Genius teaching ideas

Boost Skills and Fluency With Flipgrid

Thomasine Mastrantoni and Deborah Goldstein, the Link Ladies

Editor's note: The Link Ladies are back with yet another fabulous app tutorial that will help you create a collaborative learning community in your classroom—this time about a topic kids can't resist: toilets! Try out Flipgrid and let us know how it goes.


Every kid loves a little potty talk, right? In the February issue of Storyworks Jr., the paired texts are about toilets—but that's really a way in to some very important subjects: the history of the flush toilet, and a new disposable toilet for people without access to flush toilets. We thought it was the perfect opportunity to try out an awesome app that's catching on in schools all over the country. 


The app



Why we use it 


We're always looking for easy ways to use technology to create a collaborative learning environment. And we're constantly asking students to share their thinking. We want them to reflect on what they are learning. With the Flipgrid app, students can use video to share their responses. What kid in elementary school doesn’t want to see themselves on screen? Knowing that their peers will be viewing their videos virtually guarantees quality responses. 



Skill focus

These are the skills we focused on, but you can focus on any skill you’d like:

  • Citing Text Evidence
  • Comprehension
  • Fluency development



1 class period


What you’ll need

  • Storyworks Jr. paired texts "The Greatest Invention Ever" and "A New Kind of Toilet" in the February 2018 issue
  • iPads OR Chromebooks (camera needed) with Flipgrid app
  • Note: Flipgrid has both a free and a paid version for $65/year. Both versions work the same. The limitation with the free version is that you can only create one grid (sone classroom)—but within that classroom, you can create unlimited prompts (topics). Honestly, the free version is all you need. 


The setup

To create a Flipgrid response topic, simply follow the steps to create a new topic on your grid.

Fill in the details:



  • Topic title
  • Video response time (up to 5 minutes)
  • Topic description and question: Enter your instructions or question for students to respond to.
  • Topic Resources: Add a link to a website, video, or document for your students to access, or simply add an image that matches your topic. Choose your topic and privacy settings here as well.


The lesson

In this example we will focus on the paired texts in the February issue of Storyworks Jr. We read each of the paired texts as a whole class, then had students do a close read independently. We asked the students to focus on the big question of the texts: How do toilets save lives?



We want the students to be able to use evidence from both articles when they share their thinking. Since vocabulary comprehension is critical in understanding the main idea of articles, challenge your students to use the content vocabulary (bolded words) in their responses.
When students are done reading the texts, they are ready to share their responses using Flipgrid. To access your grid, students open the app and either enter in a grid code (given on your grid homepage) or opt to scan the QR code that leads directly to the topic you’ve created.
The steps to record their responses are simple:

1. Press the green plus sign. Press the video camera button and record your response. (You can pause and then continue to record.) Press the pause button to stop recording.



2. Press the green arrow to preview your video response. If you're satisfied, press the green arrow again to take a selfie.



3. Press the camera button to take a selfie. This is the image that your audience will see for your video response. This helps identify whose response they want to view.



4. Press the green arrow again to enter your student's name. (We only enter the first name and first initial of the last name—all other boxes can remain empty). Then press Submit and return to the topic.



Flipgrid allows your students (or you) to view and then respond to one another via video.


You can share your topic, your grid, or an individual response. Choose the Share button for whichever option you want.



The "grid" you create becomes an active and continuous place to learn: Once you sign up, creating a prompt for your students takes only a few minutes. What an amazing opportunity to develop a collaborative community! Win/Win: Kids love it and they work hard at it!


Follow this link to our topic page to view some of our student responses to this reading prompt.

Try it—you will catch #Flipgrid Fever! And check out the hashtag on Twitter for many more ideas from teachers!

Practice Essay Structure with Mentor Texts

Beth Basinger

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


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

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


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



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

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



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

An I Survived Virtual Field Trip

Genia Connell

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


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

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

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


Getting Started With a Chalk Talk

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





Chalk Talk Posters


While We Read

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


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



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

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



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





Virtual Field Trip Resources

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



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


Visit the Museum’s Website

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



Plan for Our Big Road Trip

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



The Day of the Virtual Field Trip

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



After the Trip

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

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

Thanks for reading!



                Science-Based Extensions for Nonfiction

                Ann O'Connor

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


                Feather Experiment:

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



                Penguin iPad Activity:

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


                Friendship Club: An Authentic SEL Opportunity

                Molly Redner

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



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


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



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

                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!

                Vocab Activity Sparks Creative Writing Lesson

                Susan Feudale

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



                We just finished reading "The Good Deed" from the October/November issue of Storyworks. I wanted to share with fellow Storyworks teachers a few activities that were really successful in my classroom. The first is so easy and effective for an engaging writing extension tied to our fiction reading.



                After Reading The Good Deed, my students completed the "Pick Your Own Vocabulary Sheet." 

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

                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!