Editor's notes

Celebrate Black History Month With These Editor's Picks!

In honor of Martin Luther King Day on January 16, and Black History Month in February, we want to highlight some of our favorite Civil Rights-related Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. content from past and present. (Here's your friendly reminder that with a subscription, you can access our archives, with contain many gems like these!) Most of what I’m recommending are plays, which gives your students the chance to step into the shoes of some of the most important figures in this movement.  


For Storyworks Jr. Subscribers:

The Day Mrs. Parks Was Arrested

This month in Storyworks Jr. we’ve got an incredible play about Rosa Parks, whose story features the young preacher Martin Luther King Jr. Make sure to check out our vocabulary slideshow and special Time Machine video, which gives students historical and cultural context by taking them back to the 1950s. Featured skill: cause and effect
NOTE: If you’re a Storyworks subscriber, you can check out a higher-level version of the play that we published a few years back!

 

For Storyworks subscribers:

The Unstoppable Ruby Bridges

Be sure to check out our latest Storyworks play about a brave 6-year-old who helped lead the way to school integration. While you’re poking around our resources, make sure to check out the vocabulary slideshow which can help introduce your students to the Civil Rights vocabulary they’ll encounter in the play. Featured skill: theme

 

Sitting Down for Mr. King

In this Civil Rights-era play, students learn about the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, and how four brave students inspired thousands to “sit down” for equality. Featured skill: how character changes

 

The Daring Escape of Henry Box Brown

This play isn’t directly related to MLK or the civil rights movement of the 20th century, but it has important lessons about our country’s treatment of African Americans. It tells the story of Henry Brown, and the unusual risk he took to escape slavery. Featured skill: inference

 

”Up From Slavery”

This nonfiction article tells the inspiring story of Booker T. Washington, a man who relentlessly pursued an education for himself and other former slaves. The article includes background information about the horrendous conditions of slavery and offers a video about the troubled times Booker lived through, including the Civil War and the difficult Reconstruction era. Featured skill: character traits

 

We hope you find these resources useful. Let us know how you use them in the classroom by commenting below, or emailing me directly at nkouri@scholastic.com.

A Free Storyworks Play: Our Gift to You!

By
Kara Corridan

I'm closing in on my first year as editor of Storyworks Jr., and with the holidays upon us, I'm reflecting on everything I'm grateful for. High on the list is connecting with so many of you who bend over backwards to make learning fun and meaningful for your students. What you do every day, often amid challenging circumstances and shrinking resources, inspires all of us here. As a thank you, we're giving you one of my favorite stories from the Storyworks archives.

 

When I joined the team and dove into the more than 20 years' worth of nonfiction, fiction, plays, debates, poetry, and grammar exercises that have been published in Storyworks, I was blown away by the richness and relevance of the material. And I was slightly embarrassed by how much I was learning. How did I not know there was a deadly molasses flood in Boston nearly 100 years ago? Or that dozens of children died in a freak blizzard in the Great Plains in 1888? (We adapted that story for Storyworks Jr. in our October/November 2016 issue.) 

 

But what really grabbed me was a read-aloud play called "The Daring Escape of Henry Box Brown," originally published in Storyworks more than 15 years ago, and more recently in the January 2016 issue. It's the downright riveting story of a man named Henry Brown who is so desparate to escape slavery in Virginia in 1848 that he gets packed in a crate and shipped to Philadelphia. Henry Brown was in that crate for 27 hours, with only a bottle of water to sustain him, before -- no, I won't give away the ending. We're breaking through the Storyworks paywall and giving this play to all of our Ideabook readers. You can read about Henry Box Brown for yourself, and more to the point, you can share his unforgettable story with your students. It's a powerful way to teach about American history, particularly slavery, and to focus on inference, character, and main idea. Please let me know what your class thinks of it! You can comment below, or email me directly at KCorridan@scholastic.com. 

 

From all of us at Storyworks and Storyworks Jr., we wish you a wonderful, peaceful holiday season!

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 Anny and Viv 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!”

A Dazzling New Tool: The Vocab Slideshow!

By
Anna Starecheski

We are SO excited about the newest differentiation tool for both Storyworks and Storyworks Jr.: the Vocabulary Slideshow! It's a dazzling multimedia feature that will help your students unlock the challenging vocabulary in our resources. It's especially helpful for English language learners, as well as visual and auditory learners.

We're confident you'll find our slideshows an effective tool to introduce or reinforce new academic and domain-specific vocabulary words from our magazines.

They're simple to use: Click through and you'll see each vocabulary word accompanied by its definition, an image or video that demonstrates its meaning, and a recording of the word and definition read aloud. We hope they're a WOW in your classrooms!

For Storyworks, we offer a vocabulary slideshow with every nonfiction article. Click here to see a sample vocabulary slideshow from Storyworks.

For Storyworks Jr., we offer a vocabulary slideshow with every nonfiction article, paired text, and play. Click here to see a sample vocabulary slideshow from Storyworks Jr.

We suggest showing your students these easy-to-use multimedia slideshows before reading a feature to introduce new and unfamiliar vocabulary words. Or show them after reading to reinforce meanings. As a bonus vocabulary activity, have students create their own slideshow or PowerPoint presentation with additional words that are new to them. Use your own genius ideas! And please share them with us and other subscribers too!

We've gotten wonderful feedback from teachers, and hope it fast becomes one of your must-use tools in your ELA teaching kit! And of course our fingers are crossed hoping that your students will find it both engaging and helpful as they grow their understanding of new words!

 

How Lauren fell in love with a class from Texas

By
Lauren Tarshis

A huge perk of my job is having the chance to connect with so many children and teachers. Almost every week, I Skype with a different class. All of my Skypes are wonderful experiences. But never did I imagine that a 30-minute Skype call with a group of fourth graders from Richmond, Texas could become, for me, a love story.

Teacher Kristin Cruikshank uses Storyworks for reading instruction, and her students read one of my I Survived books in their historical fiction unit. Mrs. Cruikshank wrote to us, and then told me, “Our school is a title one campus full of amazing kids!"

She wasn’t kidding – the kids were amazing. What poise! What smiles! What insightful questions! All day I was aglow thinking about Mrs. Cruikshank and her students.

But it wasn’t until after the call that things took an unusual turn.

I had told the kids that I was going to send each of them my latest I Survived book. I went on Amazon to place the order, and then wrote to Mrs. Cruikshank (I just love that name) telling to expect two boxes – one large, one small.

Three days later, she wrote to me:

“So……I saw two Amazon packages this morning . . There were two packages, one small and one large, just like you said. I opened the small box first and saw ten I Survived books! Then, I opened the large box, and saw an adult size giraffe costume (and no books!) We laughed hysterically as I put on the costume (which was way too small!)”

(It wasn’t until that night that I solved the mystery: My daughter Valerie had put the costume into my Amazon cart as a Halloween possibility. Lesson learned: Carefully examine what’s in your cart before you send books to a school—imagine the horrifying possibilities!)

But the story goes on.

This past week, I was at the Tweens Read festival in Houston. This is a truly extraordinary event organized by the Blue Willow Bookshop. They bring in authors (32 this year) for a day of panel discussions and book signings. This year, more than 2,500 students came, mostly with their teachers and librarians. I had just done my first panel discussion (I must drop names here – the others on the panel: Adam Gidowitz, Jenni Holm, Margarita Engle, Barry Lyga, and Karen Cushman).

I stepped off the stage and THERE was Mrs. Cruikshank, her student teacher Megan, and her amazing students – in the flesh. Seeing them was like being reunited with beloved family members.

And this really is the joy of my work: that an email and a Skype can lead to a picture of an incredible teacher in a giraffe costume, a chance to meet her amazing students in person, and, for me, a heart filled with love and gratitude.

(Footnote: Mrs. Cruikshank brought the giraffe costume to the festival, but I made her keep it!)

How to Teach the 2016 Election

By
Anna Starecheski

We all know that this election season has been contentious and messy, to say the least. We've heard from many teachers that they've been struggling with how to teach their students about this election.

Here at Scholastic, we want to help you teach your students about the presidential election in age-appropriate ways. The editor-in-chief for Classroom Magazines, Elliott Rubhun, is quoted in this wonderful article from the Washington Post. We highly recommend you check it out—Elliott gives concrete advice for how to teach the election for each grade level. For more on the election for kids, check out election.scholastic.com.

If you want to have a more general conversation about politics, Storyworks has a timely and appropriate debate that you should check out: Is It Wrong to Talk About the Election? The polarizing nature of this particular upcoming presidential election makes this debate ideal for these final weeks leading up to November 8th.

For a 5-day plan for how to teach our debates, check out this lesson plan from teacher Ellen Weiner!

How to Explain Storyworks to Colleagues

By
Anna Starecheski

Are there teachers (or administrators) in your life who don't quite get what Storyworks is all about? Here's the perfect way to familiarize them with it. In this fun, short video, editor Lauren Tarshis walks you through our offerings, including the teacher's guide, activity sheets, and website. We know you already love us, so share the love! Share this video with your teaching colleagues and invite them to explore what Storyworks can do for their classroom! Check it out now!

The Storyworks Teacher's Guide - New and Improved!

By
Rebecca Leon

Back-to-school is here, and just as you have beautifully redecorated your bulletin boards, thoughtfully arranged the desks, and maybe even unfurled a new classroom rug, we have freshened up the Storyworks Teacher's Guide to make it even more user-friendly for you. Be sure to check out these changes:

 

1. The "vital stats" are right up front

Just a glance at the first page of each lesson tells you how we've got you covered. The "About the Article" column lists reading levels, learning objectives, key skills, and standards correlations. (If you need to submit this information on your lesson plans, it's right at your fingertips!) "Your Teaching Support Package" lets you know about all the fabulous material you'll find online: videos, audio recordings, lower-Lexile versions, printable activities, and new this year, vocabulary slide shows. Missing the complexity factors? No worries! You'll find them on our website.

 

2. Even more ideas for using Storyworks with every learner

Our "Differentiate Your Teaching" section on the third page of each lesson still has helpful ideas for tailoring lessons for struggling or advanced readers. This year, we've added tips to each lesson for supporting your ELL students. From vocabulary support to help with cultural references, we've got ideas for you. (Plus, don't miss our questions for English language learners, available online!)

 

3. Tips for the way YOU teach

Whether you use Storyworks for whole-class, small group, or independent reading, we've got suggestions with each lesson, so you can use this flexible resource to best fit your classroom. Storyworks for book groups? Check. For guided reading? Check. What else can we help you with? Please let us know - we'd love to hear!

 

We hope these changes make Storyworks an even better fit for your classroom. But we haven't thrown out the baby with the bath water (there's an idiom for your students!). You'll still get our Step-by-Step Lesson plans with a focus on vocabulary, text features, close-reading and critical-thinking questions, and critical skill-building.

 

I'd love to hear your feedback on the Teacher's Guide and to know what else you'd like to find there. Email me anytime at rleon@scholastic.com. I'll look forward to hearing from you!

Teachers, Share Your Insights with Our Reading-Level Guru

Editor's note: Senior editor Christy Damio is our on-site expert on Lexile and Guided Reading scales, which of course play a huge role in the creation of Storyworks Jr. Here, she shares what she’s learned, and why we always count on your feedback to fine-tune our approach.

“Do you know how many pounds are in a ton?”

“What does the word obsessed mean to you?”

“Have you ever heard of Zeus?”

These are the kinds of questions that I regularly ask the 3rd-graders in my life. Their answers are often amusing and always valuable. That’s because I need to know what they can read and understand, and what makes a text challenging for them but not overwhelming.

At Storyworks Jr., we strive to create texts that are exciting and compelling, that challenge young readers to learn new words and skills—and that also provide the tools they need to face and savor those challenges. 

Reading levels play an important role in this process. In my more-than-a-dozen years at Scholastic, I’ve had many occasions to feel grateful for useful scales like Lexile and Guided Reading. These scales remind us to monitor sentence length, to avoid obscure references, and to scrutinize our use of rhetorical questions. We sometimes walk a fine line between quantitative and qualitative measures, shortening sentences to lower a Lexile score while carefully preserving the connections between ideas to stay within our Guided Reading band.  

Over time, we’ve created guidelines for writing on-level texts. We know when—and why—to use courageous instead of brave. We know when two sentences are better than one, and which metaphors will confuse most 8-year-olds.

Still, striking the perfect balance is an ongoing challenge. When faced with a choice between vital and important, I sometimes turn to the kids I love—avid and reluctant readers both—to help me decide.

And I’m turning to you. Teachers—who spend hours at a time watching kids read, seeing which images reinforce understanding and which distract—are a rich source of information. I’d love to know what you know: what makes a map easier to read, or why a story title unexpectedly made your students laugh.  

If you have any insights that you’d like to share, please get in touch: cdamio@scholastic.com. And I will keep doing my best to ensure that our stories are just right for your students.

Storyworks Jr. debut issue video walk-through

By
Aimee Dolan

We couldn’t resist sharing a recent Periscope Twitter event with our new social media darling, and Executive Editor of Storyworks Jr., Kara Corridan. Please enjoy a video walk-through of our debut September issue with Kara, right from her desk at our office. So much love and work has gone into the development of this resource—and hundreds of teachers like you have shared their insights and ideas. We are tripping over ourselves to share it with anyone who’s willing to hear us rant about how passionate we are about helping your growing readers. We aim to deliver a show-stopping resource and hope our debut issue is a HIT in your classroom.

For those of you who are still awaiting the arrival of your print materials, you’ll love this fun and in-the-moment video walk-through of both the print issue and dazzling new website, where you can find powerful tools to make our content come to life in your classroom. Also don’t forget that Storyworks Jr. Online is FREE for a limited time, no access code needed. Click here to sample our thrilling and important stories and fantastic teaching supports.

 

Please leave a comment below with your thoughts on the debut issue!