Learning Extensions (Adventures!)

Learn More about the Great Halifax Explosion

Allison Friedman
Storyworks’s February nonfiction feature will have your students on the edge of their seats. It tells the riveting story of two World War I ships that collided in Halifax Harbor in 1917, causing one of the most powerful explosions in history—a devastating blast that ripped through the Canadian towns of Halifax and Dartmouth. After reading about this shocking and little-known disaster, your students will no doubt be eager to learn more. Here are some resources to get them started:
TO DO: Hold a small-group discussion
This interactive 3D video of the explosion and its aftermath is a fabulous tool to help students—especially visual learners—fully grasp the logistics of the disaster. They’ll love being able to drag around the frame to get a 360-degree view of the scene.
LEARNING TASK: Divide students into groups of 3 or 4 and ask each group to choose at least 5 details they learned in the video that helped them better understand the Storyworks article. Then have them discuss where in the article each detail would best belong.
TO DO: Write a speech
This 3-minute NPR clip tells the story behind a heartwarming tradition that came about in the wake of the Halifax tragedy: Every December, the province of Nova Scotia sends Boston a large Christmas tree as a thank-you for the city’s speedy and generous support after the explosion.
LEARNING TASK: Invite students to write a speech that Boston’s mayor might give at the city’s annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, explaining the origins of the tree.
TO DO: Write a dialogue
Five survivors' stories are read out loud overtop haunting images of Halifax ruins, helping students imagine what they might have seen, heard, and felt during and after the explosion. (To see a list of all the video clips in the series, click on the menu icon in the top lefthand corner of the video player window.) 
Note: The stories are emotionally intense at parts, so we suggest previewing them first to make sure they are appropriate for your students.
LEARNING TASK: Choose one of the survivors and write an imagined dialogue between that person and Noble Driscoll, in which the two compare and contrast their experiences of the disaster.
TO DO: Write an informational text
Like all the books in National Geographic Kids’ Everything series, this one about World War I is packed with fascinating facts, vivid photos, and colorful maps and infographics—all written and arranged in a kid-friendly, easy-to-understand way.
LEARNING TASK: After students read the book, have them write a short informational text about World War I that could be used as a pairing for the Storyworks article. They should make sure to include details from the book that they believe would best enhance readers’ understanding of the original article.

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. 


Build Knowledge on Refugees

Allison Friedman

Storyworks’s October/November nonfiction article is on a difficult but deeply important topic: the Syrian refugee crisis. It tells the moving story of two young brothers who leave war-torn Aleppo and make a new home in the United States. After reading the article, your students may have questions about the war in Syria, the plight of refugees, and what they can do to help. Here are four resources that you can use to continue the conversation:


Note: Because of the difficulty of the subject matter, we suggest that you preview all of the materials below to make sure you feel comfortable sharing them with your students.


TO READ: A background knowledge-building book

TO DO: Small-group discussion

This slim book introduces elementary-age kids to the Syrian war and refugee crisis in simple, straightforward language. Definitions, facts, statistics, and maps are interwoven with the fictional story of a young refugee boy, which helps bring the information to life.

LEARNING TASK: After students have read the book, divide them into small groups of 3-4. Have each group choose one of the discussion prompts at the end of the book to talk about amongst themselves. Then come back together as a class and invite each group to share their thoughts.


TO VIEW: Photo slideshows

TO DO: A personal letter

These moving slideshows are the product of a joint project between ABC News and Unicef, in which 50 children living in the world’s largest refugee camp were given digital cameras and invited to document their lives. The resulting photos offer a fascinating glimpse into what it’s like to be a young refugee.

LEARNING TASK: Because the article that accompanies the slideshows is too sophisticated for your students, we suggest viewing the slideshows together as a class rather than letting kids explore on their own. Begin by explaining what a refugee camp is and showing the video that introduces the project. Then click through the slideshows, reading the captions out loud. Afterwards, invite students to write a letter to the young photographers who took the pictures, explaining how the photos made them feel and what they learned from the photos about life in a refugee camp.


TO WATCH: A powerful video

TO DO: A research project and brochure

The behind-the-scenes video for our 2016 article “Escape From War,” which is about a young Syrian refugee girl, focuses on the amazing ways that people are helping refugees around the world. Your students will be inspired to get involved.

LEARNING TASK: After watching the video, have students do independent research to find out what other people and organizations are doing to help Syrian refugees. Then have them make an illustrated brochure for their fellow students, explaining what is being done and how kids their age can help. (Students can either create their brochures on paper, or make digital versions with free online programs like Canva.)


TO EXPLORE: A striking infographic

TO DO: A paragraph-writing activity

This simple yet powerful infographic from the United Nations Refugee Agency will help students visualize the scale of the refugee crisis.

LEARNING TASK: Have students study the infographic carefully, looking up the definitions of words that are unfamiliar to them. Then have them use the information in the infographic to write a paragraph, in their own words, describing the refugee crisis to someone who might not know about it.


I hope these ideas spark further learning and discussion in your classroom about this important topic. And, as always, if you have a great learning extension, we want to hear about it! Get in touch with us anytime.

Volcanic Learning Extensions

Anna Starecheski

We knew that Lauren Tarshis's gripping story "Mountain of Fire," about the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, would be a home-run for Storyworks Jr. readers. The science of volcanoes is fascinating, and their power is breathtaking. Keep your students engaged with the learning extensions below, and as always, let us know if you came up with any great extensions for one of our stories!


TO READ: An in-depth account of the eruption of Mount St. Helens

TO DO: A timeline

This fantastic book by Patricia Lauber goes into great detail telling the story of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, from the warning signs to the slow return of wildlife to the area. This will appeal to science- and history-minded students alike, with its vivid photographs and diagrams.

LEARNING TASK: Have students create a colorful timeline poster of the events leading up to and following the eruption of Mount St. Helens.


TO WATCH: A mesmerizing video of lava

TO DO: A creative writing assignment

This beautful video from National Geographic shows the power and beauty of volcanic lava. You can also feel free to click around and watch other volcano videos, like this one.

LEARNING TASK: After watching the video, have students write creatively about the spectacle of a volcano. They can write a poem, a paragraph, or even make a list of similes and metaphors describing volcanoes or lava.  


TO EXPLORE: A fact-filled infographic

TO DO: A research project

This easy-to-read infographic shares some fun, unexpected facts about volcanoes.

LEARNING TASK: Go over the infographic as a class, discussing which facts students found the most surprising or interesting. Then have students work in pairs or small groups to research volcanoes further, using your school's library, the internet, or any other sources you may have. Each pair or group should come up with at least one new fact about volcanoes that they found surprising. For an extra extension, these facts could be compiled into a binder or on a bulletin board.


TO STUDY: A visual display of various volcanic rocks

TO DO: A hands-on nature exploration

This website has great photographs of all the different types of igneous rocks. In our article we mention pumice, but there are many more fascinating types! 

LEARNING TASK: If appropriate for where your school is located, have students explore outside and look for rocks they think might be volcanic. Your students might be surprised to be able to find examples right in their backyard, so to speak. For more urban environments, remember that granite is an igneous rock!


We hope these extensions inspire your students, and if you tried any of them out, let us know by emailing us or tweeting with the hashtag #StoryworksJr!

Delightful Dog-themed Learning Extensions

Allison Friedman

We can only imagine how dog-obsessed your students have been since reading Storyworks’s September paired texts, “The Amazing History of Dogs.” These two fascinating articles go back 35,000 years to explain where dogs came from and how they became our best friends. To further feed your students’ canine curiosity, here are four learning extension ideas:

TO READ: A nonfiction book about dog communication

TO DO: Make an illustrated doggie dictionary

As our paired texts explain, dogs understand us better than pretty much any other creature. This fun, photo-packed National Geographic helps us understand them in return, translating all their woofs and wags into human speak.

LEARNING TASK: Have students choose ten dog gestures or behaviors from the book and make their own dog dictionary. They should draw out each gesture or behavior, then explain what it means.

TO WATCH: A video about military working dogs

TO DO: Make a poster

A perennial Storyworks favorite, this nonfiction video explores the fascinating world of elite soldier dogs. Students will learn all about the history of dogs in warfare, the rigorous training process military dogs go through today, and the remarkable life-saving feats they perform.

LEARNING TASK: Invite students to make a poster to recruit new dogs to the military. Their posters should include information about what makes dogs such valuable soldiers.

TO READ: A narrative-nonfiction book about a famous pup

TO DO: Write a narrative-nonfiction story

If you’re a longtime Storyworks subscriber, you’ll know that we LOVE author Roland Smith. (In fact, we’re featuring his story “The Space Rock” in our upcoming December/January issue!) This fascinating narrative-nonfiction book tells the story of Lewis and Clark’s famous journey from the point of view of one of their key companions: their Newfoundland dog, Seaman.

LEARNING TASK: Ask students to research another famous dog from history, then write a short story from that dog’s perspective, using Smith’s book as a model.

TO WATCH: A video about dog intelligence

TO DO: Write a paragraph

This comprehensive-yet-accessible video delves deep into the subject of doggie genius, tapping scientists and dog experts to reveal just how smart our canine companions really are.

LEARNING TASK: Have students choose a section from the video that they found especially interesting. Then have them use the information from that section to write an additional paragraph for the Storyworks feature. They should explain where in the Storyworks articles they think their new paragraph belongs.

We hope these extensions keep the learning going in your classroom! As always, if you found a winning learning extension connected to one of our articles, we want to hear about it! Email us at storyworksideabook@scholastic.com.

Help Your Students Celebrate Their Differences

Anna Starecheski

Hi, teachers! We're thrilled to share with you a fantastic social-emotional learning opportunity available to all 4th grade students in the U.S. A wonderful organization called Don't Hide it, Flaunt It! (DHIFI) has teamed up with Scholastic for its National Kids Flaunt Essay Contest. DHIFI encourages kids and adults alike to celebrate—to flaunt!—what makes them different and awesome. Meg Zucker, who runs DHIFI, is a dear friend to us here at Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. We've featured her sons, Ethan and Charlie, in both Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. Meg, Ethan, and Charlie all have a condition called ectrodactyly, and they are missing most of their fingers and toes. And yet all of them have full lives, with lots of friends and lots of passions.

Our readers have responded to our articles about Ethan and Charlie in a big way! We heard from many teachers and students that these articles helped to build empathy and encouraged students to be proud of what makes them different, whether it's a visible difference like the Zuckers', an invisible difference like having a food allergy, or even a positive difference, like being a twin.

You'll find all the details about the contest here, including the essays from last year's winners. Be sure to show your students the fantastic video introducing the contest, too. The deadline to enter is November 3. We hope your students will be inspired to enter. Good luck to your students! 

Four Engaging Titanic Learning Extensions

Anna Starecheski

We know that when it comes to super-engaging topics, Titanic is always near the top of the list. That's why we were so excited to feature Lauren Tarshis's wonderful "Into the Dark Water" in our September issue of Storyworks Jr. It's the story of the sinking of the Titanic, focusing on one survivor: 17-year-old Jack Thayer. It's a truly gripping tale, and we had a feeling your students might come out of it hungry to learn more about this fascinating, tragic historical event. With that in mind, here are four extension ideas to keep the learning going in your classroom!

TO READ: a historical fiction book

TO DO: a genre study

If you're not familiar with the I Survived series, written by our very own Lauren Tarshis, consider this a perfect introduction! This immersive series brings young readers into historical events with suspenseful, rich historical fiction narratives. "I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912" is one of our favorites, and we're betting your students will be riveted.

LEARNING TASK: Use this as an opportunity to compare and contrast historical fiction with narrative nonfiction. Make sure your students understand the difference by having them write a paragraph comparing and contrasting the article in Storyworks Jr. with the I Survived book, or hold a class discussion.

TO EXPLORE: an interactive website 

TO DO: write a paragraph

National Geographic Kids has a great page on their site about the Titanic, where students will find facts about the ship and have the opportunity to click through to other related articles.

LEARNING TASK: Have students pick out two facts from the site that resonated with them. Ask: How did those facts help you better understand the Titanic? Students can respond in a short paragraph.

TO RESEARCH: facts about the Titanic

TO DO: create a newspaper page about the disaster

Top teaching blogger Genia Connell has put together a fabulous lesson plan for digging deeper into the Titanic. After reading our article in Storyworks Jr. and perhaps visiting the library to find some more information about the disaster, students will create a newspaper front page about the event. This lesson plan is super fun, and comes with reproducibles and detailed instructions!

LEARNING TASK: Students will assume the roles of journalists, editors, and survivors and create newspaper stories about the sinking of the Titanic

TO READ: a comprehensive book of facts about the Titanic

TO DO: make a poster

This is the definitive informational book about the Titanic! Your Titanic-obsessed students are sure to devour this book, which includes facts, photos, quizzes, survivor stories, and more.

LEARNING TASK: Have students pick out one aspect of the ship that they learned about in this book and make a poster to inform their classmates. This could be the building of the ship, myths about the ship...the possibilities are endless!

We hope these Titanic learning extensions inspire you and your students—and for more fun facts, don't forget to check out the Can't-Miss Teaching Extras on the right side of the story page. If you have a fabulous learning extension for this or any other story, we want to hear about it!

Get Crafty for a Cause with Important Nonfiction!

Anna Starecheski

Our goal is to provide your students with important stories that inspire them to share their learning and extend it in new ways. One story has done just that, and we couldn't be more thrilled! The paired texts "How to Save a Baby Elephant" and "Can Drones Stop Animal Killers?" (featured in the May/June 2017 issue of Storyworks and the March/April issue of Storyworks Jr.) touched many classrooms and we loved hearing from so many teachers. But Tara Rogic's and Elaine Miller's classes from Franklin Lakes, NJ, took this to new heights.  

Spurred into action after learning about the horrors of poaching, you won't believe the amazing creative writing, fundraising, public speaking and crafty extenstion activities they were able to achieve. All sparked by a great story! We had to share it with you. It's the perfect mid-summer inspiration to get you excited about our new stories and all the extensions you can create this year!

First, the students determined their mission and goal: to raise funds for Air Shepherd, the organization that uses drones to stop poachers.

Activity 1: The students had to raise awareness of their cause. They decided to create a carnival-like booth for their school's annual "Backyard Bash." They advertised their booth all over school for weeks. They even held a whole-school assembly where they showed a Powerpoint presentation they created about poaching and Air Shepherd!

Activity 2: The kids wrote a fable about poaching—what a great creative writing project! Read their adorable fable here—trust me, you don't want to miss it! Yet another awesome way to bring ELA skills into this learning experience.

Activity 3: The next step was to plan their booth. They created a spinning wheel with different traits of elephants, like strength, hope, harmony, and family. People could pay for a spin of the wheel and win a good luck stone that matches the trait they spun. (Of course, these enterprising students came up with a way to maximize their profit—after the carnival, they sold all the rest of the good luck stones at school!)

Activity 4: The booth was a huge success! In addition to the spinning wheel where people could win good luck stones, they also sold elephant charms that could be made into jewelry at a jewelry-making station. They even raffled off a gorgeous quilt that tells the story of their fable (that's in the photo above). All in all, the students raised $618 for Air Shepherd! And since our ultimate goal is to inspire learning journeys in your students, we couldn't be more proud of them!

If you're a Storyworks or Storyworks Jr. subscriber and you worry you missed your chance to teach this incredible story, you're in luck: With your subscription, you get full online access to stories and resources from our archives.

Has your class been inspired by a story in Storyworks or Storyworks Jr.? Email us, we'd love to hear about it!

3 Learning Extension Activities for Teaching WWII

Anna Starecheski

I'll just say it: I love this play! With every issue, I put together a list of learning extensions for a selected piece from the magazine. This issue, it was a no-brainer: I selected When Girls Ruled Baseball by Lauren Tarshis. Our goal is to open doors of curiosity in your students' minds, and I think this play will do just that. There's something to explore for most every kid: World War II for those who are obsessed with "I Survived the Nazi Invasion," baseball for the sports-lovers, read-aloud play fun for the budding actors, PLUS strong female characters and a fascinating story. Here are a few ideas for how to keep the learning going on these subjects. Feel free to share your own ideas for this play or any other content in Storyworks Jr. Email us at StoryworksJr@scholastic.com or comment below!


TO WATCH: a fun, informative animated video about Title IX

TO DO: Have a class discussion

This video from TED-Ed sums up Title IX for your students. (Heads up that there is some difficult language, but the video spells it out pretty well.)

LEARNING TASK: After watching the video, bring students together for a class discussion about gender in sports. We predict the discussion will be fascinating! Kick it off by asking the boys and girls whether they're interested in sports and whether they've been encouraged to play sports by parents, teachers, and coaches. You can also ask about famous male and female athletes and what it's like for women today to be in sports today.

TO READ: an immersive book for kids about World War II

TO DO: A small-group enrichment project

This book by Richard Panchyk covers many aspects of World War II in a way that kids can understand. It also features plenty of hands-on activities! This book will really appeal to the history- or World War II-obsessed in your class.

LEARNING TASK: For students who are really interested in World War II, give them this book and have them pick out one activity to do as a group.

TO WATCH: An educational video featuring an actual girls' league player

TO DO: A creative writing exercise

This video from BBC is a real gem: It features Mary Pratt, who played on the Rockford Peaches during World War II. She talks vividly about her experiences playing baseball, from the songs they sang to the injuries they sustained.

LEARNING TASK: After hearing Mary's story, have students write a short essay from the point of view of Georgia from our play at age 90.

If you like this post, be sure to check out the "Can't-Miss Teaching Extras" on the Storyworks Jr. website. For most articles, plays, and stories, we offer a curated list of tips, extensions, fun facts, and more on the righthand side of the story page. We've got some great ones for When Girls Ruled Baseballincluding a video about Rosie the Riveter, a biography of Joe DiMaggio, a blog post by me about my grandmother's World War II experience, and more!

4 Resources About the Internment of Japanese Americans

Adee Braun and Allison Friedman

Storyworks’s May/June feature nonfiction article, “Behind the Wire Fence,” tells the story of Bill Hiroshi Shishima—an 11-year-old American boy of Japanese descent who, along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans, was forced to live in an internment camp during World War II.

This may be the first time your students are learning about Japanese American internment, and they will likely have many questions about this dark period in our country’s history. Here are four extension ideas to help them explore the topic further on their own:

TO EXPLORE: An online exhibition about Japanese American internment

TO DO: Create a mini exhibition

Smithsonian’s “A More Perfect Union” website walks students through the history of Japanese American internment using rich primary documents and artifacts: pictures of the duffle bags families used to carry their belongings, pencil sketches of the camps, copies of camp school books, and more.

LEARNING TASK: Ask students to choose five of the primary documents and/or artifacts from the website and put together their own mini exhibition. For each item, they should write a caption in their own words using information from the Smithsonian site.

Note: Several of the photos in the exhibition contain a derogatory term for people of Japanese descent. Please preview the site material before deciding which sections to share with your students.

TO WATCH: Video interviews with Bill Shishima

TO DO: Write a letter

Densho, an organization that collects oral histories by Japanese Americans, features a series of fascinating video interviews with Bill Shishima on its website. (NOTE: To view this content on the Densho organization’s website, you must log in as guest@densho.org and use the password guest.) We suggest students watch the clips in which Bill discusses life at Heart Mountain:

LEARNING TASK: Ask students to imagine they are a young Bill Shishima, and write a letter to friends back home about what life is like in an internment camp.

TO EXPLORE: A photo slideshow

TO DO: A text features exercise

These haunting, rarely seen photos from the time of Japanese internment will captivate your students.

LEARNING TASK: Have students choose three photographs that they believe would have been good additions to the Storyworks article. For each one, they should write a short paragraph about what the photograph adds to their understanding of the article.

TO READ: A first-person account of life at Heart Mountain

TO DO: A small-group discussion

Norman Mineta was only 10 years old when, like Bill Shishima, he was forced to live at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. His engaging account of his experience both echoes Bill Shishima’s and offers a different perspective.

LEARNING TASK: Have students answer the “Think About It” questions at the bottom of each section. Then arrange them in groups of three or four to discuss their answers.