Editor's notes

A Dazzling New Tool: The Vocab Slideshow!

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

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

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

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!

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

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!


Editor, Storyworks

Welcome to the Storyworks Ideabook!

Hello teachers!

I wish you could come to our New York offices and listen in on some of our discussions (and share some of the delicious coffee we get across the street). Really, all we talk about is YOU. We’re constantly figuring out how we can best assist you in your teaching journey — what problems we can help you solve, what challenges we can help you overcome, how we can make your job a little bit easier and your days more joyful. 

And it was during one of these discussions that we realized we wanted to do more to help you use Storyworks (and our brand-new Storyworks Jr.) to its very fullest. We decided to start this new forum, which we call the Storyworks Ideabook, and it’s where we’ll share ways to use our resources in the classroom.

You’ll find the basics — our favorite “recipe” for a nonfiction close read, how to use our Core Skills package to build test readiness, ideas for making the most of our many activities. And we’ll also tell you about some of the amazing ideas we get from Storyworks teachers who are using our resources in effective, creative, and innovative ways. 

We hope you’ll share your ideas with us — and that you’ll share the ideas you find here. We are so pleased to be a part of your teaching life, and hope that this new tool will make a difference.

Warmest wishes,


What do you hope to get out of this resource? Let us know in the comments!

Sneak Peek: Storyworks Jr.'s September Issue!

Kara Corridan

Our debut issue arrived in our office this week, and will be delivered to your classrooms soon. We can't wait for you to get your hands on it! Here's a preview of some of the highlights.


The Snake That's Eating Florida. This narrative nonfiction story is about the Burmese python and how it's basically gobbling up everything in its path in Everglades National Park--even animals many times their size. How did snakes from China even get here? How can they physically eat something so much larger and wider than they are? What's being done to stop them? We answer all these questions and more, honing in on the featured skill of cause and effect. And to make this even more compelling, we'll have our Video Read-Aloud online, where author Lauren Tarshis narrates her story, while authentic footage and photos draw your students in. (More here on the best ways to use our Video Read-Aloud.)

The Big One. I adore this fictional tale of a boy who wants his family to love fishing as much as he does. It's warm, witty, and relatable, and serves as a perfect showcase for character development. Go online for the audio version, read by "The Big One" author himself, Tommy Greenwald.

The Hottest Place on Earth/The Coldest Place on Earth.  Our paired texts will help your students understand the jarring conditions in two locations with extreme weather: Dallol, Ethiopia, and Oymyakon, Russia. Check it out:

As you can see, it's the ideal setup for compare and contrast, and a great way to work in important facts about geography and science. Plus, there are lots of fun details about both places, like this: If you toss a pot of boiling water in the air in Oymyakon, it'll turn to snow!

Are Trampolines Too Dangerous?  This topic, the subject of this issue's debate feature, hits home: I'm so sure my young daughters will be injured on a trampoline, I don't allow them to go on any. This is a HIGHLY unpopular decision with my girls--made even more so when our new neighbors put up an enormous trampoline 20 feet from our backyard--but I have to stick by it. That said, I think our story very fairly presents both sides of the argument, and while I have a feeling I know which side most of your students will pick, they're sure to learn a few new facts about the risks.

These truly are just some of the highlights in our September issue. We've got so much more: a folktale play, an infographic, a vocab column, a grammar column, and I still haven't listed everything.

A word about the online resources I mentioned: They'll be available in mid-August, just as soon as we've put the finishing touches on our brand-new website. It's going to be amazing, but of course we'll be awaiting your feedback, very eager to know how it's working for you. One aspect of our site we know you'll love: All content and support materials--including video, audio, lower- and higher-level versions, and dozens of activities and quizzes--will be available to you for free this school year. No access code needed! That's how excited we are for everyone to try Storyworks Jr

In the meantime, enjoy these last weeks of summer!