Editor's notes

A Fun Way to Boost Writing Skills

Kara Corridan

Have your students ever entered our writing contests? If they haven't, I'm hoping this is the year that they do. In Storyworks, we have several contests in each issue; Storyworks Jr. generally has at least two writing contests per issue. Our goal is to encourage creative and persuasive writing, and to provide you with opportunities to get your students excited about writing. We aim to make it as simple for your students to enter as possible, offering custom entry forms for each contest. We also aim to make the winners feel proud of their accomplishment: We send each student a personal letter as well as a book prize that relates to the theme of the article they wrote about. (The photo above is of one of our Storyworks Jr. winners, Reed C. of Kentucky, with her 3rd-grade teacher, Rachel Lepping. Reed wrote a wonderful essay about our May/June 2017 nonfiction feature, "The Boston Molasses Flood of 1919.") And coming soon, Storyworks Jr. will offer a participation certificate PDF for you to print out and give your students as encouragement for having entered. 

We are constantly impressed by the effort that students (and teachers) put in to their entries. And it's so heartening to notice how students' entries get stronger as the school year progresses and their writing skills evolve: Sentence structure becomes more complex, vocabulary is more varied, and the kids' creative-writing skills shine through.

We loved getting an email recently from a teacher who told us about one of our Storyworks contest winners: "Although she loves stories, reading didn't come easily to her. Winning a competition like this has been a huge confidence builder. They even added her photo on the school website homepage announcing the win." This is exactly how we hope our winners will feel! 

For tips on how to make sure your students' entries stand out, you won't want to miss this post. Good luck!  

Family Engagement Made Easy!

Rebecca Leon

We are thrilled to offer letters for you to share with your students' families, introducing them to Storyworks  and Storyworks Jr., and providing simple tips for sharing the joy of reading with their child. We realize how vital the school-to-home connection is, and our goal is to make it easier for you to build that bridge.

You'll find the letters - in English and Spanish - on our website with every issue.

 Here's what is included:

  • An introductory letter with tips for exploring any issue at home
  • An optional second page, if you wish to send home the classroom password for our online Student View (now also available for Storyworks Jr.)
  • An issue-specific letter with ideas for talking about stories in the current issue
  • Each of the above pages in Spanish
  • Choice of PDF or Word documents

Select the pages you wish to distribute. Send them home in kids' backpacks, post them on your class webpage, email them to parents, or hand them out on back-to-school night. The Word documents allow you to personalize the letters, or to copy and paste them into a text or any other method you use to communicate with parents or guardians. You can also copy them into a translation program if you need them in a language other than English or Spanish.

We'd love to hear what you think. Drop me a line any time at rleon@scholastic.com.

Social-Emotional Learning and our "One of a KIND" Contest

Anna Starecheski

As we've been telling you excitedly, we're placing a bigger focus on social-emotional learning this year in Storyworks Jr. Part of this is the launch of our signature contest, One of a KIND. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we cannot wait to read your students' entries! But first, let me back up a bit.

Our October/November Paired Text is about Kevin, a boy with autism, who finds relief in equine therapy. Kevin explains how autism affects his life, and how riding horses has helped him. We've paired this short text with an interview with Grace Dupont, whose younger brother has autism. She shares what she wants people to know about Carl in her touching answers to our questions. My favorite point she makes is that people shouldn't feel bad for Carl. "He has a very happy and interesting life," she says. I think it's so important to focus on the joys of the lives of those who are different from us, not just the challenges. These paired texts lead into our new One of a KIND contest.

We want to hear about what makes your students amazing. Whether that's a story about a time when they had a hard time fitting in, a time they were a great friend, or just what makes them one of a kind. (See what I did there?)

Entering writing contests is a great authentic creative writing activity for your students, plus it builds confidence and writing skills! We hope you'll encourage your students to enter--we can't wait to hear what they have to say!

A Sneak Peek at Storyworks Paired Texts: Christian the Lion

Allison Friedman
You’ve probably already heard of Christian the Lion, the subject of Storyworks’s October/November Paired Texts. 
Doesn’t ring a bell? Allow us to refresh your memory:

Okay, now take a minute to blow your nose!
It’s easy see why that video, first posted in 2008, quickly became one of the most popular YouTube videos of all time. Your students can read all about the incredible interspecies friendship behind the video in author Tod Olson’s upcoming article, which tells the amazing true story of Christian’s upbringing in London, his release into the wilds of Kenya, and his emotional reunion with Ace Bourke and John Rendall. We’ve paired it with a lovely Rebecca Kai Dotlich poem that echoes the article’s powerful theme: that wild animals belong in the wild.
You and your class can get your paws on this powerful paired texts package on September 12, when the Storyworks October/November issue goes up on our website. In the meantime, we won’t blame you if you watch the video a few more times!


Check Out Storyworks Jr.'s Newest Vocabulary Feature!

Anna Starecheski

We know there's still plenty of summer left, but many of you are deep into planning for the year ahead. We've been hard at work too, and we just can't resist sharing the stories we're so excited about! Check back here every Tuesday for a new special teaser of upcoming content in Storyworks and Storyworks Jr.!

This week, I'm excited to tell you about a brand new feature in Storyworks Jr.: Word Power!

Every issue will now open with a fascinating piece of short nonfiction with a vocabulary-building twist. When we're picking topics for Word Power, we ask ourselves: Will this knock students' socks off? Will they immediately want to read this? It's a unique challenge, and we've loved hunting down topics for this new feature!

Our September Word Power, "The Power of Stink," definitely checks all our boxes. In this short piece, we explore animals that use disgusting smells to protect themselves. And let me just say... my life hasn't been the same, for better or for worse, since learning about "hyena butter." 

Your September issue and resources will be up on our site on August 11th—we can't wait for you to see everything we've been cooking up this summer!

A Sneak Peek at Storyworks Nonfiction: The 2016 Louisiana Flood

Allison Friedman

We can’t wait for you and your students to get your hands on Storyworks’ September nonfiction feature, “Our World Turned to Water.” It tells the story of the devastating flooding that struck Southern Louisiana in August of last year—the worst natural disaster in the U.S. since Hurricane Sandy.

In the days after the flood, editor Lauren Tarshis received an email from a Storyworks class in Baton Rouge, inviting her down South to visit their school and hear their stories of survival. The experiences they shared were harrowing, but also deeply inspiring: a testament to the power of resilience, community, and hope. Lauren wove these stories into a thrilling nonfiction story that will move your students and hold them rapt.

And to take them even further into the story, we have a behind-the-scenes video in which Lauren gives students a firsthand look at her trip down to Baton Rouge. It features emotional interviews with students and teachers affected by the flood, and is probably our most moving and personal video ever. I’ve been working on it for almost a month, have seen it no fewer than 50 times, and I still get a giant lump in my throat every time I watch. You and your class are going to love it.

Luckily, you don’t have to wait too long. The article and video (as well as the rest of the Septepmber 2017 issue) will be up on the Storyworks website next Friday, August 11—so make sure to check in then!

Sneak Peek at Next Year's SEL Focus

Anna Starecheski

Knowing how crucial social-emotional learning is for third graders, we've been buzzing with ideas for how to incorporate SEL into our content, and we're so excited about what we've come up with! We're going to work an SEL focus into many of our stories next year: not just fiction, but also plays, short nonfiction, paired texts, and more. I've been working on a story that I'm dying to tell you about, so here's a special sneak peek into some of our Fall 2017 content!

Jesselyn and me at the gym where she trains

In May, I took a bus to a boxing gym in Hackensack, New Jersey to meet a truly awesome kid. Jesselyn Silva just turned 11 and she's been boxing for four years. That's right—she started when she was 7! Jesselyn is instantly engaging, with a big braces-clad grin and lots to say. I sat with her in a small conference room at the Police Athletic League, where she trains 5 days a week. "I'm adding Sundays soon," she told me. When I asked her what the hardest thing about boxing was, she said "It's like I said in the documentary, I never ever ever ever—maybe like a hundred evers—think anything is too hard for me." She was talking about a New York Times Op Doc made about her earlier this spring. It's clear that Jesselyn's confidence is genuine, and it's hard not to be inspired by her. 

I'm writing a Paragraph Power, a short nonfiction text with an accompanying writing exercise, about Jesselyn for our September issue. My goal for this article is to show that girls can buck all the stereotypes and be tough. Jesselyn told me that when she first started boxing, some of her friends wouldn't let her play with them because she did a boy's sport. Other kids assume that she's mean or not-so-smart because she partakes in such a rough sport. Now, she has a group of friends that don't judge her. I was very excited to write about a young female athlete for an age group for whom gender stereotypes are starting to take shape. I think your students, boys and girls, will be inspired by Jesselyn's tenacity and, to use an outdated term, moxie!

Other SEL-themed stories coming up include:

  • Kevin and Daisy: A super-sweet paired text about a boy with autism who finds comfort in equine therapy, specifically a horse named Daisy. We're pairing his story with a sidebar from a young girl with a brother who has autism. She tells readers what she wants people to know about her brother.
  • Like Magic: A fiction story about a boy who is fed up with his family, especially his two little sisters. When he meets a mysterious magician, he gets his wish and is no longer a part of his family. Every student will be able to relate to this story!
  • The Empty Pot: This read-aloud play based on a Chinese folktale tells an important lesson about honesty.

Do you have any suggestions for SEL stories? Don't hesitate to send us an email at storyworksjr@scholastic.com!

Don't Miss Storyworks Jr.'s Nonfiction: the Titanic!

Anna Starecheski

We know there's still plenty of summer left, but many of you are deep into planning for the year ahead. We've been hard at work too, and we just can't resist sharing the stories we're so excited about! Check back here every Tuesday for a new special teaser of upcoming content in Storyworks and Storyworks Jr.!

This week, we're psyched about the nonfiction feature in the September issue of Storyworks Jr.: "Into the Dark Water."

The topic is one that's always a home-run with students: the sinking of the Titanic. This riveting feature by the fabulous Lauren Tarshis tells the story of the doomed ship through the eyes of 17-year-old Jack Thayer. Jack was a passenger who miraculously survived, even after jumping off the sinking ship into the icy water. Our story has rich vocabulary and a skills focus on Text Features. 

Right now, I'm working on the Video Read-Aloud for this story (Not familiar? Check out this one from last year's September issue), and I cannot wait for your students to see it! Like pretty much everyone, I've been a bit obsessed with the Titanic ever since I saw the movie as a middle schooler, so I was extremely excited to work on this video. I think I can safely say: It's gonna be a great one!

Tune back in next Tuesday for our next Teaser Tuesday!

Our Favorite Moments From You

Anna Starecheski

Happy summer, teachers! Here at Scholastic HQ, we've been reflecting on the year. It's been a great one! One thing we've been doing this year is becoming more active on Twitter, and we've all loved connecting with you. I wanted to round up some of our favorite Twitter moments from the past few months—it was no small feat! There were so many amazing, adorable, inspiring tweets from you. Here are just a few of our faves! And don't forget to follow us:

Monica Taddeo has truly become one of our teacher BFFs this year! We loved that the Storyworks article about slime inspired her class to make their own!

We were so impressed that two kids from Jessie George Elementary School won one of our Storyworks Jr. writing contests! If your students win, tweet us a picture! Those proud faces absolutely make our day.

We could barely contain our joy when we saw that two of our teacher friends, Mrs. Smothers and Mrs. Cruikshank, are planning to connect their students next year with a penpal program. Seeing Storyworks teachers connect on Twitter is truly amazing!

Mrs. Cruikshank tried a lesson she found right here on the Ideabook, and we loved seeing the results! I can particularly relate to the girl on the bottom right—I felt the same way when I learned about "hyena butter!"

We love nothing more than connecting with teachers and classes, so don't be shy! Follow us on Twitter and reach out anytime. I, for one, watch the #Storyworks and #StoryworksJr hashtags like a hawk!

Your thoughts on Storyworks Jr.'s first year

Kara Corridan

Last month we sent out a survey to all of our Storyworks Jr. subscribers. These surveys help us see exactly how we were able to help you this past school year, and how we can improve in the coming year. This feedback is critical for any magazine, but considering this was Storyworks Jr.'s first year, it's even more vital. So I offer a huge thank you to everyone who responded. We know these come at a time when you have a million deadlines to hit and plenty of end-of-year activities to attend. (By the way, if you got an email about our survey and you didn't click on the link to take it, it's not too late!) We've been poring through the results, and every single response and comment is helping us fine-tune our content, our support materials, and differentiation tools. Here are 5 takeaways that you might find interesting, too:

1. Nearly all of you want our stories to address SEL topics. 98% of you felt it's important to include social-emotional learning in our articles. We're glad to hear that, because in 2017-18, we'll have a special emphasis on SEL--not just in our fiction stories, but in our paired texts, too, and anywhere else it makes sense.

2. Most of you don't know about one of our best features.  We know how it is when you're done reading a story to your students, but they want to learn more about the topic: You'd love to keep the learning going, but you don't have time to dig around for learning extensions. Guess what? You don't have to! Our Can't-Miss Teaching Extras, which are on the Story Pages on our website, give you exactly what you're looking for--whether it's a short video, or a book, or a link to an infographic, or a cool fact we didn't have room to include in the story. (Can't find them? For our story about the Boston Molasses Flood, you simply scroll down and look for the white bar on the right side.)

3. Sometimes, you consider our stories to be a treat for your students. We loved when one teacher told us that she "lets" her students act our our read-aloud plays as a reward!

4. You can't get enough biographies. When we asked what you want to see more of, an overwhelming majority of you requested biographies. You can bet you'll be seeing more biographies in the next school year!

5. You want a sneak preview of content. Consider it done! All summer, starting in July, watch out each week for a peek at what we're cooking up for our fall and winter issues. For now, I'll give you a hint: Our September 2017 nonfiction feature has to do with a certain luxury liner that met an untimely end just over a century ago...