Editor's notes

Taking Summarizing to a Higher Level

Rebecca Leon

Here at Storyworks, we're always searching for ways to make our support offerings the best possible learning tools for your students. That's why I'm super excited to share with you our new-and-improved higher-level summarizing activity for our nonfiction and paired-text features. It's called  "Quick, Tell Me What Happened!"




If you're a fan of our lower-level summarizing activity, with its handy sentence starters and prompts, don’t worry—you'll still find it with your resources. It's a great way for students to get started with this challenging skill, and it provides a model of what to include.

But for students who are ready for the next step, I wanted to create an activity that would not only get them to produce a summary, but also teach them how to apply the skill to any text. Our new format walks them through the process.

We've even included a helpful pre-writing tip: Summarize the article out loud with a partner before writing.



Our Storyworks teacher-advisers were invaluable in giving me feedback on this activity, as they do with so many of our resources. Our fabulous adviser Allie Curtis even had her 5th graders "test drive" an earlier version, leading to some smart revisions. (Those are her students in the photo above!)

My hope is that this brand-new activity will prepare students for an even more-advanced activity: a blank sheet of paper with the instruction "Write a summary."  I can't wait to hear how this works in your classroom. Please let me know anytime! Contact me at rleon@scholastic.com.


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!”

Four Fab Teaching Ideas (Thanks, Twitter!)

Anna Starecheski

It's such a joy for all of us here at Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. to scroll through Twitter and see what you're up to. We love seeing the unique ways in which you teach with our magazines—often, you come up with ideas we never had in mind when we were gathering stories and creating support materials! We're constantly sending each other links to your tweets—"Did you see this?!" "Check out this idea!" "WOW!" Your creativity and passion are incredibly inspiring. To us, the best part of sharing these ideas on Twitter is getting to share them with your fellow teachers and building our Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. communities. Here are a few of our recent favorite tweets from you!


We love how third-grade teacher Gladys Sanchez uses Seesaw to collect her students’ work as they read the story "Like Magic" from the October/November issue of Storyworks Jr. Plus, we’re swooning over that graphic organizer she created!


Using Kahoot to review key skills is always a win! Elizabeth Praschil created this Kahoot to review text features in the Storyworks Jr. feature nonfiction "Into the Dark Water." For more on Kahoot, check out this how-to Ideabook post!


It’s always great to see teachers using our resources in ways we never thought of: Dana Canales used the fiction story "Freddie in the Shade" in the September issue of Storyworks to teach her students about compound sentences! For more on how to use Storyworks as a mentor text to teach grammar skills, don't miss teacher Kristen Cruikshank's Ideabook simple method!


We had a feeling that students would love the  paired texts "The Amazing History of Dogs" in the September issue of Storyworks—Dawn Rodriguez helped her students make text-to-self connections by putting together a fantastic bulletin board of their dogs or dream dogs.


Keep sharing, and remember to use the hashtags #Storyworks and #StoryworksJr so we'll see your tweets! And don't forget to follow us!


  • Lauren Tarshis, editor of Storyworks@laurenTarshis
  • Allison Friedman, associate editor of Storyworks@alli_friedman
  • Kara Corridan, editor of Storyworks Jr.: @kcorridan
  • Anna Starecheski, assistant editor of Storyworks Jr.@annastarecheski
  • Rebecca Leon, education editor for Storyworks and Storyworks Jr.@RebeccaLeon12
  • Aimee Dolan, director of teacher outreach for all of our ELA mags: @Dolan_AS

Build Knowledge on Refugees

Allison Friedman

Storyworks’s October/November nonfiction article is on a difficult but deeply important topic: the Syrian refugee crisis. It tells the moving story of two young brothers who leave war-torn Aleppo and make a new home in the United States. After reading the article, your students may have questions about the war in Syria, the plight of refugees, and what they can do to help. Here are four resources that you can use to continue the conversation:


Note: Because of the difficulty of the subject matter, we suggest that you preview all of the materials below to make sure you feel comfortable sharing them with your students.


TO READ: A background knowledge-building book

TO DO: Small-group discussion

This slim book introduces elementary-age kids to the Syrian war and refugee crisis in simple, straightforward language. Definitions, facts, statistics, and maps are interwoven with the fictional story of a young refugee boy, which helps bring the information to life.

LEARNING TASK: After students have read the book, divide them into small groups of 3-4. Have each group choose one of the discussion prompts at the end of the book to talk about amongst themselves. Then come back together as a class and invite each group to share their thoughts.


TO VIEW: Photo slideshows

TO DO: A personal letter

These moving slideshows are the product of a joint project between ABC News and Unicef, in which 50 children living in the world’s largest refugee camp were given digital cameras and invited to document their lives. The resulting photos offer a fascinating glimpse into what it’s like to be a young refugee.

LEARNING TASK: Because the article that accompanies the slideshows is too sophisticated for your students, we suggest viewing the slideshows together as a class rather than letting kids explore on their own. Begin by explaining what a refugee camp is and showing the video that introduces the project. Then click through the slideshows, reading the captions out loud. Afterwards, invite students to write a letter to the young photographers who took the pictures, explaining how the photos made them feel and what they learned from the photos about life in a refugee camp.


TO WATCH: A powerful video

TO DO: A research project and brochure

The behind-the-scenes video for our 2016 article “Escape From War,” which is about a young Syrian refugee girl, focuses on the amazing ways that people are helping refugees around the world. Your students will be inspired to get involved.

LEARNING TASK: After watching the video, have students do independent research to find out what other people and organizations are doing to help Syrian refugees. Then have them make an illustrated brochure for their fellow students, explaining what is being done and how kids their age can help. (Students can either create their brochures on paper, or make digital versions with free online programs like Canva.)


TO EXPLORE: A striking infographic

TO DO: A paragraph-writing activity

This simple yet powerful infographic from the United Nations Refugee Agency will help students visualize the scale of the refugee crisis.

LEARNING TASK: Have students study the infographic carefully, looking up the definitions of words that are unfamiliar to them. Then have them use the information in the infographic to write a paragraph, in their own words, describing the refugee crisis to someone who might not know about it.


I hope these ideas spark further learning and discussion in your classroom about this important topic. And, as always, if you have a great learning extension, we want to hear about it! Get in touch with us anytime.

4th grade Storyworks Community Takes Action

Aimee Dolan

We are always gushing over our truly amazing Storyworks teachers and their students. Adviser Debbie Ericksen from Bridgewater, New Jersey, and her 4th-grade students are a perfect example of a Storyworks community coming together for a worthy cause. After Hurricane Harvey, her students learned about the devastating effects of the storm on students just like themselves in the Houston area. They exclaimed: "We want to help Houston schools!" So we quickly connected them to a school in the area, Ford Elementary School, where Dana Canales, another standout 4th-grade Storyworks adviser, teaches. Unfortunately, many students in Dana's class are still displaced from their homes. Everyday coveted items like books and school supplies have been washed away. So Debbie's class decided to hold a book drive.

So far they've collected more than 200 books and dozens of supplies! In the process, two other classes from Adamsville Elementary, also in Bridgewater, have joined in to help the effort. Shoutouts to the classes of 4th-grade teachers Ms. Judge and Ms. Pfitzenmayer, who've both adopted a Ford classroom to support with books and supplies. 

These students are so excited to make an instant difference in the lives of kids just like themselves. And coming together around reading and literacy is a powerful experience for children to share with one another, even when they're thousands of miles apart.

This is just the beginning of the partnership between these schools. Next on the agenda, Ms. Ericksen's and Ms. Canales' classes will work on Storyworks nonfiction article "Our World Turned to Water," which showcased a similar hurricane and flood that ravaged Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last August. These Storyworks teachers will develop a lesson plan and writing activities together, and hopefully have a Skype session so students can see and hear each other as they work on important ELA and empathy-building skills. Whatever these two inspiring educators come up with will certainly provide all of their students with a bigger lesson they'll never forget.


We absolutely love it when we can connect our joyful Storyworks community.

Bravo to ALL!



Introducing: Pacing Guides!

Kara Corridan

“Do you have a pacing guide?”

I’ll be honest. When teachers asked that question, I’d always cringe, for two reasons. Number one: we did not have a pacing guide. Number two: Creating one would be a huge undertaking. We’re a small team at Storyworks and Storyworks Jr., and with everything we’ve wanted to create for our resources, we just hadn’t had the opportunity to work on the kind of comprehensive pacing guide you deserve...

…until now! Here are our brand-new pacing guides for both Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. This is where you’ll discover how our resources can fit into your teaching calendar as you map out the rest of the year, and as you break out your plans day by day. You’ll also find the genres and skills you can expect to cover with your students, plus the differentiation, assessment, and standards information you need to create a complete, powerful, and robust schedule of lessons.

Speaking of standards, we have hot-off-the-presses documents that outline exactly how Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. align with Common Core and similar state standards. And for our Texas teachers, we’ve got documents dedicated solely to TEKS. We hope you’ll share them with your administrators. See below for links to these documents:

We can’t wait to hear how these resources work for you. Please share your feedback with us! 

Volcanic Learning Extensions

Anna Starecheski

We knew that Lauren Tarshis's gripping story "Mountain of Fire," about the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, would be a home-run for Storyworks Jr. readers. The science of volcanoes is fascinating, and their power is breathtaking. Keep your students engaged with the learning extensions below, and as always, let us know if you came up with any great extensions for one of our stories!


TO READ: An in-depth account of the eruption of Mount St. Helens

TO DO: A timeline

This fantastic book by Patricia Lauber goes into great detail telling the story of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, from the warning signs to the slow return of wildlife to the area. This will appeal to science- and history-minded students alike, with its vivid photographs and diagrams.

LEARNING TASK: Have students create a colorful timeline poster of the events leading up to and following the eruption of Mount St. Helens.


TO WATCH: A mesmerizing video of lava

TO DO: A creative writing assignment

This beautful video from National Geographic shows the power and beauty of volcanic lava. You can also feel free to click around and watch other volcano videos, like this one.

LEARNING TASK: After watching the video, have students write creatively about the spectacle of a volcano. They can write a poem, a paragraph, or even make a list of similes and metaphors describing volcanoes or lava.  


TO EXPLORE: A fact-filled infographic

TO DO: A research project

This easy-to-read infographic shares some fun, unexpected facts about volcanoes.

LEARNING TASK: Go over the infographic as a class, discussing which facts students found the most surprising or interesting. Then have students work in pairs or small groups to research volcanoes further, using your school's library, the internet, or any other sources you may have. Each pair or group should come up with at least one new fact about volcanoes that they found surprising. For an extra extension, these facts could be compiled into a binder or on a bulletin board.


TO STUDY: A visual display of various volcanic rocks

TO DO: A hands-on nature exploration

This website has great photographs of all the different types of igneous rocks. In our article we mention pumice, but there are many more fascinating types! 

LEARNING TASK: If appropriate for where your school is located, have students explore outside and look for rocks they think might be volcanic. Your students might be surprised to be able to find examples right in their backyard, so to speak. For more urban environments, remember that granite is an igneous rock!


We hope these extensions inspire your students, and if you tried any of them out, let us know by emailing us or tweeting with the hashtag #StoryworksJr!

Teaching Grammar With Storyworks

Anna Starecheski

At Storyworks, we believe the best way to learn grammar is through reading. That’s why we’ve created an approach that allows students to uncover key grammar concepts in the context of our articles and stories. With each issue, they’ll practice a featured grammar skill with our entertaining activities.

Our popular Grammar Cop column, which appears in every issue, focuses on one key grammar skill. Students must correct grammar errors in a delightful short feature on a fun topic. Check out this example from our September 2017 issue: Students practice capitalization while learning fun facts about chewing gum!

Need reinforcement? We've got you covered! For every Grammar Cop column, we offer a supplementary activity sheet online where students can continue practicing the featured skill. Click here for a sample!

For a fun extension activity, have a grammar scavenger hunt! Have students look through the issue of Storyworks, as well as old issues, other magazines, and classroom books, for examples of the grammar skill highlighted in the latest Grammar Cop.

You can also use a Storyworks text as a mentor text to teach a particular grammar skill. One of our teacher BFFs, Kristen Cruikshank, came up with a fantastic grammar lesson based on short fiction from Storyworks. Check it out here!

Do you have a creative method for teaching grammar using Storyworks or Storyworks Jr.? We want to hear from you!



A Hopeful Poem for Difficult Times

Lauren Tarshis

Hi teachers,

When I wrote "Our World Turned to Water," the nonfiction feature for the September issue of Storyworks, I never imagined that when it came out, millions of people would be facing the aftermath of terrible disasters. While this story is about events in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2016, I hope you’ll find that the facts and themes will help your students grasp what many Americans have recently experienced, and will inspire your students to want to help in any way they can.

We had asked poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich to write us an original poem to go along with my story. "What We Know" is about the spirit of coming together to overcome any difficult event; whether that be a flood, a hurricane, an earthquake, a wildfire, or a personal problem.

I hope that my article and Rebecca’s poem will provoke a rich discussion in your class.


Download and print the poem here.

Help Your Students Celebrate Their Differences

Anna Starecheski

Hi, teachers! We're thrilled to share with you a fantastic social-emotional learning opportunity available to all 4th grade students in the U.S. A wonderful organization called Don't Hide it, Flaunt It! (DHIFI) has teamed up with Scholastic for its National Kids Flaunt Essay Contest. DHIFI encourages kids and adults alike to celebrate—to flaunt!—what makes them different and awesome. Meg Zucker, who runs DHIFI, is a dear friend to us here at Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. We've featured her sons, Ethan and Charlie, in both Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. Meg, Ethan, and Charlie all have a condition called ectrodactyly, and they are missing most of their fingers and toes. And yet all of them have full lives, with lots of friends and lots of passions.

Our readers have responded to our articles about Ethan and Charlie in a big way! We heard from many teachers and students that these articles helped to build empathy and encouraged students to be proud of what makes them different, whether it's a visible difference like the Zuckers', an invisible difference like having a food allergy, or even a positive difference, like being a twin.

You'll find all the details about the contest here, including the essays from last year's winners. Be sure to show your students the fantastic video introducing the contest, too. The deadline to enter is November 3. We hope your students will be inspired to enter. Good luck to your students!