Genius teacher idea

Boost Skills and Fluency With Flipgrid

Thomasine Mastrantoni and Deborah Goldstein, the Link Ladies

Editor's note: The Link Ladies are back with yet another fabulous app tutorial that will help you create a collaborative learning community in your classroom—this time about a topic kids can't resist: toilets! Try out Flipgrid and let us know how it goes.


Every kid loves a little potty talk, right? In the February issue of Storyworks Jr., the paired texts are about toilets—but that's really a way in to some very important subjects: the history of the flush toilet, and a new disposable toilet for people without access to flush toilets. We thought it was the perfect opportunity to try out an awesome app that's catching on in schools all over the country. 


The app



Why we use it 


We're always looking for easy ways to use technology to create a collaborative learning environment. And we're constantly asking students to share their thinking. We want them to reflect on what they are learning. With the Flipgrid app, students can use video to share their responses. What kid in elementary school doesn’t want to see themselves on screen? Knowing that their peers will be viewing their videos virtually guarantees quality responses. 



Skill focus

These are the skills we focused on, but you can focus on any skill you’d like:

  • Citing Text Evidence
  • Comprehension
  • Fluency development



1 class period


What you’ll need

  • Storyworks Jr. paired texts "The Greatest Invention Ever" and "A New Kind of Toilet" in the February 2018 issue
  • iPads OR Chromebooks (camera needed) with Flipgrid app
  • Note: Flipgrid has both a free and a paid version for $65/year. Both versions work the same. The limitation with the free version is that you can only create one grid (sone classroom)—but within that classroom, you can create unlimited prompts (topics). Honestly, the free version is all you need. 


The setup

To create a Flipgrid response topic, simply follow the steps to create a new topic on your grid.

Fill in the details:



  • Topic title
  • Video response time (up to 5 minutes)
  • Topic description and question: Enter your instructions or question for students to respond to.
  • Topic Resources: Add a link to a website, video, or document for your students to access, or simply add an image that matches your topic. Choose your topic and privacy settings here as well.


The lesson

In this example we will focus on the paired texts in the February issue of Storyworks Jr. We read each of the paired texts as a whole class, then had students do a close read independently. We asked the students to focus on the big question of the texts: How do toilets save lives?



We want the students to be able to use evidence from both articles when they share their thinking. Since vocabulary comprehension is critical in understanding the main idea of articles, challenge your students to use the content vocabulary (bolded words) in their responses.
When students are done reading the texts, they are ready to share their responses using Flipgrid. To access your grid, students open the app and either enter in a grid code (given on your grid homepage) or opt to scan the QR code that leads directly to the topic you’ve created.
The steps to record their responses are simple:

1. Press the green plus sign. Press the video camera button and record your response. (You can pause and then continue to record.) Press the pause button to stop recording.



2. Press the green arrow to preview your video response. If you're satisfied, press the green arrow again to take a selfie.



3. Press the camera button to take a selfie. This is the image that your audience will see for your video response. This helps identify whose response they want to view.



4. Press the green arrow again to enter your student's name. (We only enter the first name and first initial of the last name—all other boxes can remain empty). Then press Submit and return to the topic.



Flipgrid allows your students (or you) to view and then respond to one another via video.


You can share your topic, your grid, or an individual response. Choose the Share button for whichever option you want.



The "grid" you create becomes an active and continuous place to learn: Once you sign up, creating a prompt for your students takes only a few minutes. What an amazing opportunity to develop a collaborative community! Win/Win: Kids love it and they work hard at it!


Follow this link to our topic page to view some of our student responses to this reading prompt.

Try it—you will catch #Flipgrid Fever! And check out the hashtag on Twitter for many more ideas from teachers!

How to Honor Teachers, Texas Style!

Aimee Dolan

Knowing that as teachers, you aren't always properly recognized for the all-encompassing work you do, we were so blown away to hear about an amazing program to honor top teachers in a Houston, Texas-area district known as Cypress Fairbanks (Cy-Fair). We think you'll be impressed by it too—and we hope that it can be modeled in other districts throughout the country! 


Once Cy-Fair's Top Teachers are identified, they are surprised with a crowning ceremony (see photos!) where they're presented with books and gifts, and they listen to their colleagues shower them with praise. Teachers never know when the next crowning ceremony will take place—these pop up throughout the year in this district made up of 56 elementary schools. (Yep, 56—this is Texas, after all!) ELAR Curriculum Coordinator Jenifer Jones describes the thinking behind the program: "It is our privelege to crown these extraordinary teachers with top honors. It is so important for our community to recognize their talent, creativity, and dedication to their craft. We know their skills have taken years to hone, and they have an enormous ability to support others in pursuit of excellence too." Emilie Manner, the 2-5 ELAR/SS curriculum coach, adds, "This is one of the great pay-it-forward programs at CFISD. I am so excited to have these dynamic new inductees as part of our program, and know they will bring us so many new ideas."  




Our Storyworks/Storyworks Jr. team has begun a special relationship with CFISD. Last August we presented at their PD week, just days before Hurricane Harvey hit, and we were witness to how this incredible community pulled together in beautiful ways in the aftermath of the storm. We are so enjoying getting to know this amazing team of literacy coaches and 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-grade teachers. Our editorial team can't wait to hear how these joyful educators are using Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. in their schools and will be sure to share some of their Genius Teacher Ideas with all of you in 2018.


If your district or school also has a special way to acknowledge teachers, please share it with us! 






Tell About This: An App for Fluency, Comprehension, and Fun!

Thomasine Mastrantoni and Deborah Goldstein, the Link Ladies

Editor's note: The Link Ladies, two of our favorite library media specialists, have brought us yet another winning app that will make your teaching life easier and make your students excited to learn. This latest app, Tell About This, allows students to record answers to prompts and questions, boosting fluency, comprehension, and confidence. Follow the Link Ladies' simple step-by-step instructions and bring app-based learning into your classroom!


As your students dive into text, it's great to have a way for them to share their thinking. Using this app, students will have an opportunity to independently explain how what they've read so far connects to the text as a whole.


The app

Tell About This, free and paid versions. (The paid version is $2.99)


Why use it?

Tell About This is an easy-to-use app that enables your students to do exactly what it says: tell you about it. They can respond to a reading prompt or a question, write their own, or use a pre-made prompt. It is a great app to practice fluency, independence and comprehension. You can set up the prompts to assess any topic or skill you are working on.  

The free and paid versions work exactly the same. The limitation with the free version is that you can only create and save one custom prompt at a time. You can also only create one Tell About (student-saved response) at a time in the free version. We use the paid version, so we can create and save unlimited Tell Abouts. Once you see this app in action, we bet you'll agree that it is well worth the money.


Skill focus:

  • Citing text evidence
  • Comprehension
  • Assessment
  • Fluency



1 class period


What you'll need:

  • The nonfiction feature "The Amazing Penguin Rescue" from the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Storyworks Jr. (or any article that contains Pause and Think comprehension questions)
  • iPads with Tell About This app


The set-up:

We designed this lesson as stations around the room. We have enough iPads to have multiple iPads at each station. Before you are ready to have the students independently work through the Tell About This stations, you need to set up the Tell About This prompts in the app. (By the way, if you only have a few iPads, that's fine too.)

To set up a Tell About This prompt, open the app and choose Create a Prompt.

Then, follow steps 1, 2, and 3 on that screen. Take a photo of your article (or use any photo you choose), add text (we typed the Pause and Think question here), and record audio (we recorded ourselves reading the Pause and Think question). Then, click on "Save."


The app will ask if you want the prompt to be saved into the “Custom” category. Choose YES.


Do this on each iPad. We divided up the iPads in our Library Media Center and recorded a different Pause and Think question on each so as students move from station to station, they have a different question to think about and respond to. (Pause and Thinks are a great Storyworks Jr. feature: They give students the opportunity to take a moment and think about the specific details they've just read.)


The lesson:

First we watched the video read-aloud for the nonfiction feature article in the December/January issue of Storyworks Jr., The Amazing Penguin Rescue. This gives all of our students an overview of the article and makes it accessible to everyone. 

After watching the video read-aloud, tell your students they are ready to conduct a close read independently. Remind them to answer the Pause and Think questions. 


Students will be responding to these Pause and Thinks by using Tell About This. You've already created the prompts in the app and placed iPads with different prompts at stations throughout the classroom. At each station, students will see a different part of the article. Students should be instructed to re-read that section and then use the Tell About This app to answer the Pause and Think. You can have copies of the magazine at each station.

When the students are ready to record their Tell About This response, they should open the app and choose "Custom."


When they click on Custom they should choose the image that matches the text they are working with.


When they open the Custom prompt they will hear the Pause and Think question that you recorded. When they have their response ready in their minds, they should click on the microphone (bottom right) and then click on Record and speak their answer. They can click on Pause when they are done recording.


The next step is for them to save and choose an author. If they have not saved before, it will prompt them to add a profile. The name is the only part that needs to be there—adding a selfie is just fun.


Once they have saved it, they can find it on the home screen under “My Tell Abouts.”


Their Tell About can be saved to the camera roll as well.


With this idea, you can have all your students tell you about what they are reading, cite text evidence, practice their fluency and become more independent! Yes, tell me about it!

Insta-Engagement Read-aloud Play Learning Extension

Susan Feudale

Editor's note: You always tell us that Storyworks' Read-Aloud Plays are a big hit with students, so we couldn't resist sharing this extension idea from 6th-grade ELA teacher Susan Feudale. This visual says it all! We can already imagine how it would be a showstopper in your school hallways. Susan has shared her activity rubric with you, too, so please give it a try! 


After reading The Necklace as a class, we extended the story by creating social media posts about the story! Here is my rubric for The Necklace social media activity. My kids loved the creative aspect of this little project but also the discussion extensions that resulted when we conducted a post walk! Check out some of their fantastic work below:

5-day Science Extension from ELA Nonfiction: Egg-cellent!

Erin Burns

Editor's note: We go bonkers when Storyworks teachers help students take their learning further! We were all smiles when upstate New York 4th-grade teacher Erin Burns shared her amazing 5-day science research extension with us! This idea sprung from the December 2017/January 2018 paired texts, The History of Teeth. We convinced Erin to share this powerful lesson, including highlighted science standards, with our Storyworks community. Please give it a try or share how your class created a learning journey with our nonfiction stories.



Day 1: My 4th-grade class began by having dictionary races to look up the vocabulary that went along with the article "The History of Teeth." We put our words in our Word Nerd journals and began diving in to the text. (Note: For more info on Erin's genius Word Nerd journals, click here!) We read the story aloud and compared the ancient practices of tooth care to what we do today. It was a class consensus that we are happy we live in modern times.



Day 2: We used the Storyworks resource Finding Evidence. We were able to do a closer read and analyze the text more. Many students who wear braces came to the conclusion that they like wearing metal braces instead of cat intestines to help straighten their teeth! This article got my class thinking quite a bit about a tooth—especially since we were lucky enough to have a student lose a tooth the same week we were reading! We wondered: What is a tooth made of? How long does it take a tooth to decay? What does a dentist see when they drill into a tooth? It was time to do some research and science activities.


We read an article by Primary Junction on Teachers Pay Teachers about the different layers of a tooth: crown, enamel, dentin, pulp, and nerves. After reading, the students constructed a paper model and positioned it on red paper to represent the gums. They labeled the parts and we made a display.



Day 3: Time for an “Egg”speriment! We hard-boiled a dozen eggs. Our class split into groups of four and each group got three eggs. I explained the shells of the eggs are like the enamel on our teeth. The whites would be the dentin and the yolk would be the pulp. Each group had three jars: one with apple cider vinegar, one with dark soda, and one with water. They placed one egg in each and predicted what they thought would happen to each layer of the egg.



Day 4: We retrieved our eggs from each cup to see what happened over a 20-hour period. Students observed the color of the enamel, the texture, and even the smell! We then tried brushing the shell (enamel) to see if we could remove the stains. Students made observations and realized brushing could not undo all the damage. We placed our eggs back into the cups to see what tomorrow would bring.




Day 5: We took our eggs back out of the cups for one final observation. Students made observations of the shell (enamel) again and this time we decided to open up the “tooth” to see the inside layers. What a discovery to see what acidic and sugary foods did to our teeth! Students filled out an observation log and made conclusions based on our readings and experiment. Thank you, Storyworks, for helping us link ELA and science!



See how this lesson aligns to New York State Standards here!


Differentiate with this Close Reading Strategy

Allie Curtis

Editor's note: We love this simple idea for close-reading differentiation from superstar 4th-grade teacher Allie Curtis. Allie took our Close-Reading Questions (found in the Teacher's Guide) and put her own spin on them to provide an effective differentiated lesson using her "Color RAP" strategy. Try Allie's lesson in your classroom (she's even provided her materials for you) and let us know how it works for your students!


What you need:


Get started: I usually do this strategy as a second-read of the article. After we've read the article once, I divide my students into groups based on their abilities. I name these groups after colors— the blue group is usually my lowest-performing students and the color groups increase in ability level with the purple group as the highest-performing students (of course the groups are flexible). I have found that differentiating the level of critical thinking in the questions I pose and give my students has been a great way to give each group a special purpose for close reading, while providing an opportunity for me to guide and stretch their thinking about text.


Each group gets a RAP rubric and a "question card." I create these question cards myself using the Close-Reading Questions from the Teacher's Guide. I give each group a question that is differentiated for them based on complexity level of the question and data from previous lessons.



Students work collaboratively in their Color RAP groups to answer the question.



After each group works to respond to its question, I display each question under the document camera. We discuss the question and find the evidence to the answer from the text. Then we look at the group's response to that question and score the response using the RAP rubric.



After reviewing and scoring each group's question, I use the Critical-Thinking Question (also found in the Teacher's Guide) as an exit slip (formative assessment). I've had a lot of success with this strategy in my classroom, and I hope you will too!

A Text Features Game to Boost Engagement

Allie Curtis and Shannon Seigler

Editor's note: Superstar coaches, Allie and Shannon, are back with another winner of an activity: Tabletop Twitter! As soon as you tell your students the name of this activity, we predict they'll be excited! This activity has students previewing text features while "tweeting" their thoughts, comments, and questions. It's fun for kids, and gets them thinking about the text before diving in for a first read. Check out how Mrs. Tiffany Spiva's fourth grade superstars rocked this strategy!  Let us know how it works in your classroom!

Tabletop Twitter is a great strategy for getting all students to interact with text and it gives them a chance to share their thoughts about what they've read. It's a different way of getting kids interacting with text and one another, and it gives us insight into how kids are thinking about and looking at text. We like using the strategy with infographics and text features the most because it gives a fun and engaging purpose for looking at text features. The kids love it because the hashtag format is in their comfort zone and makes them feel like what they're doing is "cool," not just "school"!

How to get started: Cut or copy and glue images or short excerpts from your article onto individual large pieces of bulletin board paper or chart paper. Place the pieces of chart paper around the room in separate locations.

How to choose the text/images: The selection of images or excerpts you choose is key to getting the most interaction and reaction from your students. The selection should be something that evokes emotion or thinking from your students so they will be motivated to write down their thoughts, reactions, and questions.We loved using the thought-provoking sidebars, pictures, and captions like this one in the March/April 2017 issue of StoryworksThe Amazing History of American Television. (Note for Storyworks Jr. teachers: This story appears in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Storyworks Jr.!)

How to introduce the strategy to students: Discuss what we know about “twitter” and how to tweet. Explain the process so students fully understand: They are to write a comment/question in 140 characters or less, using a hashtag symbol (#) when appropriate. Put a 140-character statement on the board so students have a sense of the length. Set a timer for 2 or 3 minutes and let students know when the timer rings the twitter time is up! Remind students: “Writing is right, but talking is taboo!”

How it works: The students will read the excerpt or caption of a picture, then silently “tweet” their thoughts and/or reactions.  The teacher is moving from table to table re-tweeting and/or writing comments or responding to something already written. When the timer goes off, the students move to the next table and repeat until each student has “tweeted” about each excerpt/image. Students read each other’s “tweets” and respond back to each other by posing a question or comment.

The “tweets” will be posted, so after reflection—and any time during the unit study or lesson sequence—students can return and add more thoughts. Consider this low-tech form of social media a perfect way to build a base of knowledge!

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

Debate With Google Classroom

Thomasine Mastrantoni and Deborah Goldstein, the Link Ladies

While we Link Ladies love apps, this time we'll show you a new way to use Google Classroom. Knowing how many districts have “gone Google,” we want to share with you a way to modify how students engage with Storyworks text. Anytime we can find ways for kids to express what they understand and back it up with text evidence to “prove it,” we go for it.  



Why we use it:

Google Classroom is a great way to foster online collaboration and integrate technology. It can boost productivity and engagement. And it’s FREE!


Skill Focus:

  • Citing Text Evidence
  • Comprehension
  • Opinion Writing
  • Collaboration



1-2 class periods


What you’ll need:


The setup:

Create an assignment on Google Classroom that includes the Storyworks debate and a graphic organizer where students can record text evidence for both sides of the debate. Be sure that your template can be easily customized for each issue’s debate. Once you make it a regular writing activity, you will see how your students’ arguments and connections to text evidence become stronger as they develop their opinion writing skills. Here’s what our template looks like—feel free to use it!



The Lesson:

To get students engaged, begin by having them sit in their seats quietly doing nothing for two minutes. (No talking, no moving around, no reading—nothing!) When the time is up, have them turn and talk with a partner about what they were feeling during the two minutes. Then share the title of the Storyworks debate: “Is it Good to be Bored Sometimes?” The do-nothing activity you just completed will help them feel invested in sharing their opinion.


Discuss with your students how the debate is structured to provide evidence to support both sides of any given argument. Their goal will be to find evidence that supports their opinion, but they should also see the other side, too. Maybe this will bolster the opinion they already have—or maybe it will actually change their mind. Part of the fun is seeing how it all unfolds in their minds!



Students will access the article and their assignment through Google Classroom. The purpose of using Google Classroom is for your students to share a document that they can all access and contribute to. Creating a collaborative learning space develops an environment where students feel safe expressing their own opinions.  Students are now used to communicating online and sharing (sometimes too much) with their friends. Expanding our learning environment via Google Classroom meets students in a forum they are innately comfortable in. A collaborative space like Google Classroom also allows those students who need extra time the opportunity to participate at their own pace. They can read what others are thinking which often sparks their own connections as well.


Once students have read the article, they can then open the Google Doc (again, either a version of ours, or one you’ve created). Here they will work on sharing their opinion on boredom as well as citing text evidence that supports each side of the argument.


Be purposeful in promoting “boredom” in your classroom.  Watch your students rise to the challenge. Creativity will soar! Then revisit this Debate in May/June and see whether their opinions have changed. We even followed up this Debate with a full class period on mindfulness to take this idea full circle.  


Character Analysis Made Easy

Susan Feudale

Editor's note: When 6th grade reading teacher Susan Feudale shared her method for teaching Storyworks' October/November fiction story "The Good Deed," we knew her idea belonged on the Ideabook. If you missed Susan's recent vocabulary and creative writing activity, also using this fiction story, check it out here! Today we're thrilled to share Susan's second exciting lesson: a fun character analysis approach that brings the idea of character into students' own lives by having them analyze themselves. Susan always finds creative ideas to make teaching Storyworks her own!  Give her one-two punch a try in your classroom, or save for when need a fresh approach to character analysis!


On Monday, I shared a super-simple and fun creative writing exercise that my students completed after reading "The Good Deed," and today I'm excited to share the second part of our lesson. The two young protagonists in "The Good Deed," Heather and Risa, are fantastic characters for a character analysis lesson.



First, using a double sided character sheet, my students worked with a partner to complete the following about Heather and Risa: thoughts, dialogue/words, feelings, and actions.  They also designed the characters in the center of the sheet to look like Heather and Risa. I find adding visuals is key to student engagement.



Finally, to complete our character analysis lesson, students made lists of "inside" and "outside" traits about themselves. This was a great way to bring the lesson into their own lives, and a fun way to end our character analysis unit. I hope this approach works in your classroom!