Genius teaching idea

Try This Reading Workshop Minilesson on Main Idea!

Rebecca Leon

Happy back to school, teachers! We know that the beginning of the year can be a whirlwind of learning names, settling in, and getting into a classroom rhythm. In all that hubbub, we wanted to do some of the work for you. I have designed a Reading Workshop model minilesson to go along with our September nonfiction feature in Storyworks: "Our World Turned to Water." It's the riveting, inspiring tale of the August 2016 Louisiana flood. Of course, when we decided to run this story we had no idea that by the time it came out, an even more catastrophic storm in Hurricane Harvey would devastate Texas—and parts of Louisiana. We hope you can use this article to build empathy—and provide hope—for the victims of these unprecedented disasters.

Have your students grab their brand new issue of Storyworks, their Post-It notes, and pencil, and you're ready to go. This lesson is designed to be done after you have already read the article once as a class.

Teaching Point: How to look for details to help you find the main idea in a nonfiction text.

  1. First, refresh your students' memories of the article. Remind them that you'll be working on how to find the main idea of a story using details from the story. These small details often fit together to create an important idea, for a whole story or a chunk of text. Tell your students that you'll be showing them how to look for these details, and how that will help them find the main idea.
  2. Return to the beginning of the article and start reading. Do a think-aloud as you read. Pause to talk about the details that jump out at you and underline them for the class. Talk about how the details make you feel. Read up until "Thousands of people had lost everything they owned."
  3. Here's an example of a think-aloud: "Much of the school was damaged, and many people lost their homes." I'm picturing how terrible this must have been for people. [Continue reading] ". . . under 10 feet of water." Wow, that would be way over my head. That would reach my living room ceiling. I'm going to underline that. [Continue reading] ". . . lost everything they owned." This flood devastated many people. It reminds me of what I've been seeing on TV about Texas and Louisiana and how Hurricane Harvey has affected people there.
  4. Talk about the details you underlined and how you can put them together to come up with a main idea. The main idea here is that a terrible flood turned many people's lived upside down. The flood was much worse than an ordinary one. 
  5. Keep reading, starting with "But that was only one part of the story..." Point out that this sentence implies that there's going to be another important idea. Read the rest of page 4 aloud. Have students underline or mark with a Post-It note any details that popped out at them.
  6. Then have students turn and talk with their neighbors about what they underlined. Once they've had a minute to talk, you can bring the class back together and talk about what you heard the students discussing. At this point you can describe the second main idea: In this terrible disaster, people acted kindly and helped each other.
  7. Wrap up the lesson: Recap with your students why it's important to find details that stick out and put them together to create main ideas. Then have students return to their reading spots and read the next part of the article, through the end of "A Rainy Morning." Have them underline details that pop out and then turn and talk with a partner about how they fit together to make main ideas. 

 Of course, you should tailor this lesson to your own needs and to the specific teaching point you want to make. Here are some more ideas for practicing a strategy presented in your mini lesson:

  • Have students keep reading the same article to practice.
  • Many of the activity sheets that come with this article could function not solely as individual student worksheets, but as thinking tools, graphic organizers, or anchor charts when projected on the Smartboard—perfect for effective modeling during a mini lesson. You can choose one and project and model a graphic organizer with whole group too.
  • You could have students choose another Storyworks article to practice the strategy. You might guide them to the other nonfiction selections, such as the paired texts, Word Power, or debate.
  • You could have students practice the strategy with their independent reading books.
  • Or, conversely, you could use a favorite minilesson you already have to teach a strategy, then have students practice it using an article they choose from Storyworks. You can differentiate by distributing the lower-Lexile version of one of our articles to the students who would benefit from it.

Remeber, Storyworks can be flexibly used however it works best for you. One question in the Teacher's Guide could become an idea for a mini lesson. Our goal is simple: to provide you with the tools you need to do the invaluable work you do every day, and to make it as easy and joyful as we can. Please feel free to share your Reading Workshop minilesson ideas with us too! Email us at

Get Crafty for a Cause with Important Nonfiction!

Anna Starecheski

Our goal is to provide your students with important stories that inspire them to share their learning and extend it in new ways. One story has done just that, and we couldn't be more thrilled! The paired texts "How to Save a Baby Elephant" and "Can Drones Stop Animal Killers?" (featured in the May/June 2017 issue of Storyworks and the March/April issue of Storyworks Jr.) touched many classrooms and we loved hearing from so many teachers. But Tara Rogic's and Elaine Miller's classes from Franklin Lakes, NJ, took this to new heights.  

Spurred into action after learning about the horrors of poaching, you won't believe the amazing creative writing, fundraising, public speaking and crafty extenstion activities they were able to achieve. All sparked by a great story! We had to share it with you. It's the perfect mid-summer inspiration to get you excited about our new stories and all the extensions you can create this year!

First, the students determined their mission and goal: to raise funds for Air Shepherd, the organization that uses drones to stop poachers.

Activity 1: The students had to raise awareness of their cause. They decided to create a carnival-like booth for their school's annual "Backyard Bash." They advertised their booth all over school for weeks. They even held a whole-school assembly where they showed a Powerpoint presentation they created about poaching and Air Shepherd!

Activity 2: The kids wrote a fable about poaching—what a great creative writing project! Read their adorable fable here—trust me, you don't want to miss it! Yet another awesome way to bring ELA skills into this learning experience.

Activity 3: The next step was to plan their booth. They created a spinning wheel with different traits of elephants, like strength, hope, harmony, and family. People could pay for a spin of the wheel and win a good luck stone that matches the trait they spun. (Of course, these enterprising students came up with a way to maximize their profit—after the carnival, they sold all the rest of the good luck stones at school!)

Activity 4: The booth was a huge success! In addition to the spinning wheel where people could win good luck stones, they also sold elephant charms that could be made into jewelry at a jewelry-making station. They even raffled off a gorgeous quilt that tells the story of their fable (that's in the photo above). All in all, the students raised $618 for Air Shepherd! And since our ultimate goal is to inspire learning journeys in your students, we couldn't be more proud of them!

If you're a Storyworks or Storyworks Jr. subscriber and you worry you missed your chance to teach this incredible story, you're in luck: With your subscription, you get full online access to stories and resources from our archives.

Has your class been inspired by a story in Storyworks or Storyworks Jr.? Email us, we'd love to hear about it!

Reader's Theater Tips From Teach123

Michelle Divkey

Editor's note: The plays in Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. are always a huge hit with students—and it's easy to see why. They're engaging, digestible, and tons of fun! Teachers like them for the fluency boost reading aloud gives their students. Plus, they are perfect for those last few weeks of the school year. ​Teacher Michelle Divkey has some AMAZING ideas for how to incorporate reader's theater into your curriculum. This post was created for Scholastic's #SmartTeachingTips campaign. Search the hashtag for lots of other amazing teaching tips!

As you know, I love reading and giving stuff away. When Scholastic contacted me and asked if I would be willing to tell my readers about their magazines, it was a quick yes.

Do you have any budding actors and actresses in your class this year? Channel all of that creative energy and increase your students' fluency skills with Readers Theater. The October/November issue of Storyworks Jr. magazine includes the Readers Theater script, Yeh Shen: A Chinese Cinderella Story
Getting a Storyworks Jr. magazine in the mail is like getting a gift for yourself. Readers Theater is fun, which keeps students engaged at this crazy time of the year.



You can organize the performance of Yeh Shen: A Chinese Cinderella Story different ways. Add a simple prop like the red fan (in the picture at the top of the page) to make it more engaging for your students. I found the fan at Dollar Tree this summer. I also bought a box of fans (dozen) at a party supply store for $2.50.


There are enough parts of the script for half of your class to perform it. Divide your class in two groups. Both groups will perform the play. Write the names of the students in the groups on a marquee sign like the one in the picture above. This will help students remember their group.


Use glitter to add a little glitz to your bulletin board with the play groups.


Color code your groups. Students can wear a necklace with the name of the character or their part of the play. When it is time to practice all you need to do is say, "It is time for the green group to practice" instead of calling a list of students. Color coding is a big time saver!


Let students make their own signs. You can also set this up as a center. You can get a free copy of the play signs and marquee here.


Your students fluency skills will improve with all of the practicing they will happily do. I'm sure your students will want to know when the next issue of Storyworks Jr. is coming so they can begin the next play!





A Creative Classroom Activity for Teaching Text Features: Surgery!

Beth Orticelli

Editor's note: We are so inspired by third grade teacher-adviser, Beth Orticelli, from Illinois, who uses  Storyworks to draw students into studying “text features” in such a creative way. Her decidedly precise approach to helping students make meaning from text, “Surgery Day,” as she calls it, has children scan nonfiction stories for text features, and they love every minute of it. (Here are some in the photo above, prepping for the O.R.) Here’s how she does it—maybe you’ll want to adapt this method for your own classroom! We love this lesson, and we think it's perfect for a fun end-of-year activity that's a blast and teaches essential skills! 


Step 1: Prepare a simple Word document, making each page header a different text feature (map, chart, image, caption, Table of Contents, etc.). Leave plenty of blank space on each page so your students can later show actual examples of each text feature and write about them.


Step 2: Have students cut out examples of each text feature and tape or glue their selection of text “specimens” onto the Word doc.




Step 3: Ask students to write about each feature they have “operated” on and how it supports the Storyworks article.


Step 4: Ask students to share their surgeries with the whole class, or in groups. Follow up with a whole-class discussion of which text feature was most central to the story and why.


By the way, if you’re squeamish about destroying your precious copies of Storyworks (We get it!), use other resources instead, such as newspaper articles, news magazines, and current-events classroom magazines.


We can’t wait to hear how this goes over in your classroom. Let us know in the comments below. Happy surgery! 

Wonder Bubbles: Make Research Fun!

Erin Burns

Editor's note: Erin Burns is an amazing fourth-grade teacher from New York. We frequently bounce ideas off of her. This time, Erin came to us with this Wonder Bubbles idea from Scholastic's Top Teaching blog. She knew she had to give it a whirl in her classroom. This super-engaging and fun research project is perfect for the end of the year! Try it in your room and let us know how it works...

Day 1: Students used their Scholastic Storyworks and read the paired texts “How to Save a Baby Elephant” and “Can Drones Stop Animal Killers”? While we were reading many questions came up. My students were shocked about what was happening. They had so many questions that I thought it would be a perfect time to introduce the Wonder Bubble!  An experienced teacher from Tennessee, Angela Bunyi, came up with this engaging idea. She has shared many free resources for this project that can be found here. To finish the day I had each student write down a question they had on a sticky note and put it in their Storyworks Magazine.

Day 2: Time for some research! I introduced the Wonder Bubble and told students that they would be able to research using iPads to answer the questions they had written on sticky notes the day before. We discussed how to use our library’s databases to research. Students were able to find four fast facts that related to or helped answer their questions they made up.

Day 3: Time to design our Wonder Bubbles! Each student cut out a circular shape using tag board. They printed out their questions in a circular format and began designing their bubble. Students found illustrations to help get their information across and drew pictures to reinforce their fast facts.

Day 4: Students were able to present their Wonder Bubbles! Each student presented to the class, sharing what inspired their research question and what they had found after researching.

Reflection: My class has never been so engaged in a research project! The two articles appealed to my class because they have a deep love of animals. I had students that even went home and did additional research and would come in each morning to share new facts they learned about poaching, the ivory black market, why zoos had started dehorning rhinos, the population of elephants, and even how Air Shepherd Drones could be improved! What's more, I had one student who was having a birthday party ask that people consider donating to a fund to help save elephants and rhinos instead of giving him a present! I will definitely be using Wonder Bubbles again to add to Storyworks articles!


Social Emotional Learning Extension: An Advice Column!

Aimee Dolan

Editor's note: Among our favorite days, hands-down, are school visits. We adore watching the roll-up-your-sleeve teaching from our amazing community of educators. We had to stop the presses for this SEL idea provided by Suzanne Egert and Nicole Schiavone of M.F. Stokes Elementary, tied to the Storyworks Jr. May/June Fiction story "Dad, the Disco King."  Boy, did their kids have lots to say about embarrassing parental moments! But they had even more great advice for helping each other out of difficult situations. Read-on for a winning SEL strategy for your classroom!

Step 1: First, this class read the story twice together. 

Step 2: As a class, they discussed their own embarrassing moments! Suzanne wrote down their moments, and as you can see, they had lots of great ones! (Our favorite: "Grandma did a bottle flip and then dabbed.")

Step 3: Suzanne and Nicole developed 6 embarrassing scenarios based on the brainstorm they had with some students. 

Step 4: Suzanne introduced the students to the concept of an advice column by sharing some vintage "Dear Abby" letters.

Step 5: Suzanne and Nicole divided the students into six groups of four. Each group was given a scenario and worked together to write an advice column-style response. 

Step 6: The class came back together and each group presented their scenario and advice to the class.

We hope you'll try this awesome SEL extension in your classroom! Let us know how it goes!



Hold an Enthusiastic Classroom Debate!

Debbie Ericksen

Editor's note: Straight from the mouth of longstanding advisor Debbie Ericksen from Bridgewater, NJ: "My fourth graders love to share their ideas and opinions." This is probably an understatement in your classrooms too! We think you'll love Debbie's meaty four-day debate lesson plan. Give it a try now that you might have a bit more wiggle room in your curriculum schedule. Let us know what you think!

The Storyworks Debate feature presents a great opportunity for my students to apply their opinion-writing skills and presentation techniques to a topic they feel strongly about. Debate strategies enrich my students’ understanding of opinion writing and provide an authentic life experience for them to learn how to effectively present their position on a topic. 

Students collaborated on this four-day project during one of their reading blocks. I introduced the article "Is it OK to Sneak Food Into the Movies?" and quickly realized that students had very strong opinions about this topic.

I wrote “Yes” and “No” on the board and asked students to identify the side they most agreed with. After recording their names in the appropriate column (which established the teams), they read the article independently. They met with their groups and recorded the text evidence from the article that supported their opinion. I selected a Teacher Leader for each group. (This is a concept I use all year long when students are working in small groups. The TL is a student who keeps all group members on task and makes sure all voices are heard.) 

I inserted a mini-lesson on counter-arguments and connected it to what kids often do when they are trying to convince their parents that they want something. They understood it right away!

Next, students researched the question online and added to the evidence they had already collected from the article. This step was extremely helpful because they encountered points they hadn’t thought about for both sides. Students had to evaluate the information and decide if it was useful for their side of the argument. 

Once the research step was complete, students organized their evidence so that it would best support their opinion and would also address the counter-argument. Next, they assigned each person at least one piece of evidence to presentThen, they were ready to debate! The excitement and anticipation were palpable. Prior to starting, we worked as a class to establish group norms. 

Each team presented their positions and evidence. After each team argued their point, the opposing team had an opportunity to ask questions for clarification. Then, each team had five minutes to reorganize their thoughts and prepare for the rebuttal period.

After the debate was complete, students put their heads down and voted for the side of the argument that they most agreed with. Several of them changed their opinions based on the evidence that was presented. The result: Yes, it's OK to bring snacks into the movie theater. Their reasoning was that it's a rule, not a law, and that healthy snacks brought from home are a better option than expensive movie snacks.

While one team emerged as the victor, all students came away with a newfound confidence in their ability to present their opinions. This project required students to use a variety of skills: reading, evaluating, and organizing supporting evidence, being an active listener, speaking respectfully and with a presentation voice, collaborating with peers, and strategic thinking in order to persuade others. My students loved this activity so much that they are already asking when we can debate another topic!

Digital Classroom Collaboration with Padlet!

Thomasine Mastrantoni and Deborah Goldstein, the Link Ladies

Editor's note: Our much-loved Link Ladies are back with a game-changing nugget of app-style learning wisdom! Here, they explore Padlet, a digital collaborative canvas. As with any Link Ladies-approved app, Padlet is free and simple to use. Plus, it makes reacting to a text super-fun! Try it in your classroom and be sure to let us know how it goes!

Imagine having your whole class of 25 students share what they are thinking simultaneously… sounds like a recipe for classroom chaos, right? Not with Padlet. This app allows every student to do just that. Reading responses, collaboration, and quick assessments at your fingertips. Seeing everyone’s thoughts instantly in one place—a teacher’s dream. And get this… students love it!

The App: Padlet will become one of your all time favorites. A padlet is a digital collaborative canvas. You can post text, pictures, videos, upload documents, share websites or just have a place to keep ongoing lists. Padlets are simple to create, simple for students to use, and having all of your students’ ideas in one place will make it simple for you to use as a check in or an assessment.

Why We Use It: Padlet is a great way to get your students responding to text in an online collaborative space. Since the web address is personalized, students can easily access the padlet anywhere—even at home. With a few clicks and personalizations, your padlet is ready to have students share their thinking. The site is live, so students get to see their peer’s responses in real-time. Another huge part of getting students engaged with their work is this real-time collaboration.

Skill Focus: Collaboration with peers on reading responses; opinion and evidence based thinking

Time: 1 class period (once you teach them how to use the app, you can make it a homework assignment or a center that they can complete independently)

What You'll Need:

  • Storyworks or Storyworks Jr. article (or other text)
  • iPads with Padlet app (FREE in the app store) OR a computer with
  • A great imagination

First, set up your Padlet: Set up your first padlet before class (it takes 5 mins flat). You do have to set up a padlet account, but it is easy and free. Simply go to and sign up. Now you are ready to create your first padlet. Choose Make a Padlet from your Dashboard.

Padlet guides you through the steps to personalize your padlet. At any time, you can click the setting wheel to change or edit your padlet. Start by changing the title and description to reflect what your padlet will be about. We often put our writing prompt or instructions in the description—this makes sure it is visible for students at all times.

Choose how the posts will appear on the screen. There are three layout choices: Freeform (posts will appear wherever you click on the screen—caution, sometimes posts will overlap with others), grid (posts will appear next to each other in a grid format—we find this the easiest to use), and stream (posts will appear in a list). Then, make it engaging! Choose an image that matches your prompt to make the padlet engaging and connected to the learning task/topic.

You can personalize the web address to make it something easy for your students to remember.As you can see, your user name is always the start of the web address.  You can add something simple like “garbage” for your students to make it easy to remember.

Next, choose your privacy settings. You want anyone with the link (your students) to be able to write on the padlet. You can keep it secret, but allow anyone with the link to collaborate OR you can make it public.

Now it is time to have students post. You can share your created padlet in various ways.  You can use a QR code and have them scan and link directly to the page, post the link on your website or in Google Classroom for easy access, or Have them type in the URL on the app.

The Lesson: We use padlet to respond to text all the time. This time we wanted to focus on how to read and extract information from an infographic. Since it’s springtime and we are thinking about being outside, we used the newest infographic "No More Garbage?" from the May/June Storyworks issue.

Discuss how and why an infographic can be used to relay LOTS of information in a succinct and engaging way. We also had a brief discussion about what statistics are and how they can be used to convey information and WOW a reader at the same time.

Give the students a copy of Storyworks Magazine. Talk with them about how to read an infographic. It is not linear. You do not have to read it in order. Information flows in different ways. After students read the infographic, we asked them to choose TWO of the amazing WOW facts and post them to the collaborative padlet. Students were then challenged to come up with ONE solution that they could do to help reduce the amount of garbage.

If this is your first time using padlet, discuss with your students the idea of real-time collaboration. As they are adding their ideas to the page, so are all of their peers—simultaneously.  Some students will need a reminder to focus on their own posts first, then check out what their friends are thinking.

When they access the website, students either double-click or click on the + (bottom right corner of screen) which allows them to start a new post.  They can type their response to the reading prompt (which we have in our description at the top). To differentiate, you can have students who finish quickly search the web and then add an image to their post. This image should support the ideas expressed in their writing.

To view a padlet that our 3rd graders collaborated on, click here.

Padlet can be used in so many different ways. Keep your eyes peeled for our next Ideabook post on how to use Padlet to reflect on your Storyworks school year. THIS idea will make the Storyworks team Jump for Joy!

ELA Meets STEAM in This Fun Roller Coaster Extension

Ann Rider and Sandy Tichenor

Editor's note: Ann and Sandy are beloved Storyworks Jr. teacher advisers, and we were so thrilled when they told us about a fun learning extension they came up with for the May/June Paired Texts. After reading the paired texts about the history and future of roller coasters, students design and pitch their own roller coaster ideas! This activity has it all: fun, skill-building, cooperative learning, and a connection to STEAM! The best part: Ann and Sandy have provided you with everything you need to make it happen in your classroom! 

Pitch a Park!

When students interact with a high-interest text, it’s easy to capitalize on their curiosity. Since roller coasters are so intriguing, we decided to go beyond the text and give students a chance to design and pitch their own idea for a roller coaster. This activity follows a close reading of Scream Machines and Want More Thrills? from the May/June issue of Storyworks Jr.

Time: 5 days, working in pairs

Task: Students will be roller coaster engineers. They will draw an original coaster idea including structure, safety features, and theme or special effects. Once completed, students will “pitch” their roller coaster to the class as if they were selling their idea to the owners of Six Flags (or any nearby amusement park).

Student Guidelines: The requirements for student work are that their roller coaster must be fun, safe and have a theme. Pitch should include all of the vocabulary words from the two texts. Direct students to use what they have learned from the articles, their own experience and on websites provided to develop their plan.


1. Read both articles with students. Complete any comprehension activities provided from Storyworks Jr.

2. Introduce the project, distribute the graphic organizer, and share links for research. We posted the project description and links on our Google Classroom. For a list of resources, see below.

3. Give students time to explore resources and sketch their ideas on the graphic organizer.

4. Give students time to finalize their roller coaster plans and draw them on posterboard or large presentation paper. Use markers to make it bold.

5. Use the opinion writing graphic organizer and OREO paragraph planner to guide them in writing their presentation. Links to the graphic organizers from Scholastic are included in the resources below.

6. Use Opinion Words and Phrases page from Scholastic to help students make their writing flow. A mentor text from the Six Flags website that describes a roller coaster is included as a model.

7. Allow students to type their essays and attach it to their poster.

8. Have students present their design to the class, pitching it as if they're speaking directly to the park owners. 

Optional assessment: Students can complete their own Glow & Grow, or have the class vote on best coaster, best presentation, best theme, etc.

Materials: Graphic organizers for planning, plenty of paper for sketches plus poster paper and markers for final design and presentation, Glow & Grow, computers for accessing information and publishing.


Graphic organizers/planning documents:

Extensions with STEAM

Roller coasters inspire excitement in third graders, but they are a great application of scientific principles of force and motion as well. They lend themselves well to STEAM exploration in the classroom.  Marble Runs, Knex and classroom STEAM materials can be used for roller coaster engineering and design in the classroom.

ELA Standards:


Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.


Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., gaining the floor in respectful ways, listening to others with care, speaking one at a time about the topics and texts under discussion).


Ask questions to check understanding of information presented, stay on topic, and link their comments to the remarks of others.


Ask and answer questions about information from a speaker, offering appropriate elaboration and detail.


Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

Fluency and Fun with a Readaloud Play Puppet Show

Alison Chaplar

Editor's note: Alison Chaplar came into our world via Twitter, and we are so happy to have met her! When she tweeted about her students creating movies of one of our plays in Storyworks Jr., complete with puppets, we knew we had to have this genius idea for the Ideabook. This strategy is a refreshing approach to the read-aloud play, and we hope you'll be inspired to try it in your classroom!

There is no shortage of great articles in Storyworks Jr. Each week I skim through the magazine wondering which story my students would most relate to. When I saw the play of The Tortoise and the Hare in the March/April issue, I thought, my students would love acting this out! And they did! They loved the play so much that one student suggested we create a movie.

We are pretty tech-savvy in our room, so I gave the students the task of finding the best way to record the movie. We were down to two choices: Toontastic or iMovie. The kids decided to go with iMovie because we had more options to create the characters. From there the students took off. They gave me the task of finding character images online for the puppets. The groups voted on the backgrounds they wanted to use for each scene and we came to a group consensus. The students had so much fun picking their characters and coloring them to match their own individual personalities. After a day of rehearsing, decorating the characters, and finishing the scenery, they couldn’t wait to begin recording.

The recording went great! (Though it was a bit of a challenge for the other groups to control their energy while they waited their turn to record.) We set up a mini recording studio using a box, a ruler, oak tag and play-doh. The kids really enjoyed reading their parts and setting up the studio for each scene. When we were done recording each scene I helped the groups to add our video clips into iMovie to create our featured films! Not sure what we enjoyed more—creating our movies or watching them on the smartboard.

We are definitely looking forward to creating more movies in the future with our Storyworks Jr. stories. Take a look at what we came up with for this project by watching one group's movie here!