Genius teaching idea

Take a (virtual) field trip to Alcatraz

Beth Orticelli

Editor's note: Leave it to Beth O, our Storyworks Jr. advisor and second-grade teacher, to blow our minds once again with her ultra-creative teaching strategies. This time she takes her students on a virtual field trip to Alcatraz, and delivers yet another jaw-dropping and riveting language-arts lesson. We absolutely love what Beth came up with—and it's so easy for any teacher to try. So, please do, and share your feedback in the Comments area below. 


My second graders were thrilled to watch the Video Read-Aloud that accompanies the nonfiction article about Alcatraz! Normally, if there's a video with an article, I show it later. But with the content of this article being so mature, I thought it would be best for them to see the video first, as an introduction. They're so used to princess-type fairy tales and talking animals, so an article that discusses criminal escapes brought them into another world. They were so excited to discuss a real-life drama and their theories of possible escape success or failure.



After the video, we did some close-reading of the article, and used the Pause and Think questions as discussion topics at their tables. While taking turns, students had to contribute to their discussions with: "I would like to add on", "The text said that..." "I respectfully disagree with _______, because......" or "for example"....

These are all great text discussions "sentence starters" that I like to incorporate into my classroom.


Finally, after they felt like experts on Alcatraz, I projected Google Earth on to my giant whiteboard, and asked the kids if they wanted to "go" to California right now and see Alcatraz for themselves. (We live outside of Chicago.) You would have thought I was taking them to Disneyland! They were literally screaming with excitement. They felt like they were traveling through the sky, with the way that Google Earth starts out with a global view, and then zooms into California. From the incredible close-up pictures we were able to see in 3-D, they were coming up with amazing thoughts. They noticed the giant cliffs surrounding the prison, which would make it even more difficult to escape. Even seeing huge birds in the water reminded them that wildlife does exist at Alcatraz and that the ocean was rough for prisoners trying to break free!



I highly recommend this approach when you want your students to truly understand the setting of a story—and a real field trip is not in the cards!




Reader's Theater Tips From Teach123

Michelle Divkey

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


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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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





The Sticky Note Approach: Developing Active Readers

Amy Groesbeck

Editor's note: We discovered third grade teacher Amy Groesbeck of Texas while we were field-testing our sample issue of Storyworks Jr. We skyped with Amy and her teaching colleagues who had been given our sample issue to demo in their third-grade classrooms. We were delighted by a sticky-note activity she used with Storyworks Jr. content to encourage active reading. We begged Amy to share this more developed Genius Teaching Idea with our Ideabook readers. Try her strategy in your classroom and let us know how it works for you!


Critical thinking is an integral component of the learning process, so I wanted to implement a system into my classroom reading routine that would encourage my students to activate their higher-order thinking skills during each of their reading experiences. I also wanted to further improve my students’ comprehension by teaching them how to monitor their reading more efficiently and consistently. I wanted my students to always consider the following:

  • “Does the text make sense?”
  • “I understand what I’m reading because…”

To accomplish this and promote the idea that reading is thinking, I developed a system that incorporated six essential comprehension strategies into our daily reading practice: 1) make connections, 2) ask questions, 3) form inferences, 4) make predictions, 5) monitor comprehension, and 6) form evaluations. I selected six colored sticky notes and assigned each color to a strategy. We refer to this process as “color coding our thinking.” Students associate each of the following comprehension strategies to a particular color: 

  • Make connections = pink
  • Ask questions = orange
  • Make inferences = yellow
  • Make predictions = green
  • Monitor comprehension = blue
  • Make evaluations = purple

During the beginning of the year, I introduced each sticky note as I taught each comprehension strategy. I designed opportunities for my students to practice the skills in isolation since we were focusing on one skill at a time. As my little readers progressed through a text, I taught them to periodically pause and think about what they had read thus far. Depending on the focus skill, we demonstrated our thinking through quick note-taking responses we call “stop-n-jots.” I provided thinking stems for each of the strategies, which students used to form their stop-n-jots. For example, if a student made a connection while reading, he or she used a pink sticky note to record their thought. A student might have written, “This reminds me of my dog. The character in the text has a dog that misbehaves and my dog never listens either.”  

Active Reading Thinking Stems:

1. Make connections

  • This reminds me of…
  • I can relate this to…
  • This makes me think of…

2. Ask questions

  • I’m wondering…
  • Why did…
  • What does…

3. Make inferences

  • From the text, I can infer…
  • My schema helps me know…
  • I’m guessing…because…

4. Make predictions

  • I predict…
  • I think...will happen because…

5. Monitor comprehension

  • I’m thinking…
  • I’m noticing…
  • In this section…

6. Make evaluations

  • In my opinion…
  • I do/do not like…
  • I do/do not agree with…because…

Though I taught students how to form their stop-n-jots in isolation, I’m a firm believer that thoughtful readers combine comprehension strategies. We eventually began incorporating several colored sticky notes while reading a single text. My goal was to allow my students time to achieve a level of confidence so they could begin using these strategies during independent reading, which they did very quickly.

To assist students in becoming active readers, I created anchor charts to reinforce expectations and provide examples. I also created bookmarks students could use during independent reading or small group instruction. Eventually, they were pausing and writing stop-n-jots without being prompted. By the time we received our first issue of Storyworks Jr., we were prepared to dive in!

The sticky-note approach pairs perfectly with Storyworks Jr.’s passages because it can be used with any genre or text. My students and I especially love using Storyworks Jr. because there is always a variety of engaging fiction and nonfiction texts. This week in small group, I selected the paired texts "The History of Minecraft" and "The LEGO Story." We began by previewing the first text and then making predictions. Students recorded a stop-n-jot and shared out. As we read, we stopped after each paragraph to monitor our comprehension. To model their understanding, students wrote a note or paraphrased the main idea of the paragraph. This communicated to me that my little readers comprehended accurately. If students were unable to do so, we reread together or applied other fix-up strategies. As we worked through the text, students continued to pause and record stop-n-jots and placed each sticky note directly onto the text. The collections of sticky notes that eventually emerged served as a visual and reminder of just how much thinking had occurred. Each sticky note equaled one thought!

Another great component of Storyworks Jr. that aligns well with the sticky-note approach are the “Pause and Think” questions provided in the nonfiction and fiction articles. These questions often help my students monitor their comprehension and allow me to check for understanding. Recording sheets can be downloaded online, (click here for an example from a recent article) which is a great way to collect completed sticky notes. When we complete the text, my students transfer their sticky notes from their magazines onto the recording sheet. It’s an effective and efficient way for me to collect their stop-n-jots and provide feedback!

To Sum It Up:

When should you implement this approach into your classroom?

Any time students are reading - small group, cooperative groups, whole group, or independently!

How much prep time should you expect?

There’s very little preparation required! I typically have questions prepared so I can scaffold if necessary. In addition, I organize all of our sticky notes in bins so students are able to retrieve the color they need. Since we use several sticky notes throughout the year, we are able to replenish our bins through parent donations.

What if you can’t get enough sticky notes?

As an alternative, your students could use colored pencils to write stop-n-jots or highlight their notes in the different colors.

Why use the sticky-note approach?

My kids enjoy the self-regulation this approach allows. As they are reading, they have become more engaged with a text, while gaining deeper understandings. For me, it’s an effective formative assessment. At a quick glance, I am able to read students’ notes and provide feedback immediately.

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 "Escape From Alcatraz" from the December 2016/January 2017 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., Escape From Alcatraz. 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!

Escape From Alcatraz: Thrilling Content to Revisit Again and Again

Kristen Cruikshank

Part of the magic of  Storyworks (and the delight of  Storyworks editor Lauren Tarshis) is developing amazing content for you and your students to work with. Our aim is to provide stories that thrill and open doors of curiousity. We feel that the article "Escape from Alcatraz" is a perfect example of this. Our newest BFF, fourth-grade teacher Kristen Cruikshank of Houston, Texas, has held tight to her copies of this narrative nonfiction article (which ran in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of Storyworks), and she's created a multi-pronged lesson which she plans to use again this year. BIG BONUS: All Storyworks subscribers have access to our deep archive of past content and can try this lesson out in their classroom whenever they're ready. Kristen has a decidedly TEKS focus for her instruction. You'll see below that she shares her genius ideas and offers takeaway goodies for you to try (like writing prompts and rubrics!)—or you can use the activities and formative asssessments we developed for it.

P.S. So many of you have told us that Alcatraz was a big hit in your classroom, we've adapted the story for Storyworks Jr. It's in the December 2016/January 2017 issue. Now even more teachers can try Kristen's ideas, modified for a younger audience!  

Take it away, Kristen!


Every year, "Escape from Alcatraz" is a huge hit with my students. This excellent piece of nonfiction text is highly engaging, filled with intriguing information, and gets readers to pose burning questions that they still want answered. This is one of those texts that students never want to stop reading.

In Texas, TEK 4.11 asks students to analyze, make inferences, and draw conclusions about expository text and provide evidence from the text to support their understanding. This text lends itself to many types of learning activities in the classroom. Below are some clever ways to use this text in your classroom.

1. Teach with Text Structure in Mind

Beginning in third grade, students need to begin to understand the how authors organize nonfiction text. This can be done through Texas TEK 4.11C, describing explicit and implicit relationships among ideas in texts organized by sequence, compare and contrast, and cause and effect. We also pointed out that the author used description to explain the events in detail. Most nonfiction text is organized in more than one way, so students need to know what to look for to in the text to identify the type of organization the author is using.

In "Escape from Alcatraz, author Deborah Hopkinson uses the text structures of description and sequence. She uses description to describe the prison, what life was like as a prisoner at Alcatraz, and how the infamous men escaped from their cells. She uses sequential order to tell their plan of action to escape and the history of Alcatraz. As we read the text, we highlighted all the text evidence that supported text structure (highlighted in yellow per our handmade key at the top of the article).


Once we found examples of both descriptive and sequence organization in the text, we had two engaging activities to accomplish:

In Texas, TEK 4.18 states that students need to be able to write expository and procedural text to communicate ideas and information to specific audiences for specific purposes. We created a response to the expository text by providing evidence from the text to demonstrate our understanding. First, we wrote a letter from the viewpoint of one prisoner passing a secret note to another prisoner detailing the escape plan they would carry out, from planning stages to final execution of the plan.

Here’s our work with the text that we created before writing the letter.



Then, we downloaded a great app on the iPad called Timeline and used it to either create a timeline of events showing their escape plan using times and dates from the text, or to document the history of Alcatraz.

 2. Persuasive Writing/Debate

Deborah Hopkinson ends this article with the following paragraph:


When we finished reading, the kids are already shouting out what their viewpoints were! “There’s no way those men are still alive!” or “Oh my gosh! These men are still out there somewhere!” You can see below how many kids are “terrified” that the men are still out there.

We decided that if we were going to persuade someone to believe our viewpoint, we needed to look at all the text evidence for each side of the article. We scoured the text and sorted the information into two groups: evidence that supported the men escaped and made it off the island, and evidence that did not support that the men escaped and make it off the island (highlighted in pink and purple per our handmade key at the top of the article). We discussed how the author used language to present information to influence what the reader thinks.


Once we had all the information sorted and we discussed each piece of evidence in detail, you’d be surprised how many kids changed their minds! After some work with our persuasive writing anchor chart, they were ready to begin their persuasive writing piece.

The students were expected to state their claim, use text evidence to support their viewpoint, and support their argument with details and opinions. Texas TEK 4.19A expects students to write a persuasive essay for appropriate audiences that establish a position and use supporting details that influence the attitude or actions of a specific audience on specific issues.

Here are two grading rubrics that I used to evaluate both their writing samples and presentation to the class.


I hope these ideas are helpful to you when you use "Escape from Alcatraz." What’s your opinion? Did the men actually make it off the island? Before, during, and after reading nonfiction text, students naturally ask questions because they want to know more. We generated some burning questions that we would want to pose to the author, Deborah Hopkinson, to see what her thoughts were:

  1. How did the men carry their makeshift raft through their escape? This would have slowed them down and made them a bigger object to be detected by the guards, right?
  2. Maybe the body found floating in the bay was one of the prisoners, but the others made it safely across the bay?
  3. Why couldn’t Allen West get out of his cell?
  4. Why didn’t Allen West tell on the other men when he couldn’t get out?
  5. How would a raft made out of raincoats carry three men a mile across the bay?
  6. In a prison as secure as Alcatraz, how could the men have gotten all of the tools they did? Could they have convinced guards to help them?


Even with the answers to these questions, the mystery continues to live on…


Reading TEKS: 4.11, 4.11C, 4.12A, 4.13A, Fig 19B, Fig 19C, Fig 19D, Fig 19E

Writing TEKS: 4.15A, 4.18A, 4.18C, 4.19A




Kahoot: A Quiz App That's a Real Home Run

Thomasine Mastrantoni and Deborah Goldstein, the Link Ladies

Editor's note: Our favorite library media specialists, the Link Ladies, are back with a home run! With the World Series on everyone's minds, this app-based activity using the Storyworks play "When Girls Ruled Baseball" will be a hit with your students. We've heard from many teachers that Kahoot has been super successful in their classrooms, and we believe this step-by-step plan will convince you, too. And if you're already familiar with Kahoot, you can skip this one and just grab the Link Ladies' ready-made Kahoot here!


It’s the bottom of the 9th inning, bases are loaded, you are up to bat… SHE swings… SHE hits… it’s… going… all… the… way...


The app

Kahoot, free in the iTunes store

Why use it?

Kahoot lets you create interactive quizzes or assessments to help you quickly find out what your students learned from a text or activity. The activity that follows focuses on assessing comprehension, but the beauty of Kahoot is that you can make it about anything you want.  Advanced features: Your students can even ask questions within the quiz for further interactivity. And you can add pictures or YouTube videos to your Kahoot Quiz.


Skill Focus:

  • Comprehension
  • Assessment
  • Teamwork


1 class period to read and discuss the read-aloud play

10-15 mins (depending on the number of questions in your quiz)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    


What you’ll need:


How to get started: We have created a Kahoot for you to use with this article. To create your own custom Kahoot, sign up for a free account:


Now you are ready to start your first Kahoot:


Give it a title and consider adding an image to go along with it:


Once you give it a title, you’re ready to ask your first question:

You can decide how much time the students get to answer each question:

Make sure to select one (or more) of your answers as the correct choice:


Then click Next, and you are ready to add another question. When done, click Save and you are ready to play! 



The Lesson:

This particular read-aloud play, “When Girls Ruled Baseball,” gives students great insight into this part of the WWII era. Assign each student (or those students who wish to read aloud) a character in the play. Conduct a reader’s theater using “When Girls Ruled Baseball” as a script. In our class, following the read-aloud, we held a brief discussion about how women playing baseball was a real situation during WWII. We discussed things that surprised us about how women filled in while the men were deployed and how this helped America.

Discuss with your students that while this is a fictional play, it is historical fiction and there are true facts about this time period within the context of the play. It is their job to “pull out” those nonfiction facts. They will compete in a Kahoot Quiz to see which team can find the most facts. Separate your class into teams (we suggest groups of fewer than 4 students, so that everyone can participate). You can have your students participate individually as well to more accurately assess each one’s comprehension.

Each team of students will need to have an iPad with the Kahoot app open. They can also access the quiz from any internet browser using

Kahoot will prompt them to enter the game PIN. You will have the teacher version of the quiz open on your computer. When you begin the quiz on the teacher computer, it will generate a game PIN for your students to enter so they can join the game. Here’s what your computer will look like:

After entering the code, students are prompted to enter a nickname. Students can create a fun name for their team, or you can assign them numbers to keep anonymity (it shows the scores as you go, so you should decide if you will use this feature to promote competition or if you want to keep it anonymous).

When all students are ready, you can click Begin Game on your computer. The quiz question will be displayed on your screen. Students choose the corresponding color/shape for their answer choice. Each question has a short timer; you can decide the length of time for each question. Here’s what your screen will look like:

And here’s what will appear on your students’ screens:

As students/teams answer, their iPad will reveal if they got the answer correct. After all answers have been entered, your computer will show a bar graph indicating how many students had the correct answer. Click Next to go to the next question. Again, here’s what you’ll see on your screen and your projection:

As the quiz continues, students/teams will see a “score” next to their name after each question. The score factors in the number of correct answers and how quickly the answers are entered.

At this point in our class, students were up out of their seats! They were ready to read the next question and working together to make sure they knew the right answer.

After you use Kahoot once, you will see how quickly, easily, and ENGAGING it is to use as an assessment tool. Kids will love getting tested on what they know…and maybe even work a little harder to learn a little more. HOME RUN!


Be sure to check out the Kahoot the Link Ladies created, and let us know how it worked in your class!

Reading Comprehension Strategies: The "Walkie-Talkie" Approach

Beth Orticelli

Editor's note: We are wild about Advisor extraordinaire Beth Orticelli's FUN and EFFECTIVE approach to boosting her second grade students' comprehension. We begged her to share it with all of you. Reasons we love it: 

  • It's a strategy that practices close reading of a text.
  • It provides students a different modality for citing text evidence.
  • It's easy to try and can be used with any text.
  • Students love it!

And the list goes ON!

Give it a try in your classroom with our current issue and share in the comments how it worked for you. 


My second-graders this year have a bad case of the wiggles. You know the type. It’s hard to keep them focused for long periods of time. I find that the more they can move around, purposefully, the longer I can keep them engaged in active learning. 

I’ve been working on something called “Walkie-Talkie,” and it’s basically what it sounds like: walking and talking, but ONLY about what we just read. 

We used the paired texts in the October/November issue of Storyworks Jr. called "Explorers: Then and Now." We spent about 3 full days reading the article. We focused on the vocabulary, we compared and contrasted, and also made inferences while summarizing the story together.

On the final day, my class was ready for “Walkie-Talkie.” I arranged them in pairs, modeled how to line up 2 x 2, and let them know we were going outside for a walk. 

While walking in a very straight, 2 x 2 line, the rules are: 

  • Stay close to the pair in front of you.
  • Share a thought from the text.
  • High five your partner when you are ready to switch and let them share a thought.
  • Most of all, STAY ON TOPIC. 

This can be the hardest part. I told them that if they started talking about what they see outside or what’s in their lunches, the “Walkie-Talkie” would be over. We talked about stamina, and they all thought that they could talk about Explorers for TEN MINUTES. I paced back and forth along the line as we walked the perimeter of our blacktop/playground area, checking for understanding and participation. They met their goal! These kids had amazing thoughts, ideas and connections about "Explorers Then and Now!" Check out a video of them in action below:

It is such a powerful and positive reinforcement for comprehension, to incorporate physical movement, talking to friends (like adults who go to Book Clubs) and sharing thoughts. These are the kinds of lessons that STICK in their mind, so when you want your kids to practice comprehension, fact recall, inferring or summarizing, try a “Walkie-Talkie” day.

A Great 5-day Debate Plan for Your ELA Classroom

Editor's note: Storyworks has a great reputation for delivering engaging debates with every issue. We couldn't wait to offer this beloved feature to our new Storyworks Jr. classrooms. But we quickly heard from third-grade Advisor Ellen Weiner from New York that not only does she need the rich and thought-provoking text, but a quiz to go along with it. We hadn't planned on creating one for Storyworks Jr. But when we heard just how she'd use it, we knew we had to deliver for her. We hope you get as much out of it as she does! See below for a taste of Ellen's approach to incorporating the debate quiz into her lesson plans. 


The first thing I use when I begin a new issue of Storyworksand now Storyworks 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 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.
  • We read the Debate, and stop to discuss while reading. Sometimes we read it as a whole class. Sometimes we read it with our turn-and-talk partners, and then come back together to discuss it. Other times, we'll read it in our Guided Reading groups.

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.


SIMPLE and SUPER-POWERFUL Formative Assessment Idea

Editor's Note: Jackie is a seasoned educator, long-time Storyworks subscriber, and relied-upon teacher advisor from Long Island, NY. We know that Jackie, like many of you, squeeze every inch out of our resource. When we chatted her up last spring, she shared a simple and very effective way to deliver a comprehensive formative assessment from issue to issue. We knew we had to let you in on her little secret this fall. We love celebrating these kind of a-ha moments and creative techniques that our teachers develop every day using Storyworks, and we love how simple and super powerful they can be.


Give this assessment idea a try with your next issue and let us know in the comments how it works for you!


It’s easy to assess your students’ progress while using Storyworks. Each piece in the magazine, whether it be a nonfiction article, poem or debate, comes with its own quiz. But I like to take it a step further. I use all the quizzes at once! Ta da! A super simple and super effective whole-issue formative assessment.


It’s so easy to do - it's really just two steps. 

  • Step 1: Print all quizzes offered with the issue from the website.
  • Step 2: Copy, staple and voila- you’ve created a complete, comprehensive test! 



I use only the multiple choice questions (I tape over the short answer with white tape and then photocopy) and I make an answer sheet to make scoring simple. In addition, the answer key in the teacher’s guide indicates the skill of each question so I can easily identify the strengths and weaknesses of my class. If you share a comment below, the Ideabook editors will share the answer sheet I've created especially for the October/November issue of Storyworks. Let me know what you think of my Storyworks whole-issue secret weapon. 



A Creative Classroom Activity for Teaching Text Features: Surgery!

Beth Orticelli

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


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


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




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


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


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


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