Building Knowledge

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!

Get Crafty for a Cause with Important Nonfiction!

Anna Starecheski

Our goal is to provide your students with important stories that inspire them to share their learning and extend it in new ways. One story has done just that, and we couldn't be more thrilled! The paired texts "How to Save a Baby Elephant" and "Can Drones Stop Animal Killers?" (featured in the May/June 2017 issue of Storyworks and the March/April issue of Storyworks Jr.) touched many classrooms and we loved hearing from so many teachers. But Tara Rogic's and Elaine Miller's classes from Franklin Lakes, NJ, took this to new heights.  

Spurred into action after learning about the horrors of poaching, you won't believe the amazing creative writing, fundraising, public speaking and crafty extenstion activities they were able to achieve. All sparked by a great story! We had to share it with you. It's the perfect mid-summer inspiration to get you excited about our new stories and all the extensions you can create this year!

First, the students determined their mission and goal: to raise funds for Air Shepherd, the organization that uses drones to stop poachers.

Activity 1: The students had to raise awareness of their cause. They decided to create a carnival-like booth for their school's annual "Backyard Bash." They advertised their booth all over school for weeks. They even held a whole-school assembly where they showed a Powerpoint presentation they created about poaching and Air Shepherd!

Activity 2: The kids wrote a fable about poaching—what a great creative writing project! Read their adorable fable here—trust me, you don't want to miss it! Yet another awesome way to bring ELA skills into this learning experience.

Activity 3: The next step was to plan their booth. They created a spinning wheel with different traits of elephants, like strength, hope, harmony, and family. People could pay for a spin of the wheel and win a good luck stone that matches the trait they spun. (Of course, these enterprising students came up with a way to maximize their profit—after the carnival, they sold all the rest of the good luck stones at school!)

Activity 4: The booth was a huge success! In addition to the spinning wheel where people could win good luck stones, they also sold elephant charms that could be made into jewelry at a jewelry-making station. They even raffled off a gorgeous quilt that tells the story of their fable (that's in the photo above). All in all, the students raised $618 for Air Shepherd! And since our ultimate goal is to inspire learning journeys in your students, we couldn't be more proud of them!

If you're a Storyworks or Storyworks Jr. subscriber and you worry you missed your chance to teach this incredible story, you're in luck: With your subscription, you get full online access to stories and resources from our archives.

Has your class been inspired by a story in Storyworks or Storyworks Jr.? Email us, we'd love to hear about it!

4 Resources About the Internment of Japanese Americans

Adee Braun and Allison Friedman

Storyworks’s May/June feature nonfiction article, “Behind the Wire Fence,” tells the story of Bill Hiroshi Shishima—an 11-year-old American boy of Japanese descent who, along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans, was forced to live in an internment camp during World War II.

This may be the first time your students are learning about Japanese American internment, and they will likely have many questions about this dark period in our country’s history. Here are four extension ideas to help them explore the topic further on their own:

TO EXPLORE: An online exhibition about Japanese American internment

TO DO: Create a mini exhibition

Smithsonian’s “A More Perfect Union” website walks students through the history of Japanese American internment using rich primary documents and artifacts: pictures of the duffle bags families used to carry their belongings, pencil sketches of the camps, copies of camp school books, and more.

LEARNING TASK: Ask students to choose five of the primary documents and/or artifacts from the website and put together their own mini exhibition. For each item, they should write a caption in their own words using information from the Smithsonian site.

Note: Several of the photos in the exhibition contain a derogatory term for people of Japanese descent. Please preview the site material before deciding which sections to share with your students.

TO WATCH: Video interviews with Bill Shishima

TO DO: Write a letter

Densho, an organization that collects oral histories by Japanese Americans, features a series of fascinating video interviews with Bill Shishima on its website. (NOTE: To view this content on the Densho organization’s website, you must log in as and use the password guest.) We suggest students watch the clips in which Bill discusses life at Heart Mountain:

LEARNING TASK: Ask students to imagine they are a young Bill Shishima, and write a letter to friends back home about what life is like in an internment camp.

TO EXPLORE: A photo slideshow

TO DO: A text features exercise

These haunting, rarely seen photos from the time of Japanese internment will captivate your students.

LEARNING TASK: Have students choose three photographs that they believe would have been good additions to the Storyworks article. For each one, they should write a short paragraph about what the photograph adds to their understanding of the article.

TO READ: A first-person account of life at Heart Mountain

TO DO: A small-group discussion

Norman Mineta was only 10 years old when, like Bill Shishima, he was forced to live at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. His engaging account of his experience both echoes Bill Shishima’s and offers a different perspective.

LEARNING TASK: Have students answer the “Think About It” questions at the bottom of each section. Then arrange them in groups of three or four to discuss their answers.

Teach Earth Day With Storyworks and Storyworks Jr.

Anna Starecheski

Earth Day is on April 22nd, and if you're in search of a great lesson, we've got you covered! We've gathered our favorite Earth Day-friendly articles from this years' issues of Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. and have suggested some mini-lessons to go along with them. Happy Earth Day, from us to you!


Should Helium Balloons Be Banned?

In this fun debate from the February 2017 issue, students will learn the surprising ways in which helium balloons are not so environmentally-friendly. But does the fun outweigh the harm? Use this teacher's fun and simple debate lesson plan along with this debate!

Monster Goldfish/Pigs on the Loose

This paired text from the February 2017 issue is sure to blow your students' minds! Two texts explore two unlikely invasive species: goldfish and wild pigs. These stories are exciting to read, while teaching an important lesson about the environment. For a fun extension activity, have students research invasive species in your area. 

Storyworks Jr.

The Girl Who's Saving the Bees

This bite-size nonfiction piece from the October/November 2016 issue covers an incredible kid named Mikaila Ulmer, who was disturbed by the plight of bees in the world today. Mikaila has created a business selling lemonade while raising money and awareness. She uses local honey in her lemonade, and a portion of the profits go to saving the bees. Your students are sure to be inspired by Mikaila's mission! For a learning extension, do some research with your students and find out which local plants in your area are best for bees. You could even plant some at your school! 

The Snake That's Eating Florida

The feature nonfiction from the September 2016 issue is about one of the most well-known and destructive invasive species: the Burmese python. These huge snakes live in the Florida everglades and gobble up everything in their paths. We predict that your students will be fascinated by these slithery creatures. For extra fun, watch this video about invasive species created by our colleagues at Action magazine!


Do you have a successful Earth Day lesson we should know about? Tell us about it in the comments below!

4 Powerful Resources About Poaching

Anna Starecheski

We are so excited about our trio of texts in the March/April issue of Storyworks Jr. We've got a nonfiction feature about a baby elephant who was rescued after her mother was killed by poachers, an informational text about how drones are being used to stop poaching, and a beautiful poem about humans' complicated relationship with elephants. We hope that these texts inspire your students to learn more about the problem of poaching, and we want to help you guide them on that journey. Here are four powerful extensions to keep the learning going on this complex topic.

TO RESEARCH: A website about other endangered species

TO DO: A research project

This page on the WWF website allows you to click around and learn about other endangered animals. The page for each species has a lot of info, so you may need to guide students through the site.

LEARNING TASK: Divide students into groups and have each group pick an animal (preferably not elephants or rhinos, since that's what we cover in our articles) from the website. Each group should prepare a presentation about their chosen animal: What are the threats facing them? Are these threats caused by humans? What are humans doing to help them? What else can be done? 

TO READ: A book about a rhino—written by kids!

TO DO: A creative writing assignment.

This remarkable book, "One Special Rhino: The Story of Andatu," was written by a fifth grade class in Brooklyn, NY. The children tell the story of Andatu, the only Sumatran rhino to be born in captivity. 

LEARNING TASK: The children wrote this book from the point of view of Andatu. Have your students write a similar story from the point of view of Ishanga, the elephant featured in our story.

TO WATCH: A delightful video about elephant communication

TO DO: A class discussion

This video of elephants at play, overlaid with the voice of elephant biologist Joyce Poole, is absolutely adorable. It also demonstrates how elephants communicate with one another.

LEARNING TASK: Lead a class discussion about what students noticed while watching the video. Ask: How do elephants communicate? How does it compare to how we communicate as humans? How did watching this video help you understand elephants?

TO EXPLORE: An infographic about the differences between Asian and African elephants

TO DO: A compare and contrast activity

This site is a good starting point to see the differences between Asian and African elephants, but we encourage you to explore many photos of Asian and African elephants so that your students can really see the difference!

LEARNING TASK: Once students have been familizarized with the differences and similarities between Asian and African elephants, have them do a compare and contrast activity. They can do a Venn diagram, draw pictures, or write a short paragraph. 

We hope that these extensions keep the learning going in your classroom, and as always, let us know if you came up with any genius learning extensions while working on the March/April issue with your students!

Apollo 13 Learning Extensions: Out of This World!

Allison Friedman

Storyworks’s February nonfiction feature tells the gripping story of the Apollo 13 disaster, a mid-flight explosion that thrust three astronauts into a desperate fight for survival. We’re willing to bet that the story had your students on the edge of their seats—and left them in a frenzy of enthusiasm for all things outer space!

Here are four resources to add (rocket) fuel to the fire:

TO READ: An in-depth book about Apollo 13

TO-DO: A movie script

We’ve been eagerly awaiting this new book on Apollo 13 from Storyworks friend and contributor Tod Olson. His exciting account of the disaster delves deep into the minds of the three astronauts, helping readers understand what it felt like to be stranded 200,000 miles from Earth—and how much courage and determination it took to steer the spacecraft safely home.

LEARNING TASK: Have students pick a favorite part from the book and write it into a movie scene. Their scenes should include detailed stage directions and dialogue between the characters.

TO EXPLORE: An interactive website about the Space Race

TO-DO: An expository paragraph

Our article touches briefly on the Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but doesn’t explore it in depth. This engaging DK website is packed with kid-friendly information that will fill in the historical background for students.

LEARNING TASK: Ask students to write a new paragraph for the “A Space Race” section of Storyworks article, explaining what the Space Race was. They should include at least three details from the DK website.

TO EXPLORE: NASA’s Apollo 13 photo archive

TO-DO: A photo booklet (or slideshow)

Your students will love poring over this treasure trove of behind-the-scenes photos of the Apollo 13 mission. (Our favorite? The above shot of the mission’s Flight Directors celebrating the spacecraft’s safe landing.)

LEARNING TASK: Have students choose five of the photos to turn into an informational photo booklet. They should download the photos (using the download link in the bottom right-hand corner), paste them into a Microsoft Word document, and write a short caption underneath each one.

(Alternatively, they can use a free app like Shadow Puppet Edu to create a simple photo slideshow.)

TO WATCH: A primary source video of the first moon landing

TO-DO: A research project and journal entry

The footage of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon is just as electrifying today as it was nearly 50 years ago. Students will be able to imagine what it must have felt like to be one of the 600 million people watching the historic TV broadcast.

LEARNING TASK: After watching the video as a class, ask students to independently research the Apollo 11 mission online. Then have them imagine they’re a kid in 1969 and write a journal entry describing the experience of watching the moon landing on TV.

We can't wait to hear how these work in your classroom, and as always, let us know if you found any useful learning extensions for a Storyworks or Storyworks Jr. story!