Genius teaching idea
A Creative Classroom Activity for Teaching Text Features: Surgery!
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!
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!
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!
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 present. Then, 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!
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 www.padlet.com
- 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 padlet.com 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
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.
- Amusement Park Physics
- Funderstanding Roller Coasters
- Build your own coaster
- Kingda-Ka webpage; writing example
- National Geographic Kids roller coaster video playlist
Graphic organizers/planning documents:
- Pitch a Park graphic organizer for planning
- Opinion Words and Phrases
- Opinion writing planner
- OREO paragraph Planner
- Glow and Grow
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.
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
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!
Student-Led Learning: DIY Comprehension Quizzes
Editor's note: Here's our friend Jackie R. from New York, developing a truly fun way to use Storyworks for formative assessment. We love when teachers come up with awesome double-duty ideas like this! It just might be the perfect way to blend student-led learning with formative assessment. Read on and give it a whirl in your classrooms.
Do your students’ parents ask for ways to study with their child? I usually advise them to have their child make his/her own test. Just the act of looking through the notes and creating questions insures that the material is being reviewed. I decided to use that philosophy for an activity in my class, but I took it a step further. Enter Storyworks.
Besides the formative assessment provided by the accompanying activities and writing prompts, I usually use the individual quizzes as well. This time I decided to have the students create their own quiz based on content from the February issue of Storyworks. Not only did this serve as an evaluative assignment, but it was an enjoyable, collaborative learning experience for the class.
I began by dividing my class into equal-sized groups (the number of students divided by the number of stories and articles in the issue). I assigned each group a different selection. I included every type: fiction, paired texts, nonfiction, debate, play, and poem. I then distributed a page I created with specific directions.
Each group was asked to create five Storyworks quiz questions for their designated piece. Each question had to be a multiple choice with four answers and an answer key had to be provided. I also asked each group to indicate the skill they were testing for each question (as does Storyworks’ answer key). I listed some suggestions such as vocabulary, cause and effect, main idea and supporting details, etc…
Creating these test questions gave my students the opportunity to close read for a set purpose and outcome. What better way to fully understand specific reading skills than to create test questions containing them? Not to mention that my students had so much fun trying to come up with challenging questions to stump their classmates. (Shhhhhhh, don’t tell them it was classwork with a precise objective—they thought it was a game!)
To culminate the activity I collected all the questions and answer keys and compiled them to create one cumulative test. I even typed up the same type of answer sheet I use for the regular Storyworks quizzes. My intention was to type the questions too, but we were hit with a blizzard and school was closed for two days. (Welcome to winters in the Northeast!) I used the handwritten copies and added extra credit if anyone could find any spelling or grammar mistakes—the age-old teacher trick when letting errors slip by!
Of course, this test-making activity can be used with any genre in any subject. It’s great for standardized test prep too. So next time you want your students to delve deep into their reading material, try turning the tables and have them make the test. They may just stump you too!
A Text Features Game to Boost Engagement
Editor's note: Superstar coaches, Allie and Shannon, are back with another winner of an activity: Tabletop Twitter! As soon as you tell your students the name of this activity, we predict they'll be excited! This activity has students previewing text features while "tweeting" their thoughts, comments, and questions. It's fun for kids, and gets them thinking about the text before diving in for a first read. Check out how Mrs. Tiffany Spiva's fourth grade superstars rocked this strategy! Let us know how it works in your classroom!
Tabletop Twitter is a great strategy for getting all students to interact with text and it gives them a chance to share their thoughts about what they've read. It's a different way of getting kids interacting with text and one another, and it gives us insight into how kids are thinking about and looking at text. We like using the strategy with infographics and text features the most because it gives a fun and engaging purpose for looking at text features. The kids love it because the hashtag format is in their comfort zone and makes them feel like what they're doing is "cool," not just "school"!
How to get started: Cut or copy and glue images or short excerpts from your article onto individual large pieces of bulletin board paper or chart paper. Place the pieces of chart paper around the room in separate locations.
How to choose the text/images: The selection of images or excerpts you choose is key to getting the most interaction and reaction from your students. The selection should be something that evokes emotion or thinking from your students so they will be motivated to write down their thoughts, reactions, and questions.We loved using the thought-provoking sidebars, pictures, and captions like this one in the March/April issue of Storyworks: The Amazing History of American Television.
How to introduce the strategy to students: Discuss what we know about “twitter” and how to tweet. Explain the process so students fully understand: They are to write a comment/question in 140 characters or less, using a hashtag symbol (#) when appropriate. Put a 140-character statement on the board so students have a sense of the length. Set a timer for 2 or 3 minutes and let students know when the timer rings the twitter time is up! Remind students: “Writing is right, but talking is taboo!”
How it works: The students will read the excerpt or caption of a picture, then silently “tweet” their thoughts and/or reactions. The teacher is moving from table to table re-tweeting and/or writing comments or responding to something already written. When the timer goes off, the students move to the next table and repeat until each student has “tweeted” about each excerpt/image. Students read each other’s “tweets” and respond back to each other by posing a question or comment.
The “tweets” will be posted, so after reflection—and any time during the unit study or lesson sequence—students can return and add more thoughts. Consider this low-tech form of social media a perfect way to build a base of knowledge!
Boost Opinion and Persuasive Writing with a Debate
Editor's note: We know that kids tend to get very passionate about our debates, and superstar 2nd grade teacher Beth O's students really took it to a whole new level! We love Beth's simple two-day approach to the debate in the March/April issue of Storyworks Jr. It's one that students have strong feelings about: Should You Always Get a Trophy? We hope it will work well in your classroom!
My class loves to debate. After all, who doesn’t love trying to prove their point or get their way, kids and adults alike! My second graders have been working on Opinion Writing, and I thought that the article, "Should You Always Get a Trophy," would be a subject that they had a lot of background knowledge about and also some strong opinions.
This was a two-day project. On the first day, and before previewing the article, I had students sit (on top of their desks for more exciting and active engagement) and have a whole-class discussion about their experiences with trophies. What kind of sports are you in? Who has received a trophy before? How do you feel when someone else gets a trophy but you don’t? How do you feel when everyone gets a “participation” trophy? Do you think you should get a trophy, even if you’re in last place? Students were encouraged to support their answers using the word "because" to add their thoughts. They even used language like “I respectfully disagree with ____, because...!” Since most kids have had experience with this, their feelings were so strong about this topic!
Next, students were given a large copy of the article, so that they could take notes that support both sides. Excitement was building, because most students already knew which side they would want to be on for our big debate! They read the article independently, and then shared what they thought they should highlight together.
Next, students wrote their ideas on the Storyworks Jr. printable, What Do You Think, that utilized both text evidence and ideas from their own schema, proving their point for tomorrow’s big debate.
They chose what side they would be on, and we even had a team huddle and cheer as we prepared for Day 2.
After we practiced our debate strategies, we sat on opposite sides of the room. I stressed to the kids that they should not be a “conversation stealer” and try letting all teammates get a chance to share their point of view. They did a great job of using text evidence and their own personal thoughts. I even had class leaders emerge and ask others to step down to let a quiet classmate get a chance to speak!
The team who debated on the side of “everyone gets a trophy” even had nice, shiny trophy props to try to persuade the other side!
Needless to say, these kids had a blast with this debate! Storyworks Jr. debates are a great way to get kids excited about sharing their opinions while also building speaking and listening skills. My kids are so excited to see what the next Storyworks Jr. debate will be!