Genius teacher ideas

Amazing Charity Fundraising Inspired by Storyworks

Rebecca Jessee

Editor's note: You have to hear all about Tennessee 5th-grade teacher Rebecca Jessee, who reached out to us to share how an article in Storyworks inspired her students to become changemakers. Our story "Two Miles for a Drink of Water", about a young girl in Mozambique who had to travel two miles for contaminated water, has had a profound effect on many students; we previously shared the story of another class that was inspired to raise money. We are so humbled and thrilled by this. Read about Rebecca's students' incredible efforts below!



My students and I were moved after reading about Natalia and other kids who didn't have access to clean water. We quickly wrestled with our privileged ability to turn a sink on, purchase a water bottle, shower, wash our hands, never having to worry if we had water to drink or if our water was safe. My students asked me: "Ms. Jessee, what are we going to do about this?" I didn't have an answer for them, so I asked "What do you want to do about it?" And thus began an amazing journey that Indian Springs School will never forget.



We enlisted the help of many others to carry out our lofty classroom goal of raising $3,000 to support charity:water, a nonprofit organization that was featured in the Storyworks article. This group works to support clean water efforts and helps communities purchase their own wells. We wanted to educate people about the clean water crisis. We began to develop iMovie campaigns and held bake sales. On their own, students organized bake sales and made bracelets. That effort raised $1,000!


Then one student stepped up and shared that his father had silk-screening business and could make t-shirts. We worked very hard to develop a great design and sold the t-shirts.



We decided to host a yard sale, where members of the larger community outside of our school could get involved, with a portion of the proceeds going to our effort.



I launched a Facebook campaign to promote it. Our local newspaper has written about my students, and the local TV station came and covered the event. That helped raise another $2,000. 



That is when we changed our fundraising goal to $10,000 in order to actually purchase a well that could help an entire community thousands of miles away. We next planned a movie night where students and families could get together and watch Willy Wonka sponsored by our 5th-grade activists. Cha-ching: another $800!


We also had the exciting opportunity to talk to the Storyworks team and Kristin Lewis, the author of the article, via Skype. What a joy for my students!



To date, we have raised more than $6,000. And even though we have managed to pull this off in a few short weeks, and we are wrapping up the school year, we know that we will continue to raise awareness and funds for this important cause next year. 

Next, we’ve got planned:

  • Car washes
  • A talent show
  • Pasta dinners
  • And more

My 5th-graders are leaving me, but I know they'll never forget this important cause, and they're all determined to keep helping over the summer and into next year. I couldn't be more proud.

Ripples of Kindness: A Student-led Learning Extension

Kate Gray

Editor's note: When Kate Gray, a 4th- and 5th-grade teacher at a Title I school, emailed us to tell us about an incredible learning journey her students had embarked upon after her class read "Two Miles For a Drink of Water" in the March/April issue of Storyworks, we were positively beaming at these budding changemakers. Struck by the realization that many people around the world don't have access to clean water, Kate's students knew that they had to do more to make a difference for others. 



One of the things I love about Storyworks is that my students can often connect to the stories in a meaningful way, but I never expected them to go above and beyond like they did this year. After reading about Natalia, a girl who had to walk two miles every day to get water for her family, my students felt bad about the plight of people around the world who don't have access to clean water. As we were processing these feelings, kids wondered how they could be proactive and help. Our school is a "The Leader in Me" school, and we've been practicing The 7 Habits of Happy Kids. 

Habit 5 is "seek first to understand, then to be understood." As we were thinking about how we could help people like Natalia, we wanted to see what it's like to walk in her shoes. Ironically, we were doing a fitness activity at the time in which we walked 2 miles to a pool to swim. Students noticed that they were also walking two miles to water, but in a very different way from Natalia. What would it be like to do that walk while carrying water? There was only one way to find out: On our next walk, we carried gallons of water. 




After this experience, students were eager to figure out a concrete way to help. Together, we came up with a plan:

  • Students would only drink tap water for two weeks.
  • They collected the money they saved by not buying sugary drinks.
  • We also raised funds from families and staff at our school.
  • Some kids even contributed their birthday money to the cause!

We had set out with a goal to raise $300, and students were thrilled when we totaled $476.86! This experience made my students feel empowered, important, and strong. They learned that small acts of kindness can have a real affect on people and that they can make a difference. And the learning didn't stop there! Students wrote essays about their experience, and we also read the book "The Long Walk to Water" to keep the unit going. 

To sum up, here's an excerpt of my student Derek's essay: This whole experience made me feel bad at first because it is so easy to get clean water where we live. Water is a precious resource and we should use it wisely. Once we raised the money, I felt like I could do something even bigger! It would make me very proud if someday no one needed to walk for water. By synergizing, we were able to surpass our goal and help people an ocean away.  


Use This Standard App to Assess Comprehension

Thomasine Mastrantoni and Deborah Goldstein, the Link Ladies

Editor's note: Our favorite library media specialists from New York, the Link Ladies, are back with another totally doable app-style learning lesson that's perfect for grades 3-5! If you're intimidated by apps in the classroom, this is a great way to start. For this lesson, students use the Photos app (yes, the one that comes automatically on your iPhone and iPad!) to create poems reacting to Storyworks content. This idea offers a blended learning-type approach to reading comprehension practice.


The app:



Why we use it: 

We are taking a standard app to the next level. Students love taking photos with their devices. Here is an idea on how to bump this standard app up a notch to use it to assess comprehension.


Skill focus:

  • Comprehension
  • Main idea
  • Poetry writing
  • Vocabulary



One class period


What you'll need:

  • A Storyworks article (Any will do—we used the play The Bird Saver from the May/June issue.)
  • iPads


Lesson idea:

Your students will use an image from the Storyworks article as inspiration for a creative poem. The poetry will be focused on their understanding of the article. Students will demonstrate their understanding of the content or main idea of the article through an original poem. Encourage students to use the target vocabulary words highlighted in the text. They can use the formatting tools right in the Photos app to create their poem!


Instructions for students:

1. Open the Camera app and take a photo of your favorite article in Storyworks. Focus in on a photo or text feature, rather than taking a photo of the whole article. Here's an example:



2. In the top right corner, click "Edit." This will take you to the Photos app.

3. Click the circle with the three dots and select "Markup." 



4. In this Markup tool, you can add text and customize it to create your poem. To add text, click the circle with the plus sign at the bottom right then choose "Text." Choose the font, size, style and color to customize your poem.



5. Double click a text box to change what the text says. Continue adding additional text boxes to create your poem about the picture.


6. When you're finished, click "Done" to save in camera roll as an image.

You can then share your students' poems. Pop them into a class poetry book in Book Creator. Add them to the class webpage. Post them on Twitter. Turn them into your Google Classroom page or simply print them out. Imagine the possibilities you’ve just opened by taking an app you use everyday into the classroom as a learning tool!


Bring Some Fun Into Your Classroom With Reader's Theater

Kriscia Cabral

Editor's note: Kriscia Cabral is a Scholastic Top Teaching blogger and a big fan of Storyworks. Kriscia loves to use reader's theater in her class to build fluency and get kids working together in a unique way. Check out her strategy below and try it in your classroom for some post-testing fun!


I love reader's theater, and it's a big part of my classroom. We do a weekly reader's theater presentation using every read-aloud play provided in Storyworks. The first time we did it, the students wanted to act it out for the class instead of simply reading it from their desks. One group got the idea of adding scenes and props. Another group thought it would be fun to intrepret the story as a puppet show! My favorite part of this strategy is that it gives me an opportunity to hand over learning to my students and let them take the lead.



  • Fluency
  • Comprehension
  • Collaboration
  • Compromise
  • Presentation skills


The Lesson:

  • First, I have students form groups. Often they pick their groups themselves, but sometimes I select them based on reading groups, or if I want them to work as a mix of high, medium and low readers. I also have the kids assign their own roles within their groups.
  • Then, students decide how they want to present the play to the class. Sometimes this takes the form of a puppet show, or a podcast with students recording themselves with different voices, or a live-action play. Each group gets to select how they'd like to present the play. The possibilities are so exciting for the kids!  



  • What I love most about Storyworks reader's theater is that the plays usually tell a story that my students have never heard. Many times it's based on an event in history that they can learn from.
  • We often take our productions "on the road" and share with other classes and grade levels who sign up to experience our productions. My kids bring their magazine copies along to share with audience members. This reinforces our school-wide cultural of literacy and community. And we always have time at the end for rich discussions among all of the students, sharing what performers learned from their interpretation of the play.



I love this activity, because it lets students take charge of their own learning and build skills while having tons of fun!

Student-Led Learning: Choose Your Own Adventure!

Katelyn Callahan

Editor's note: We've been seeing so many Genius Teacher Ideas on Twitter lately, and this one from Kentucky 4th-grade teacher Katelyn Callahan really caught our attention! We love her fun approach to student-led learning with a Choose Your Own Adventure game. 



I have an “in love” relationship with Storyworks and was looking for a way to incorporate more of its texts and activities in my classroom. This year my school chose to pilot a new reading program, which left less time for me to use Storyworks. But then I came up with my Choose Your Own Adventure activity, honestly, as a way to bring Storyworks back into my classroom on a more regular basis. Here I lay out four "paths" for students to follow: Literature, Informational, Social Studies, and Language Arts. Students progress through four levels in each path and earn badges when they complete a level. This gives students ownership of their learning, and makes it fun for them! Every issue of Storyworks comes with Literature and Informational texts, each with their own focus skill so it's super easy to fit into my game-like skills practice. Plus, the Storyworks online resources are lifesavers, as they provide multiple skills sheets so my students are working on more than one standard as a time with one text. Here's how I put this activity together:


What You Need:

  • Materials for each path. Storyworks is my go-to for the Literature and Informational learning paths. I have a few Language Arts and Social Studies resource books, but I have been pulling instructional videos in where I can from BrainPop, LearnZillion, and PowToons. When it comes time for students to reflect on their learning, FlipGrid is the way to go.
  • For badges, you can use my template!

Build Your Doc:

I use a Google Doc so that each student can make their own copy from Classroom. For me, this is a 5-page document: a title page to access each path directly, and one page per learning path. Each path is linked to its page for easy access, or students can just scroll down until they locate the path they are looking for.



Individual Pages:

Next comes the individual pages for each learning path. For each, I built a table with enough room for four different levels (or activities) for students to complete, the text they are reading from, and the intended learning target.

Four Levels:

After determining your learning target and text(s) to be used, start developing your levels. I wanted my levels to build in complexity toward the learning target as they go up, and I wanted to incorporate writing, too. This is my approach:

  • Level One: General comprehension skill of the text
  • Level Two: Comprehension quiz on Google Form
  • Level Three: Deeper skill practice of the intended learning target
  • Level Four: Apply the skill through writing


Leveling Up:

Once students complete a level, they can move on to the next activity while waiting for me to check their work. 


Checking Work and Providing Feedback:

During this time each day, my only job is circling around and providing feedback. Students know to hold onto their completed work until I get to their table. I check each student’s progress, provide feedback, pass them on to the next level, and automatically update our Badge Tracking Board (see above). 


Tracking Progress:

I created a Google Sheet to keep track of student progress as they work their way through the levels.  An “X” means they passed the level. If there is a “2” in a space, it means they need to take a second look. I publish this to the web for students to access each day before they get started. A colored row means they earned a badge!



Earning Badges:

The ultimate goal of each learning path is for the student to earn the badge to show mastery and completion of that adventure. They do this by responding to a FlipGrid, posted at the bottom of each adventure page.  



Each FlipGrid requires them to answer two different types of questions: Skill and Reflection. The first shows that they have mastered the learning target and understand the skill. The second requires them to use the skill in making a connection to the real world. When they’re able to answer both, they have earned the badge!


Choose Your Own Adventure works so well in my classroom for SO many reasons. Choice is key, as is providing students the ability to work at their own pace. As a teacher, I love it because it frees me up to spend more time with students one-on-one, and helps me keep up with checking their work. Storyworks provides the texts and resources needed so that I am not going nuts with the behind-the-scenes planning. My kids are earning badges like crazy! I feel like I've struck gold and want to share with other teachers. Let me know if you have questions, or how it turns out for your class! I'm on Twitter @k_callahan4



High Interest Nonfiction for Test Prep

Sarah DeWit

Editor's note: We've been thrilled to see how teachers are using Storyworks Jr. for test prep! This is how Sarah DeWit, a 3rd-grade teacher at Jane Long Elementary in Richmond, Texas, approaches the nonfiction and paired texts in every issue of  Storyworks Jr. Steal her strategy!


I use the nonfiction text and paired texts most often because they always grab the kids’ interest. Here's my five-step plan for teaching "Blood, Smoke, and Freedom" from the March/April issue.


  1. We start by using the Vocabulary Slideshows to predict the topic and explain words readers might struggle with.
  2. Then the kids’ favorite: videos. Those are great hooks and lead to engaging classroom discussions. By the time my students are ready to read, they have found purpose.
  3. After our first read, we use the “Think About It” activity sheets with close-reading questions in small groups. 
  4. Each group answers a question and presents it to the class. Students agree or disagree with answers, helping iron out misconceptions or take conversations to a deeper level.
  5. We also use the skill-based activities to review skills. 


The articles in Storyworks Jr., fiction or nonfiction, push kids to read above level. They are able to do so, and feel successful, because of the high-interest topics. I hope my strategy works in your classroom!


Digging Deeper Into Vocab With Word Power

Leslie Smothers

Editor's note: We found 4th grade teacher Leslie Smothers on Twitter, and we couldn't be happier to be in touch with her! Leslie uses Storyworks in super-creative ways, and we love her strategy for digging deeper with our short nonfiction feature Word Power, on the first pages of every issue of Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. The best part: She's provided you with step-by-step instructions and her printable activity sheets!


Teachers are always searching for ways to increase student vocabulary and enhance student writing. Word Power in each issue of Storyworks can do just that! With this text, my students enjoy the word hunt and, with a "shades of meaning" activity, they dig deeper into vocabulary. Shades of meaning is a vocabulary strategy that shows students the subtle differences in words that are viewed as synonyms. For example, would you rather your principal was furious or mad at you? See what I mean?


My students LOVED “Death by...Chili Pepper?” in the March/April 2018 issue of Storyworks. Here's how I used this strategy with that story:


  • After reading the text, they went on a word hunt to find four synonyms for spicy.



  • Once they discovered the words in the text, students evaluated which word had the strongest and weakest meaning. They had to not only justify answers, but also draw a picture of each word. The justification is simply putting their rationale for each choice on paper, while the pictures help with both vocabulary retention and understanding. 
  • To take it one step deeper, students searched for an antonym for spicy in the Word Power text. There is only one. 



  • Once located, they determined four synonyms for this word on their own. Per my students, this was much more challenging because they had to reply on their own vocabulary knowledge compared to searching the text for synonyms.  Similar to the previous activity, students evaluate the synonyms for strongest and weakest meanings. This included justification and pictures of words selected. 



Here is a printable PDF of my Shades of Meaning Vocabulary Strategy activity that correlates with the Word Power in the March/April 2018 issue of Storyworks.

Want to use it with future Storyworks Word Power text?  Here is a Universal Shades of Meaning Vocabulary Strategy activity that has the word box blank!


I hope your students love this vocabulary building activity as much as mine!

Student Choice Drives STAAR Test Prep

Editor's note: We love Storyworks Jr. 3rd-grade advisor and bilingual educator Alejandro Sifuentes from Round Rock, Texas. Just like all Lone Star teachers, he takes STAAR prep very seriously, and finds a way to make his ELAR skills review impactful by using student interest to drive extra practice. 
To help me prepare for the joyous season of STAAR, I rely on Storyworks Jr. 
First, I plan a brief meeting with my students' parents and discuss with them the importance of comprehension in the STAAR, and a few key ways they can support and be involved in extra practice at home. I want to be sure I don't create test prep burnout with my bilingual students, so I encourage families to have their kids read Storyworks Jr. and pick a favorite article. They can take their print magazine home or they can sign into the student view of the website and read digitally. It's very flexible and students always want to read more articles than we have time to cover as part of our classroom instruction. This way, we are getting more out of our subscription and we are building reading stamina driven by choice. 
Then I give parents short activities that they can do with their kids. These activities allow students to pick and choose how they want to respond to a text. Having this level of choice provides students with the motivation to complete both the reading and the response to reading. And of course all of this will benefit their stamina, comprehension, and confidence when it comes to benchmarks or STAAR in the weeks to come. These activities include:
  • Illustrate your favorite part of the story
  • Retell your favorite part
  • Summarize the article
  • Initiate a specific conversation to talk about connections you've made within the article
  • Create a different ending to the article
I am open to any activity or task that allows students to use what they read to demonstrate their understanding.
Storyworks Jr. works well with my bilingual families because articles and story topics are always interesting and come in a variety of lengths. And the different formats, like read-aloud plays and debates, are really fun for parents to experience with their children. And again, letting students choose how they'd like to respond to the article allows it to feel much less like test prep. Good luck to my fellow teachers!

Five Ways to Use Storyworks for Test Prep

Kristen Cruikshank

We've wrangled some of our favorite Texas teachers to share creative and effective ways they are using Storyworks to help students review and prepare for STAAR tests. Fourth-grade teacher extraordinaire Kristen Cruikshank, from Richmond, Texas shares her top 5 test-prep ideas, including links to app activities she's thoughtfully developed.   


Three things that are always on teacher’s minds are:

  • How can I prepare my students for the state test without the same drill-and-kill questions and answers routine?
  • How can I teach them when they are tired of reading passage after passage and answering questions?
  • Where can I find texts in all genres that are engaging enough to keep them interested and on task?

Teachers, look no further than your current March/April issue of Storyworks. In this post, you’ll find five ways to use this issue of Storyworks to prepare your students for the state test. 


1. Write STAAR stem questions

Use the Storyworks texts to write your own STAAR-style questions! It will greatly benefit your students to expose them to the format of questions they'll see on test day. If you haven’t already, go through the past years' tests and cut up the questions and answer choices. Bind them together by genre so you have easy access to test-question styles when you’re writing your own!

Here are some examples of STAAR stem questions written for the Word Power feature, "Death by Chili Pepper."


1. The reader can conclude that

a. Eating chili peppers is not as dangerous as people may think.

b. People should use caution when eating chili peppers.

c. Eating a small amount of a chili pepper will not be spicy.

d. Caution should not be used with capsaicin.


2. Read the dictionary definition for the word milder.

1. not sharp, pungent, or strong

2. showing gentleness

3. not cold or extreme weather

4. not serious

Which definition best matches the way milder is used in the sentence “They are thousands of times spicier than their milder cousins"?

a. Definition 1

b. Definition 2

c. Definition 3

d. Definition 4


2. Teach students to deconstruct

One huge component of the STAAR test is making sure students know how to answer the questions by understanding the question vocabulary. Make sure your students can “take apart” the questions and understand what they really mean, so they’re able to understand how to answer them. Use the STAAR stem questions you write for each text for practice! Create a Quizlet kids can play to review these difficult words and their meanings! Here’s an example using the vocabulary words from “Two Miles for a Drink of Water.” This would be easy to create with STAAR question vocabulary!






3. Annotate

Readers naturally think in their heads while they read. What isn’t natural for them is to write down their thinking as they are reading. With STAAR, we want kids to “annotate,” or write down what’s happening to them while they read. Are they making connections to the text, making inferences, defining a difficult vocabulary word as they read, or feeling an emotion? Teaching your students to annotate allows them to jot down their thinking though codes in the text. This will help them comprehend the text and quickly locate points in the text to refer back to when they’re answering test questions. Plus you’ll get a great visual of how they read the text, since we can’t read their minds like we so often wish we could! Padlet is a free and fun way to connect to kids thinking while they are reading. Here’s an example using “History of Teeth" from the December 2017/January 2018 issue.



4. Build stamina

For the STAAR Reading test, students need to be prepared to read passages with questions in all genres within a 4-hour time limit. Storyworks provides these genres for you by exposing students to rich and engaging texts to read, with additional activities for students to practice comprehension skills. Give students the gift of time and allow them to simply read while practicing staying focused on a text for an extended period of time.


5. Master genre knowledge

Test out their knowledge on each genre with this STAAR Genre Review Kahoot.



You’ll really see what your kids know and which areas still need refining. While you explore each Storyworks text, create a genre gallery walk. Divide students up into small groups and assign each group a genre of text. Have them comb through the text and determine what identifies the genre, important vocabulary they need to know in each genre, and what types of question stems could be asked in each genre, as well as common misconceptions.



I wish you and your students success on test day. Good luck!


A Fun STAAR Prep Game

Editor's note: Texas teachers, we know you've got STAAR test prep on your minds, so we want to remind you that Storyworks can be the secret sauce for targeted skills practice during this review period. We're thrilled to spotlight Rebecca Rodriguez, 5th-grade teacher from the Cypress-Fairbanks district, who's determined to keep her STAAR prep engaging. She reminds her kiddos that "it's a love of reading that matters most, and STAAR testing is just one day." We love her thinking AND the amazing Super Mario game she designed with colleague Stephanie Balderas.

The idea behind this 3-week unit is to get students ready for the STAAR test with engaging short texts. Storyworks is a great tool for this since it's a one-stop shop for a variety of genres. Week one is nonfiction, week two is fiction, and week three is paired texts.

We've noticed that half the battle for students is understanding what the question is asking them. We aim to help them suss that out by breaking down the questions over several days. To prepare, we hang questions around the room. These questions came from the Storyworks Teacher's Guide, STAAR sentence stems, and our own ideas. Each student gets an activity sheet:

We take it slow and work on these sheets all week, breaking down the process as follows:

  • Day 1: In pairs, students read the question with no answer choices and discuss what they think it's asking. They write the question in their own words on their activity sheet.
  • Day 2: Student pairs answer the question in their own words.
  • Day 3: The answer choices are revealed and students fill out the last column of their sheet.
  • Day 4: They do basically the same thing as days 1-3, but independently and in one day rather than 3.

This process repeats for each genre each week.

How the game works:

  • Each sheet has three "lives" (the Marios in the upper right corner). Every time students seek teacher help, they lose a life—this encourages independent thinking. However, they can ask other students for help or input anytime without losing a life.
  • Students get a coin for every right answer. So if there are 15 questions and 3 columns, they can earn 45 coins for that one activity.
  • If they get all questions right the first time, they get full points. They don't earn coins for the ones they miss. This encourages them to slow down and use their strategies, including checking for text evidence.
  • Students keep track of their coins in their coin account paper.
  • At the end of the unit, they can trade in their coins for prizes. These can be candy, pencils, extra recess time, whatever you want!


For all the details and printables needed for this lesson, download and print this handy PDF!