Learning Extensions (Adventures!)

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.

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!

Fly High With These Learning Extensions!

Anna Starecheski

We're always hoping to engage your students with a topic that they might not know much about. The plight of the California condor probably falls into that category! I certainly didn't know much about it when I started researching and writing this article for the December/January issue of Storyworks Jr. Now, I'm a tiny bit obsessed with condors. Did you know that they can live for up to 60 years? Or that they've been around in some form for thousands of years? Or that they have no natural predators? Or—okay, okay, I'll stop now. The point is: these birds are more interesting than they may seem! I hope your students feel the same way, and I hope that these extensions will keep the learning going in your classroom!


TO READ: A nonfiction book about condors

TO DO: Make a poster

This straightforward, fact-filled book by Mary R. Dunn gives kids the most interesting facts about condors, along with beautiful color photographs that show condors in all their huge, bald glory! It's perfect for your lower-level readers because of the grade level (K-2), but fascinating enough to keep all your students interested.

LEARNING TASK: Have your students pick out their favorite facts about condors and illustrate them with a poster.


TO WATCH: A short video clip about the current plight of the California condor

TO DO: A problem and solution exercise

This clip from the Oregon Zoo explains the current challenges facing the wild condor population. We recommend skipping to the 5 minute mark in order to focus on the problems and solutions of the situation. Please be aware: This video, including the section we recommend, shows some condors getting medical attention, and some dead animals being eaten by condors. Give it a watch to see if it's appropriate for your students. 

LEARNING TASK: This video mentions two problems that are plaguing the condor population today. They also mention how we can solve these problems. Have your students identify the problems and solutions and lead a class discussion about them.


TO EXPLORE: An interactive map of endangered species in the U.S.

TO DO: A research project

This awesome interactive map from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lets you click on your state to see what endangered species live there and what's being done to help them. The site isn't very kid-friendly in terms of usability, so we recommend going through it as a class. Hint: Once you click on your state, you'll see a link in the righthand column that says "See other species listed in [state name]." Click on that to get a complete list of endangered species in your state.

LEARNING TASK: Have your students work in groups to pick out a species from your state to research. Have them create a poster or Powerpoint about their chosen species, the struggles it faces, and what's being done to help it.


TO EXPLORE: A kid-friendly website about endangered species

TO DO: Make a plan

This great website has fun, interactive activities for kids, all relating to endangered species. We've linked to a "How to help" page, which supplies kids with some things they can do to help the environment. Feel free to click around: there's also a fun endangered species quiz game!

LEARNING TASK: Have your class pick one activity on the "How to help" page and pledge to do it as a class.


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

Teaching Pirate History: A Treasure Trove of Learning Extensions

Anna Starecheski

Something we're always asking ourselves as we're creating an article is: "Will this make students want to learn more?" We always aspire to open doors of curiosity in your students' minds, and we hope that every article can serve as a jumping-off point to further learning. With that in mind, we've created this list of learning extensions to go along with the nonfiction feature from Storyworks' October/November issue: The Search for Pirate Gold. We hope these will be big hits in your classroom!


TO READ: A dazzling, interactive book from the popular "Ology" series

TO DO: A creative journal entry.

Pirateology: The Pirate Hunter's Companion (grades 3-7) is an immersive story in the form of a pirate's journal. Along with the gripping story, the book offers facts about pirates, the places they went, their ships, and more. We predict that this scrapbook-style book will be a hit with even your most reluctant readers!

LEARNING TASK: Have your students write a journal entry as a pirate. They should use facts and language from the book to inspire them.


TO READ: A biography of one of the most famous pirates in history.

TO DO: A poster

Who Was Blackbeard? (grades 3-7) is part of a wonderful series of biographies for kids. Students will be riveted learning about this infamous, ruthless pirate.

LEARNING TASK: Have students create posters about Blackbeard's life, using details from the book as well as any facts they find in their own research.


TO READ: A news article about modern pirates.

TO DO: A compare and contrast exercise

This article from our friends at Scholastic News outlines the problem of modern pirates. If your students thought that pirates were a thing of the past, this should be very eye-opening! Note: This article contains brief descriptions of violence and murder. Please preview it first to make sure it's appropriate for your students.

LEARNING TASK: Students can write a compare and contrast essay comparing the 18th century pirates described in the Storyworks article to the modern pirates described in this article. 


TO WATCH: A charming video from kid volunteers at Colonial Williamsburg

TO DO: A class discussion

This video from Colonial Williamsburg features young volunteers who are very familiar with what it was like to be a kid in the time of Sam Bellamy.

LEARNING TASK: Have a class discussion about the question posed to the kids in the video: Would you rather be a kid in the 18th century, or a kid now?


TO SHOW: A slideshow of ten amazing shipwrecks

TO DO: A research project

This hauntingly beautiful slideshow of ten shipwrecks frozen in time will fascinate your students. 

LEARNING TASK: Students can pick one of the shipwrecks from the list and research it, creating either a poster or an essay about what they find.


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

Persuasive Writing Sparks Environmental Activism

Editor's note: We create our stories with an important goal in mind: to open doors of curiosity in your students' minds and spark further learning. We were so excited when we heard from Andrea Muller, a 6th grade teacher at Yeshiva of Central Queens in Queens, New York. Her class was inspired by our nonfiction story "The Killer Smog," and went on quite the learning adventure. 


Last fall, in our first nonfiction unit, we wrote an informative essay on environmental issues. As a class, we dug deep into the book Heroes of the Environment by Harriet Rohmer. Storyworks tied nicely into our unit; I was lucky that many stories focused on environmental issues. There was one in particular that really grabbed my class: “The Killer Smog,” about the London fog of 1952 that turned out to be England’s deadliest environmental disaster. It was a heated topic in all four of my classes and made my students think about the daily impact air pollution has on all of us. During a class discussion, one student had had enough: He said, “This kind of pollution can lead to people getting sick with asthma, pneumonia, or cancer, and I have seen how these diseases affect people in my immediate family.”



Once again, Storyworks helped supplement my teaching, except this time it sparked an idea for an extension (and a unit I never intended on teaching): persuasive writing. We saw the writing prompt for “The Killer Smog,” a writing contest. 



Coincidentally, the prize was Heroes of the Environment, which we already owned, so our goal wasn’t to win the book. It was to make our voices heard.


Students went back into their portfolios and pulled out their informational essays, summarized the article, and followed a business-letter-writing guide to convince local politicians that air pollution had to be addressed. They did additional research to make their case—some of them dove into the Air Quality Index. It took them a week to write it. More than 90 letters went to our local Assemblyman, Michael Simanowitz. What followed was amazing.



We received emails and phone calls from his office acknowledging my students’ concerns. This led to Assemblyman Simanowitz coming to our school and speaking to the 6th graders about the importance of coming together as a community to voice our opinions. It was clear: We were making a difference!



The best part was when the Assemblyman arranged for a visit from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)—a free service I’d known nothing about. Through a hands-on workshop, an educational specialist from the DEC expanded student knowledge on the importance of protecting our environment. Using furs and skulls from New York City wildlife, we were able to explore the physical features of different species that live among us. We also learned more about ways to reduce pollution to keep us safe.




This extension will continue into this school year, too. We’re planning a recycling event where people can safely dispose of unwanted electronics and batteries.

If Storyworks and Assemblyman Simanowitz encourages just one student to get more involved in and extend his or her knowledge of environmental causes, it might possibly lead this student to a career in science, engineering, or even politics. I’m grateful for the chance to help shape an environmental hero!


Has your class been on an exciting learning adventure recently? Tell us about it in the comments below!