Genius teaching idea

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

Erin Burns

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



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



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


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



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



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




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



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


A Text Features Game to Boost Engagement

Allie Curtis and Shannon Seigler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Fab Teaching Ideas (Thanks, Twitter!)

Anna Starecheski

It's such a joy for all of us here at Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. to scroll through Twitter and see what you're up to. We love seeing the unique ways in which you teach with our magazines—often, you come up with ideas we never had in mind when we were gathering stories and creating support materials! We're constantly sending each other links to your tweets—"Did you see this?!" "Check out this idea!" "WOW!" Your creativity and passion are incredibly inspiring. To us, the best part of sharing these ideas on Twitter is getting to share them with your fellow teachers and building our Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. communities. Here are a few of our recent favorite tweets from you!


We love how third-grade teacher Gladys Sanchez uses Seesaw to collect her students’ work as they read the story "Like Magic" from the October/November issue of Storyworks Jr. Plus, we’re swooning over that graphic organizer she created!


Using Kahoot to review key skills is always a win! Elizabeth Praschil created this Kahoot to review text features in the Storyworks Jr. feature nonfiction "Into the Dark Water." For more on Kahoot, check out this how-to Ideabook post!


It’s always great to see teachers using our resources in ways we never thought of: Dana Canales used the fiction story "Freddie in the Shade" in the September issue of Storyworks to teach her students about compound sentences! For more on how to use Storyworks as a mentor text to teach grammar skills, don't miss teacher Kristen Cruikshank's Ideabook simple method!


We had a feeling that students would love the  paired texts "The Amazing History of Dogs" in the September issue of Storyworks—Dawn Rodriguez helped her students make text-to-self connections by putting together a fantastic bulletin board of their dogs or dream dogs.


Keep sharing, and remember to use the hashtags #Storyworks and #StoryworksJr so we'll see your tweets! And don't forget to follow us!


  • Lauren Tarshis, editor of Storyworks@laurenTarshis
  • Allison Friedman, associate editor of Storyworks@alli_friedman
  • Kara Corridan, editor of Storyworks Jr.: @kcorridan
  • Anna Starecheski, assistant editor of Storyworks Jr.@annastarecheski
  • Rebecca Leon, education editor for Storyworks and Storyworks Jr.@RebeccaLeon12
  • Aimee Dolan, director of teacher outreach for all of our ELA mags: @Dolan_AS

Debate With Google Classroom

Thomasine Mastrantoni and Deborah Goldstein, the Link Ladies

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



Why we use it:

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


Skill Focus:

  • Citing Text Evidence
  • Comprehension
  • Opinion Writing
  • Collaboration



1-2 class periods


What you’ll need:


The setup:

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



The Lesson:

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


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



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


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


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


Character Analysis Made Easy

Susan Feudale

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


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



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



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

5-Day Debate Plan: Halloween Edition!

Ellen Weiner, a 3rd-grade teacher from New York, wrote this great post last year. In it, she details exactly how she incorporates the Debate quiz into her lesson plans, and we think you'll get a lot out of her approach. And by the way, whether you're a new subscriber or you've been with us since last year, you have access to our debate from last fall: Should You Give Up Your Halloween Candy? We bet your students will have a great time hashing this one out!

The first thing I use when I begin a new issue of Storyworks, and now Storyworks Jr., is the Debate, because it's a quick and short reading passage. It gives me a great overview of my students: I can see where they are as readers, as writers, and as children learning opinion-writing skills. Here are the key steps for my 5-day lesson using Storyworks Jr.'s October/November 2016 Debate: Should You Give Up Your Halloween Candy?

Day 1:

We look at the text features of the Debate.

We discuss the aspects of the article (i.e. fact vs. opinion, prior knowledge), creating connections to further develop meaning while reading.



Days 2 & 3:

We discuss the focus question of the Debate, and determine what it's asking us. (This is NOT always obvious to 3rd graders at this point in the year. For example, with the September Debate, my students initially thought the question focused on whether they should get/have a trampoline, but the question asked whether trampolines are too dangerous, which is a completely different question. I loved that!)

One session is spent on locating the "yes" reasons within the reading passage, and then the students write a "yes" paragraph. Every paragraph must begin with a topic sentence. In this case, it restates the question: "Children should give up their Halloween candy." They must give 3 details from the text to support the topic sentence, each written as their own individual sentences. Then they must write a concluding sentence that revisits the topic sentence/statement (i.e. "These are just a few reasons why children should give up their Halloween candy.")

We share and discuss our paragraphs, and students are given the opportunity to learn and grow in their writing. All year, I reinforce that they need to avoid using the words you, me, and I. I emphasize that they need to use appropriate substitute words, such as "children" in this case.



Day 4:

We spend a second session locating the "no" reasons, and then the students write a "no" paragraph. Just as with the "yes" paragraph, every paragraph must begin with a topic sentence—again, one that restates the question (this time, "Children should not give up their Halloween candy.") They must give 3 details from the reading passage that support the topic sentence, each written as their own individual sentences. Then they must conclude with a sentence that revisits the topic sentence/statement (i.e. "These are just a few reasons why children should not give up their Halloween candy.")  We then share and discuss our "no" paragraphs, and children are given another opportunity to learn and grow in their writing. 



Day 5:

The quiz is given as a final activity for the Debate. This gives me an overview of how well the children have understood the various aspects of the reading passage, as well as their ability to eliminate answers that are not appropriate choices for the questions. After the quizzes are scored, I review them with the students: We carefully break down each question, locating the answers in the text, and eliminating answers that do not makes sense for that particular question.



The catchphrase in my classroom, all year long, is: 

"Just look back in the reading,

because that's not cheating!"



The Debate Quiz answer key provided by Storyworks and now Storyworks Jr. tells me what skill each question represents (i.e. main idea, locating details, etc.). I always create a spreadsheet with the children's answers, and analyze the information to see whether there are patterns. I use this to inform my instruction in small group work. I might group students who may need more practice with a specific skill, such as locating details. You can do this too, and see after a quiz or two, if analyzing missed answers is just as helpful as seeing what's done well. I find that a careful analysis of the mistakes that were made will often result in my being able to address the specific areas where my students are struggling. Then my students are better able to approach these tasks differently the next time they see them. You can see an example of my spreadsheet below, and you can download it here. Give it a try with your students and let me know in the comments below if you use my 5-day plan.


Como Usar Storyworks Jr. en Casa

We are thrilled to introduce a new Storyworks Jr. adviser from Round Rock, Texas: Alejandro Sifuentes.

He is an amazingly passionate dual-language third-grade teacher from Round Rock ISD whose mission is to provide his students and families with a better ELL transition than he had growing up. His creative juices led him to develop his own YouTube channel where he posts wonderful videos on key ELA skills to keep his kiddos engaged! We begged him to share his new video, "Como Usar Storyworks Jr. en Casa" (How to use Storyworks Jr. at home) for families who speak Spanish. (Note the English-caption option in the toolbar, if you need it.) He's our new hero and we hope he can help your family engagement efforts with ELL families too!



Please feel free to share this video with families through your email communication in the weeks to come.  

And don't forget we now offer parent newsletters in English and in Spanish for every new issue. Click here to find the letter for the October/November issue, which invites family participation and important conversation about what your students are reading and learning in school.

If you have a great family engagement idea, we'd love to hear about it. Send us an email or post your ideas below!


Explore Character Motivation with Cause + Effect

Amy Beall

How cool is Storyworks 4th grade adviser Amy Beall from North Carolina? She's whipped up a quickie Cause and Effect lesson for fellow subscribers to try out with September's Fiction story "Freddie in the Shade.” Sunglasses are optional! Your students can explore character motivation in partners or independently as they gain a greater awareness of the story's theme. It's so simple to try, and Amy's created a graphic organizer template here to go right along with her lesson. Plus, she offers writing extensions. What a back-to-school gift! Thanks, Amy. Please let us know if you use it, and feel free to share your own skill-building spin on any of our articles and stories.  

Exploring character’s feelings with cause and effect.

1.  During a second read of the story (with or without sunglasses on), have students focus on looking for the different feelings Freddie exhibits throughout the story. 

2.  With a partner, complete the cause and effect sheet about Freddie’s feelings.


  • Identify a feeling Freddie has
  • Determine the cause of the feeling
  • Explain the effect of having that feeling 
  • If the feeling was a negative one, describe the solution to overcome the feeling 

3.  Discuss the answers as a whole class or partners.

Try these writing extensions:

  • Ask students to write in their journals about a time when they too had some of the same feelings Freddie had, and whether their solution was similar. 
  • Students might choose to write a “How to…” guide to overcoming challenging emotions/situations similar to Freddie’s problems.

What can I say? My students really enjoyed this activity. And, importantly, I believe that they were able to connect to Freddie more by analyzing Freddie’s feelings along with obtaining a deeper understanding of the story. Connecting to the character at this level also created more awareness of the theme. I hope you give it a try in your classroom! 





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!