Learning Extensions (Adventures!)

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.

The Best Reading Extension for "Escape From Alcatraz"

Kara Corridan

Now that the year's final issue of Storyworks Jr. is in classrooms, we're in major fact-finding mode. We're doing class visits and Skypes and sending out questionnaires and surveys, and one of our most important questions is: What story did your students love the most? And a clear winner has emerged: "Escape from Alcatraz," our December/January nonfiction feature.

The praise this story has generated is incredible. (Some students also found it scary, and we do not take that lightly.) As one example, here's an email that I got from a principal in New York:

I just had to share that at dismissal time today, I had several third graders come see me with persuasive letters, all asking to go to Alcatraz on a field trip.  Here are some quotes to make you smile:

“We have learned so much about Alcatraz and we have to see it to believe what we have read.”

“We’ll all pitch in the money and our parents will buy us train tickets.”

“Can we PLEEEEASE go to the famous San Francisco prison Alcatraz?”

“If you let us go we will write you a book and tell you all about it when we get back.”


Your article made a difference for these learners!


Maybe the highest praise came from the third grader I met during a class visit in New Jersey: For spring break, her family was planning to go to Disneyland. But after reading our story, she begged her parents to take her to Alcatraz—and last I heard, they were trying to rearrange their itinerary to make it happen!

I could relate. I was going to California for my own family's spring break, and only because of the Alcatraz story, my daughters, 8 and 11, wanted to visit the prison during our two days in San Francisco. (They had a choice between a day tour or the potentially creepy night tour: "Night tour!" "Night tour!") Here I am with my third grader on Alcatraz Island, with San Francisco a mile away in the distance. Our tour guide mentioned that inmates could see and, depending on the way the winds blew, even hear everything they were missing in the beautiful city, which made their imprisonment even more torturous.

And if you're familiar with our story, you'll surely recognize the photo up top: It's of the fake head inmate Frank Morris created to fool the prison guards while he escaped from his cell. Visiting Alcatraz was a highlight of our vacation, and the ultimate learning extension.

If you've got fans of "Escape From Alcatraz" in your class, be sure to check out other perfect opportunities to keep the learning going. This post by our advisor Beth O. is about a clever way to "visit" the prison. And our Can't-Miss Teaching Extras have links to videos and extra facts that'll open more doors for your students.


Powerful Slavery and Civil War Learning Extensions

Allison Friedman

Storyworks’s most recent nonfiction feature will introduce your students to one of our favorite historical heroes: Robert Smalls. During the Civil War, desperate to free his family from slavery, Smalls risked his life to commandeer a Southern ship and steer it towards freedom.

This thrilling story is a perfect jumping-off point to further learning about slavery in America and the Civil War. Here are a few resources to get you and your students started:

TO READ: A choose-your-own-adventure book about the Civil War

TO DO: Small-group discussion

We’ve already raved on this blog about the “You Choose: History” books, which let kids navigate their own way through historical events. In the Civil War installment, they’ll have to choose between three main paths: joining the Union Army, joining the Confederate army, or remaining a civilian.

LEARNING TASK: Divide students into groups of three and assign each one a different path through the book. After they’ve each read through their particular storyline, have them come together as a group to share what they read with each other.

TO EXPLORE: An interactive website about the Underground Railroad

TO DO: A newspaper article

With an engaging historical-fiction narrative, fact-packed photo slideshows, and fascinating primary documents, this multimedia site leads students through the harrowing journey of an escaped slave: from the hardships of life on a plantation, through the dangerous journey north, to the bittersweet reality of reaching freedom.

LEARNING TASK: Have students imagine they are a mid-1800s Northern newspaper reporter and write an article about a former slave who just escaped to freedom. They should include at least five details from the website in their articles.

TO WATCH: A mini video biography of Frederick Douglass

TO DO: A compare-and-contrast essay

This short video offers a brief overview of the life of Frederick Douglass, another former slave who, like Robert Smalls, escaped to freedom and became a respected political leader.

LEARNING TASK: After you watch the video as a class, have students research Frederick Douglass independently online. Then have them write a short essay comparing Douglass’s life story with that of Robert Smalls.

TO READ: A detail-packed book about slavery in America


Written in an engaging question-and-answer format, this simple yet informative book addresses a range of questions children may have about slavery—everything from “Why did slavery start in America?” to “What would you eat?”

LEARNING TASK: Before students read the book, have them complete the top two boxes of this KWLH chart. After they’ve finished reading, have them complete the bottom two boxes.

We hope these learning extensions spark even more curiosity in your students! As always, let us know if you found any awesome learning extensions of your own!

4 Powerful Resources About Poaching

Anna Starecheski

We are so excited about our trio of texts in the March/April issue of Storyworks Jr. We've got a nonfiction feature about a baby elephant who was rescued after her mother was killed by poachers, an informational text about how drones are being used to stop poaching, and a beautiful poem about humans' complicated relationship with elephants. We hope that these texts inspire your students to learn more about the problem of poaching, and we want to help you guide them on that journey. Here are four powerful extensions to keep the learning going on this complex topic.

TO RESEARCH: A website about other endangered species

TO DO: A research project

This page on the WWF website allows you to click around and learn about other endangered animals. The page for each species has a lot of info, so you may need to guide students through the site.

LEARNING TASK: Divide students into groups and have each group pick an animal (preferably not elephants or rhinos, since that's what we cover in our articles) from the website. Each group should prepare a presentation about their chosen animal: What are the threats facing them? Are these threats caused by humans? What are humans doing to help them? What else can be done? 

TO READ: A book about a rhino—written by kids!

TO DO: A creative writing assignment.

This remarkable book, "One Special Rhino: The Story of Andatu," was written by a fifth grade class in Brooklyn, NY. The children tell the story of Andatu, the only Sumatran rhino to be born in captivity. 

LEARNING TASK: The children wrote this book from the point of view of Andatu. Have your students write a similar story from the point of view of Ishanga, the elephant featured in our story.

TO WATCH: A delightful video about elephant communication

TO DO: A class discussion

This video of elephants at play, overlaid with the voice of elephant biologist Joyce Poole, is absolutely adorable. It also demonstrates how elephants communicate with one another.

LEARNING TASK: Lead a class discussion about what students noticed while watching the video. Ask: How do elephants communicate? How does it compare to how we communicate as humans? How did watching this video help you understand elephants?

TO EXPLORE: An infographic about the differences between Asian and African elephants

TO DO: A compare and contrast activity

This site is a good starting point to see the differences between Asian and African elephants, but we encourage you to explore many photos of Asian and African elephants so that your students can really see the difference!

LEARNING TASK: Once students have been familizarized with the differences and similarities between Asian and African elephants, have them do a compare and contrast activity. They can do a Venn diagram, draw pictures, or write a short paragraph. 

We hope that these extensions keep the learning going in your classroom, and as always, let us know if you came up with any genius learning extensions while working on the March/April issue with your students!

Apollo 13 Learning Extensions: Out of This World!

Allison Friedman

Storyworks’s February nonfiction feature tells the gripping story of the Apollo 13 disaster, a mid-flight explosion that thrust three astronauts into a desperate fight for survival. We’re willing to bet that the story had your students on the edge of their seats—and left them in a frenzy of enthusiasm for all things outer space!

Here are four resources to add (rocket) fuel to the fire:

TO READ: An in-depth book about Apollo 13

TO-DO: A movie script

We’ve been eagerly awaiting this new book on Apollo 13 from Storyworks friend and contributor Tod Olson. His exciting account of the disaster delves deep into the minds of the three astronauts, helping readers understand what it felt like to be stranded 200,000 miles from Earth—and how much courage and determination it took to steer the spacecraft safely home.

LEARNING TASK: Have students pick a favorite part from the book and write it into a movie scene. Their scenes should include detailed stage directions and dialogue between the characters.

TO EXPLORE: An interactive website about the Space Race

TO-DO: An expository paragraph

Our article touches briefly on the Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but doesn’t explore it in depth. This engaging DK website is packed with kid-friendly information that will fill in the historical background for students.

LEARNING TASK: Ask students to write a new paragraph for the “A Space Race” section of Storyworks article, explaining what the Space Race was. They should include at least three details from the DK website.

TO EXPLORE: NASA’s Apollo 13 photo archive

TO-DO: A photo booklet (or slideshow)

Your students will love poring over this treasure trove of behind-the-scenes photos of the Apollo 13 mission. (Our favorite? The above shot of the mission’s Flight Directors celebrating the spacecraft’s safe landing.)

LEARNING TASK: Have students choose five of the photos to turn into an informational photo booklet. They should download the photos (using the download link in the bottom right-hand corner), paste them into a Microsoft Word document, and write a short caption underneath each one.

(Alternatively, they can use a free app like Shadow Puppet Edu to create a simple photo slideshow.)

TO WATCH: A primary source video of the first moon landing

TO-DO: A research project and journal entry

The footage of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon is just as electrifying today as it was nearly 50 years ago. Students will be able to imagine what it must have felt like to be one of the 600 million people watching the historic TV broadcast.

LEARNING TASK: After watching the video as a class, ask students to independently research the Apollo 11 mission online. Then have them imagine they’re a kid in 1969 and write a journal entry describing the experience of watching the moon landing on TV.

We can't wait to hear how these work in your classroom, and as always, let us know if you found any useful learning extensions for a Storyworks or Storyworks Jr. story!

Learn More About Civil Rights With These Learning Extensions!

Anna Starecheski

In our endless brainstorming sessions here at Storyworks Jr. HQ, we always strive to choose a topic that will really grab students and also teach them something important. The play in the February issue of Storyworks Jr., The Day Mrs. Parks Was Arrested, definitely fits the bill! The great thing about this particular play is that not only does it build fluency and confidence, it's also about a very important topic: The Civil Rights Movement. In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to give you a few ideas for ways to keep the learning going on this vital teaching topic!


TO WATCH: A short video about another facet of the bus boycott.
TO DO: A research project

This fun animated video from the History Channel tells the story of another important woman in the bus boycott: Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old who similarly refused to give up her seat to a white person and was arrested. This is a great opportunity to teach your students that there is always more to every story, and it's great to learn about the lesser-known facts! 

LEARNING TASK: Have students research a lesser-known figure of the Civil Rights Movement. Some ideas: Claudette Colvin herself, Medgar Evers, or John Lewis.


TO READ: An age-appropriate biography of Rosa Parks

TO DO: A fact-finding project

This series is one of our favorites: They supply biographies of important people that are simple enough for kids to understand. This one, Who Was Rosa Parks? by Yona Zeldis McDonough, is at the perfect level for your students, and they're sure to find it fascinating!

LEARNING TASK: Ask students to find five facts about Rosa Parks that weren't included in our play. Feel free to lead a class discussion about how shorter pieces often have to leave some parts out to get their important message across.


TO WATCH: A speech from John Lewis

TO DO: Write a letter

John Lewis isn't mentioned in our play, but he was a vital figure of the Civil Rights Movement. In this video, he speaks briefly about the Freedom Rides in which he took part. Your students will be interested to hear from this man who lived through such an important, powerful movement, and is still alive and fighting today.

LEARNING TASK: Have students write a letter to John Lewis, who is currently a Congressperson in Georgia.


TO WATCH: A primary source video of Martin Luther King Jr. discussing the bus boycott, along with footage from the boycott.

TO DO: Make a poster

This video shows Martin Luther King Jr. speaking about the bus boycott, as well as some amazing footage from the boycott itself. Note: Martin Luther King Jr. uses an outdated term to refer to Black people, please watch to make sure you're comfortable showing it to your students.

LEARNING TASK: Have students imagine that they're living in 1955 and taking part in the bus boycott. Instruct them to make posters to hang up around town to convince the members of their community to boycott the buses.

Dive Into These Penguin Learning Extensions!

Anna Starecheski

Storyworks Jr.'s December 2017/January 2018 nonfiction feature is the touching story of the rescue of 40,000 penguins after a devastating oil spill. We hope this story captured your students' hearts and left them eager to learn more about penguins, the problem of oil spills, and more! Here are a few learning extensions to keep the learning going in your classroom:



TO READ: A book chock full of fascinating penguin facts

TO DO: A research exercise

This book is full of great information about all kinds of penguins, along with beautiful photographs. Readers of all levels will get something out of this book!

LEARNING TASK: As students read, have them mark new facts that they learn, especially facts about African penguins. Ask: Why do you think these facts were not included in the Storyworks Jr. article? How do they think authors decide which facts to include? For a writing extension, have students write a paragraph that they would add to our article. Their paragraph should contain at least one fact they learned from this book.



TO DO: A science experiment

This simple experiment demonstrates the damage oil does to a bird's feathers and explains the science behind this damage.

LEARNING TASK: The experiment is meant for middle schoolers, but with some scaffolding it can be perfect for elementary kids. We suggest doing away with the chart containing tricky words like "absorbed" and "repelled" and focusing on asking the kids to explain in their own words what happens to the feather throughout the experiment.


TO WATCH: An adorable video from NatGeo Wild

TO DO: A creative writing activity

This super cute video shows what happens when a male penguin can't find satisfactory items to furnish his nest.

LEARNING TASK: Before watching, give your students some background information. African penguins furnish their nests with things they can find on the beach, such as twigs, seaweed, and other debris. In this video, the male penguin is looking for nesting materials as the female penguin sits on the eggs. But he's having trouble finding good stuff! After watching, invite students to write a short story (or create a comic) about this predicament. What might a penguin find on the beach? Where else might he go to look?


TO READ: One kid's story of how she dedicated her talents to helping after an oil spill

TO DO: Brainstorm ways kids can help

This book was written by 11-year-old Olivia Bouler, who was devastated to hear about the Gulf Coast oil spill in 2010. Olivia wrote to the Audubon Society, expressing her desire to help. She ended up raising over $175,000 selling her paintings and drawings!

LEARNING TASK: After reading about Olivia's story, break students into groups and have them brainstorm ways they can help the environment. Is there a particular recent disaster they would like to help out with? How could they help? For an extra extension, kids can put their plans into motion. Be sure to tell us about it if your kids are inspired to take action!


We hope these extension ideas spark some meaningful learning in your classroom. If you've come up with a fabulous learning extension based on one of our articles, be sure to let us know!

5 Classroom Activities for Teaching the Dust Bowl

Allison Friedman

“Black Sunday,” the nonfiction article in the December/January issue of Storyworks, is one of the most hauntingly fascinating disaster stories we’ve ever featured in the magazine. It’s the story of the Dust Bowl’s worst storm, a 200-mile-wide black dirt cloud that swallowed up the Southern Plains in April 1935.

The article is sure to pique your students’ interest in many different topics—the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and the science of droughts, to name only a few! Below are some resources we’ve collected to feed their curiosity and inspire them to embark on on their own independent learning journeys.


TO READ: A choose-your-own adventure book about the Dust Bowl

TO DO: A class discussion

The wonderful “You Choose” history series drops kids smack in the middle of historical time periods, setting them off on interactive adventures. In the Dust Bowl installment, whirling dirt storms on the Plains will force readers to make a difficult decision: stay in Kansas to farm, migrate to California, or take a job as a government photographer.

LEARNING TASK: Hold a class discussion in which students explain which path they chose through the book and why.


TO WATCH: The video “Time Machine: the 1930s”

TO DO: Write a diary entry

This favorite from the Storyworks video archive will deepen students’ understanding of the article by providing rich context about the decade in which it takes place.

LEARNING TASK: Ask students to imagine they are kids living in the 1930s and write a diary entry describing an ordinary day, using at least five details from the video.


TO SHOW: A gallery of Dust Bowl photographs

TO DO: A text features exercise

These powerful documentary photographs of Dust Bowl landscapes and inhabitants will captivate your students with their chilling beauty.

LEARNING TASK: Have students choose five of the photographs and write new captions for them, using information from the Storyworks article.


TO WATCH: Videos of oral history interviews with Dust Bowl survivors

TO DO: Write an essay

In these fascinating video clips, people who were children or teens during the Dust Bowl years share their memories of taking cover during raging dust storms, sweeping piles of dirt out of the house, wearing dust masks to school, and more.

Note: One of the videos, “Killing Cattle,” may be upsetting to some students, so make sure to preview it before showing it in class.

LEARNING TASK: Have students write a short essay about what it was like to be a kid in the Dust Bowl. They should use at least one quotation from the oral histories in their essays.


TO EXPLORE: An information-packed website about droughts

TO DO: A cause-and-effect exercise

This collection of short, easy-to-digest articles from the National Drought Mitigation Center breaks down why droughts happen and explains how they impact people’s lives.

LEARNING TASK: Have students create a poster explaining the causes of droughts and their effects.


Did you discover any great learning extensions for this issue? Tell us about it in the comments!