Genius teaching idea

4th Grade STAAR Writing Practice With Storyworks

Kristen Cruikshank

Editor's Note: One of our favorite Texas teachers, Kristen Cruikshank, is forever using every nugget of Storyworks to help her 4th graders practice writing, editing and honing grammar skills. With the 4th-grade STAAR Writing test coming up in a little more than a week, she has whipped up three great activities to use with the March/April 2018 issue. 



After reading “Finders Keepers,” your kids can use the conversation to develop their own ideas about a time when they’ve had to make a tough decision and explain why they made the choice that they did. Here’s a prompt page to get them started!



Also, you can kill two birds with one stone (idiom!) by using Grammar Cop’s “Amazing Facts About Eyes” to practicing reading nonfiction text and work on editing and fixing mistakes by practicing the use of their/there/they’re, which we know we’ll see on STAAR!



Storyworks Vocab Lab and Word Nerd are also excellent to refine grammar and spelling skills by practicing the correct use of homophones in kids' writing and knowing how to use a dictionary to find the meaning of a word.


STAAR is one huge hurdle. Without a doubt, using Storyworks will prepare your kids in numerous ways for absolute success on test day! Good luck!

A Lesson on Communication

Jen Saul

Editor's note: We are big fans of New York 5th-grade teacher and reading specialist Jen Saul. She has great success using Storyworks Jr. with her fourth- and fifth-grade striving readers in guided reading, partner reading, and independent choice. She wows us yet again with this lesson on communication.


Students often think that communication is only about words. They know the difference between tone through our voice and how that impacts our communication, but the paired texts in the March/April 2018 issue of Storyworks Jr., "Say Hello to Julio" and "Meet Alice Cogswell," teach students that communication can take on other forms.  


Big Idea: How does communication differ and why is it essential to all species?


Day 1: Say Hello to Julio 



  • Step 1: In a small reading group, have students read "Say Hello to Julio." Teach students to chunk the text by reading the introduction, stopping and thinking. Ask: What is the main idea so far? What does the author really want me to understand? Do the same after each heading. As students continue reading, they add onto their existing schema and begin to synthesize information.  



  • Step 2: As students read sections independently, sit next to students to either conduct a running record or to confer about either the chunking reading strategy or a strategy that you have noticed they need to boost in order to support their skills.
  • Step 3: At the end of the text, discuss the big idea. Then ask the students to think about the impact of American Sign Language (ASL) on our society. The article states that some fear that ASL will die out. Ask: Can you think of other languages or ways of communication that have died out? What would happen if your language died out? Have students begin exploring how what they read fits into the larger picture of the world.


Day 2: Meet Alice Cogswell



  • Step 1: In a small reading group, read "Meet Alice Cogswell." Note that this text does not have headings for students to use to help them chunk the text. See that as a positive: Remind students that chunking is about taking in as much as you can take as a reader to stop, analyze and think. Ask the students to chunk the text before beginning (bracket the chunks). Some might chunk paragraph by paragraph and others might take two paragraphs at a time.  



  • Step 2: As students read, chunk, and write big ideas, questions, and thoughts in the margins, confer with students about their chunking choices and how that strategy supports their comprehension of the text.
  • Step 3: At the end of the text, discuss the big idea. How do the two texts connect to one another? 
  • Quick Stop and jot: Because of Alice, how did her work with her father affect Julio’s life?  


Day 3: The Big Idea


Return to thinking about communication and how important it is that we all communicate. Discuss how people in some tribal villages with their own language communicate, how humans can create a language to communicate, and how various animals communicate. Find some videos and photos demonstrating these examples. After viewing them, ask students to use a camera at home to snap pictures of ways they see species communicate in the world around them. Discuss the significance of communication and the various forms. The idea is that we read articles and always bring it back to the bigger picture. This is essential for students to grow as learners and critical thinkers.

Short Nonfiction Leads to Rich SEL

Anna Starecheski

For the September issue of Storyworks Jr., I had the honor of writing about an amazing young girl named Jesselyn Silva. Jesselyn is 11 years old, and she loves to box. I was bowled over and inspired by Jesselyn's passion and dedication, and I hoped Storyworks Jr. readers would be too. But I never could have imagined the lesson one class got after reading her story.



Upstate NY teacher Teresa Weinmann saw that Jesselyn's story could open the door to an important social-emotional learning lesson on the importance of being yourself. And she had the perfect person to help her deliver this lesson: her friend Karen. Karen is a mother, an insurance agent, a singer, and a boxer. Teresa invited her into her classroom, and what followed was an experience her students will never forget.


Karen started by showing some photos of a boxer from behind. She asked the students what they saw, if they could tell if it was a man or a woman. The kids' minds were blown when Karen declared "Well, it's me." She talked about gender stereotypes and was thrilled when she asked the kids what kinds of jobs girls should have. "Any job," one boy said. And what kind of jobs should boys have? "Whatever they want." These kids had the right idea already!

Karen spoke about her journey to finding her passion in boxing and how it makes her feel strong and confident. 

She told the students that they can be anything they want to be, and that it's important to do what you love and be true to yourself. They discussed positive words they could say to themselves when they feel down or defeated by themselves or others. 

The conversation went in many directions, from bullying to being a male ballet dancer to not judging someone by how they look. And then came some fun!



Karen showed the kids her boxing equipment and even taught them some moves! But the learning wasn't over then: Teresa gave the kids paper boxing gloves and had them write positive words to describe themselves on one glove, and on the other glove they wrote phrases that might encourage them when they are faced with a challenge.



A short nonfiction story about an incredible young girl led to a learning experience these kids will never forget. We are always thrilled when teachers take a story from our magazines and turn it into something we never could have imagined. Do you have a story like Teresa's? We want to hear about it

Vocab Activity Sparks Creative Writing Lesson

Susan Feudale

Editor's note: When 6th-grade reading teacher Susan Feudale from Kiski Upper Elementary school in Apollo, Pennsylvania, cracks open Storyworks, her creative juices flow. You'll love the way she took our October/November fiction story "The Good Deed" and developed an excellent writing extension activity that had her students working in groups to build their vocabulary and develop their writing chops. It's so clever and easy to try. Bonus: It can be used with any story, any genre, anytime. As always, we want to hear from you! Get in touch if you have creative ideas to share with fellow teachers. 



We just finished reading "The Good Deed" from the October/November issue of Storyworks. I wanted to share with fellow Storyworks teachers an activity that was really successful in my classroom. It's so easy and effective for an engaging writing extension tied to our fiction reading.



After Reading "The Good Deed," my students completed the "Pick Your Own Vocabulary Sheet." In this, students are given five vocabulary words, and then they have to select and define two more words unfamiliar to them.

I then numbered off my students by 5s.  Each group created an original story using the 7 words from the sheet. 
We then shared the stories and hung them around the room.
I love how students had the opportunity to immediately use these new words in their writing. It was super fun for them to work in teams, and then show off their work in a gallery walk.
I'm always finding creative ways to infuse my own teaching ideas when I use Storyworks. Next up: I'm taking a deeper dive into character analysis with this same fiction story. Stay tuned! In the meantime, let me know if this vocab and writing activity works for you.

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!

Practice Essay Structure with Mentor Texts

Beth Basinger

Editor's note: We were first introduced to fourth-grade ELA teacher Beth Basinger in our conversations with model teachers from the Cypress-Fairbanks (Cy-Fair) ISD in Texas. She instantly blew us away with a simple yet brilliant teaching strategy that links reading and writing in a super-effective way, using short Storyworks articles as mentor texts. It works equally well for Storyworks Jr., too! Check out her strategy below and try it out in your classroom!


My students are learning how to write short essays with four key features:

  • An intro with a hook and central idea
  • Two body paragraphs with topic sentences, details, and supporting evidence
  • A conclusion with a closing and restatement of the central idea


To enforce this structure, I use an I-chart like the one below:



The top section is for the intro, the middle sections are for the body paragraphs, and the bottom is for the conclusion. My students are used to this format when structuring their own essays, but I wanted to show them that this format isn't just for the STAAR test! I found that Word Power, the short nonfiction piece on the first pages of each issue of Storyworks, is a great mentor text for this type of structure. 

I had my students read the Word Power feature from last year's March/April 2017 issue, The Power of Stink. Then I typed up the story, printed it, and cut out each paragraph. Students then rebuilt the article using the I-chart.



This was a great way to get students thinking about the link between what they read and what they write. Reverse-engineering the article showed them that this essay structure that they've been working on can actually be found in a lot of what they read. I hope this strategy works in your classroom!

An I Survived Virtual Field Trip

Genia Connell

Editor's note: This post first appeared on Scholastic's Top Teaching Blog. If you're participating in the virtual field trip to the Museum of the American Revolution with Lauren Tarshis, you don't want to miss Genia's fabulous resources and extensions below!


For the last few years, the most popular books in my classroom library have been the I Survived series. Each year, several students seem to discover these historical fiction adventures, and they read one after the other. Because many third graders are beginning to notice the world around them, the iconic disasters and historical events depicted in these engaging books are high-interest topics.

I was excited when I heard that the series’ author, Lauren Tarshis, was hosting a virtual field trip to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia; it would be the perfect enhancement to our social studies unit on the Northeast Region. Because we had not yet studied this part of American history, I knew Tarshis’s latest book, I Survived The American Revolution, 1776, would be the perfect introduction. While many of my third graders can read this series independently, others aren’t quite ready for the fourth-grade-level text, so I decided to present it as a class read-aloud.  

Also, heads up to teachers with struggling readers! Fellow blogger Mary Blow has done an outstanding blog post showing how you can use the I Survived series to help those readers. She shares before, during, and after reading activities for I Survived the American Revolution, 1776, which pair beautifully with the webcast. 


Getting Started With a Chalk Talk

Before beginning the book, I wanted to find out what my students knew — and didn’t know — about the American Revolution. Using a chalk talk strategy for accessing prior knowledge, I was able to see that there were many misconceptions about the war — its causes and the outcome — that I could help dispel during our book talk discussions. Knowing where my students are in terms of background knowledge, helps me guide them during book talk discussions.





Chalk Talk Posters


While We Read

For each class read-aloud we do, my students are active participants in the reading. As we begin any read-aloud, each student gets a piece of 12 x 18 paper that they can use to track what’s happening in the story. Because there is no set template, each student’s paper looks completely different — which I love! Some things we normally chart on our papers include:


  • Settings
  • Characters
  • Conflicts
  • Recurring words
  • Interesting words
  • Figurative language
  • Author’s craft examples
  • Timelines of events



More completed examples of these interactive sheets can be seen in my post, “The Tale of Despereaux, A Read-Along Guide.”

As I read chapter after chapter, I noticed many of my students were really focusing on author’s craft, especially with regard to how the author used language to build suspense and make the reader feel that they were a part of the story. While these sheets help my students make sense of the text while we read, they also become a record of great examples of mentor text students can use in the own writing.



At the end of each chapter, we pause for students to summarize and think about what they just read. On the Read-Think-Wonder sheet shown below, students summarize the chapter, write what they think is happening in the context of the story so far and ask questions they have about the text.





Virtual Field Trip Resources

You are ALL invited to join Tarshis in this unique adventure. The virtual field trip will be available for streaming starting on February 7, 2018. But you can also register now to receive a downloadable virtual field trip classroom kit and helpful reminders via email.



Whenever I take my students on a virtual field trip, I like to build the hype for it with a few pre-visit activities and resources. Below you’ll find a few I plan to use on this field trip.


Visit the Museum’s Website

A week or so before our trip, my students will visit the Museum of the American Revolution website. They explore the site independently to build background knowledge before our "trip." 



Plan for Our Big Road Trip

The day before the trip, my students work in small groups to complete the form below which helps with their mapping skills, and understanding of everyday applications like Google Maps.



The Day of the Virtual Field Trip

On the day of the virtual field trip, I’ll present my students with a ticket (to help build excitement and add to the realism) as we gather around the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room. I’ll have them take notes about what they saw and learned through the video. 



After the Trip

Afterwards, as we discuss what was learned through the virtual field trip, we will go back to our chalk talks. These are helpful to confirm or dispel what we thought we knew and to see if any of our questions were answered.

Virtual field trips are a great way to help students experience something inaccessible to them during the school day. Excitement is already building in my room for this trip. I hope your class will be able to take part as well!

Thanks for reading!



                Science-Based Extensions for Nonfiction

                Ann O'Connor

                Editor's note: Ann O'Connor, a grade 2-3 teacher from California, told us that she used "The Amazing Penguin Rescue," the nonfiction feature in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Storyworks Jr., as a jumping-off point for a cool science experiment and a simple research project. Here they are—just in time for Penguin Awareness Day on January 20!


                Feather Experiment:

                1. Hand out one feather to each student. You can get the feathers at Michaels or another craft store. 
                2. Students place the feather into water. We did this in a scooping action, just as the penguin would be diving into the water. Students recorded what happened to the feather in their science journal. (It was still dry. It kept its shape.)
                3. With the same movement, student dipped their feather in vegetable oil. Students immediately noticed how heavy their feather became. Students recorded this and other observations in their journals.
                4. Students tried to wash the feather out in water then recorded that it did not remove the oil.
                5. Students washed the feather in water that contained very little dishwashing soap, then recorded their findings. They were most surprised by how light the feather felt when it was clean.



                Penguin iPad Activity:

                1. Google "penguins" and choose an image that you can identify as a specific species of penguin. Save the image to your camera roll.
                2. Research facts about that species of penguin and record important facts in your writing journal.
                3. In your journal, create your own paragraph, incorporating facts in your own words.
                4. Open “Book Creator” and choose portrait.
                5. Import your picture and add text. Label your picture and include a title.
                6. I had students export their projects to their Google Drive and share it with me so I could print it. 


                Friendship Club: An Authentic SEL Opportunity

                Molly Redner

                Editor's Note: When third-grade teacher Molly Redner, a model teacher from the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in Texas, mentioned her Friendship Club to us, our jaws dropped. Wait until you read about this special group. Do you have a similar program in your school? We want to hear about it!



                Friendship Club was born when a parent came to me with a concern. Her son, Brandon, has a learning disability, and she was worried that it was interfering with his ability to make and keep friends. Through our lengthy heart-to-heart chats, I learned that Brandon had friends—other children with disabilities—but he was desperate to feel like part of the “group” in class. My heart broke for Brandon. He knew he didn’t fit in, and I knew he wasn’t the only kid who felt friendless. I was on a mission to find others like Brandon. Here's what I did next.


                1. I spoke to the parents and grandparents of other students in our class with special needs. They expressed the same concerns. I had to do something to help, because everyone needs a friend! 
                2. Then, I started to talk to parents of other students in the class. These students are those who have access to the general education curriculum. These parents spoke of their desires for their children to be kind, inclusive, and welcoming to all students. 
                3. Before long, I hatched a plan to create Friendship Club. Students with a wide variety of abilities and talents were invited to come to school early once or twice a week to learn how we can include others and how to make friends. 
                4. Finally, I came up with a curriculum. We started out small, “just” 14 kids and a teacher. We read books with characters who felt like they didn’t belong or fit in. We talked about how it feels on both sides, to exclude and to be excluded. We learned the language of friendship, how to say can I play with you?,  how to say no thanks, and how to get along with others. After a few weeks, more and more students and parents were asking to join the group. It was exciting to see kids eager to help and make lasting friendships. Some days we ate doughnuts and played with Legos together, some days we colored pictures, but each week bonds were formed across the spectrum of abilities. 



                And in the end, everyone learned something about themselves and about others that will forever be a part of each of us. It's been incredible to see the bonds formed across abilities. I'm going to do this again in the spring—and every year from now on. In fact, so many of my students are interested, I may have to have two sessions! 

                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!