog now is different from Stubby’s day. 


TO READA historical fiction book about a rescue dog

TO DO: Write a letter

Kate Messner’s delightful series of books, Ranger in Time (grades 2-5), centers on a time-traveling golden retriever named Ranger. Trained as a search-and-rescue dog, Ranger goes on all sorts of fun adventures and always saves the day. Your students are sure to be captivated by this spunky pooch!

LEARNING TASK: As a fun assignment, have them write letters to Ranger telling him what his next adventure should be and how he could use his special skills to save the day.

TO READ: A biography about Stubby the war dog himself

TO DO: Make a poster

If your students want to know even more about the courageous and charming Stubby, they can check out this immersive nonfiction book: Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog by Ann Bausum. This book tells the full story of Stubby and is chock full of fascinating photographs.

LEARNING TASK: If your students were inspired by the photographs in this book, have them find more online and make a poster about Stubby telling the story of his life. 

TO EXPLORE: Two wonderful websites about World War I

TO DO: Identify fascinating facts about WWI

To learn more about World War I, check out two great websites for kids: National Geographic Kids and the BBC's website for kids.

LEARNING TASK: Have each student create a list of at least five of the most surprising or interesting aspects of the war. 



Writing Contests: 8 Ways Your Students Might Win!

Looking for more ways to have your students test their writing chops? Direct them towards Storyworkscontests! Interested in giving them a chance at the prize? These 8 tricks will definitely increase your chance of winning. Note: Storyworks Jr. has contests too! Look for the prompts at the end of every nonfiction feature (pictured below) and encourage your students to enter!



  1. Follow the rules. It sounds simple, but so many entries we receive get disqualified right off the bat because they are sent in after deadline, lack the requested contact information, or don’t answer all aspects of the writing prompt. Regardless of who made the error (be it a student, parent, or teacher), if an entry is to be considered, it must follow all the rules listed on the contest activity sheet.
  2. Make it legible. If we can’t read it, we can’t judge it. Encourage students to type up their entry if you suspect that their handwriting may be difficult to interpret. (Did you know we accept emailed entries?)
  3. Keep it organized. If you are sending in a class set of contest submissions, make sure the contact information from our contest form is clearly marked on each entry. Hunting around for loose or missing parts of submission does not bode well for its winning status.
  4. Make your Google Doc public. You have no idea how many emailed entries we want to read…but can’t. Remember to make your entry viewable to anyone with the link. We can’t open your submission unless you give us permission.
  5. Wake us up. Too often, I have to nudge snoring contest judges Alicia and McKenzie because they’ve fallen asleep from reading the same essay over and over and over and over again. (An exaggeration…but you get the picture.) Make sure the entry is full of pizazz, energy, passion, and your student’s particular voice.
  6. Relate to your experiences. We always love a submission that answers the question while relating back to the student’s world. Has the student ever experienced anything like the characters or people he is writing about? How would he feel if he were in their shoes? We award brownie points for answering the question while seamlessly tying in anecdotal life experiences.
  7. Cite text evidence. Whenever applicable, have your students cite their sources (which for most cases…this means us). Call us vain, but we adore it when students say things like, “In the Storyworks article ‘Black Sunday,’ Lauren Tarshis claims [insert supporting detail here].” It makes our citation-happy-hearts soar. We love it when students use supporting text evidence, and we love it even more when they cite their source.
  8. Proofread. Check for spelling and grammar mistakes while making sure the entry flows. Perhaps have your students revise each other’s work. Just please don’t let them scribble something out and send it to us without giving it a second thought. Put some care into the entry. This certainly means more than one go-through.


Best of luck! And as we say to our winners, “Keep on reading and writing!”

Delightful Dog-themed Learning Extensions

Allison Friedman

We can only imagine how dog-obsessed your students have been since reading Storyworks’s September paired texts, “The Amazing History of Dogs.” These two fascinating articles go back 35,000 years to explain where dogs came from and how they became our best friends. To further feed your students’ canine curiosity, here are four learning extension ideas:

TO READ: A nonfiction book about dog communication

TO DO: Make an illustrated doggie dictionary

As our paired texts explain, dogs understand us better than pretty much any other creature. This fun, photo-packed National Geographic helps us understand them in return, translating all their woofs and wags into human speak.

LEARNING TASK: Have students choose ten dog gestures or behaviors from the book and make their own dog dictionary. They should draw out each gesture or behavior, then explain what it means.

TO WATCH: A video about military working dogs

TO DO: Make a poster

A perennial Storyworks favorite, this nonfiction video explores the fascinating world of elite soldier dogs. Students will learn all about the history of dogs in warfare, the rigorous training process military dogs go through today, and the remarkable life-saving feats they perform.

LEARNING TASK: Invite students to make a poster to recruit new dogs to the military. Their posters should include information about what makes dogs such valuable soldiers.

TO READ: A narrative-nonfiction book about a famous pup

TO DO: Write a narrative-nonfiction story

If you’re a longtime Storyworks subscriber, you’ll know that we LOVE author Roland Smith. (In fact, we’re featuring his story “The Space Rock” in our upcoming December/January issue!) This fascinating narrative-nonfiction book tells the story of Lewis and Clark’s famous journey from the point of view of one of their key companions: their Newfoundland dog, Seaman.

LEARNING TASK: Ask students to research another famous dog from history, then write a short story from that dog’s perspective, using Smith’s book as a model.

TO WATCH: A video about dog intelligence

TO DO: Write a paragraph

This comprehensive-yet-accessible video delves deep into the subject of doggie genius, tapping scientists and dog experts to reveal just how smart our canine companions really are.

LEARNING TASK: Have students choose a section from the video that they found especially interesting. Then have them use the information from that section to write an additional paragraph for the Storyworks feature. They should explain where in the Storyworks articles they think their new paragraph belongs.

We hope these extensions keep the learning going in your classroom! As always, if you found a winning learning extension connected to one of our articles, we want to hear about it! Email us at

Four Engaging Titanic Learning Extensions

Anna Starecheski

We know that when it comes to super-engaging topics, Titanic is always near the top of the list. That's why we were so excited to feature Lauren Tarshis's wonderful "Into the Dark Water" in our September issue of Storyworks Jr. It's the story of the sinking of the Titanic, focusing on one survivor: 17-year-old Jack Thayer. It's a truly gripping tale, and we had a feeling your students might come out of it hungry to learn more about this fascinating, tragic historical event. With that in mind, here are four extension ideas to keep the learning going in your classroom!

TO READ: a historical fiction book

TO DO: a genre study

If you're not familiar with the I Survived series, written by our very own Lauren Tarshis, consider this a perfect introduction! This immersive series brings young readers into historical events with suspenseful, rich historical fiction narratives. "I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912" is one of our favorites, and we're betting your students will be riveted.

LEARNING TASK: Use this as an opportunity to compare and contrast historical fiction with narrative nonfiction. Make sure your students understand the difference by having them write a paragraph comparing and contrasting the article in Storyworks Jr. with the I Survived book, or hold a class discussion.

TO EXPLORE: an interactive website 

TO DO: write a paragraph

National Geographic Kids has a great page on their site about the Titanic, where students will find facts about the ship and have the opportunity to click through to other related articles.

LEARNING TASK: Have students pick out two facts from the site that resonated with them. Ask: How did those facts help you better understand the Titanic? Students can respond in a short paragraph.

TO RESEARCH: facts about the Titanic

TO DO: create a newspaper page about the disaster

Top teaching blogger Genia Connell has put together a fabulous lesson plan for digging deeper into the Titanic. After reading our article in Storyworks Jr. and perhaps visiting the library to find some more information about the disaster, students will create a newspaper front page about the event. This lesson plan is super fun, and comes with reproducibles and detailed instructions!

LEARNING TASK: Students will assume the roles of journalists, editors, and survivors and create newspaper stories about the sinking of the Titanic

TO READ: a comprehensive book of facts about the Titanic

TO DO: make a poster

This is the definitive informational book about the Titanic! Your Titanic-obsessed students are sure to devour this book, which includes facts, photos, quizzes, survivor stories, and more.

LEARNING TASK: Have students pick out one aspect of the ship that they learned about in this book and make a poster to inform their classmates. This could be the building of the ship, myths about the ship...the possibilities are endless!

We hope these Titanic learning extensions inspire you and your students—and for more fun facts, don't forget to check out the Can't-Miss Teaching Extras on the right side of the story page. If you have a fabulous learning extension for this or any other story, we want to hear about it!