Learning Extensions (Adventures!)

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!

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!