Storyworks in practice

Differentiate with this Close Reading Strategy

Allie Curtis

Editor's note: We love this simple idea for close-reading differentiation from superstar 4th-grade teacher Allie Curtis. Allie took our Close-Reading Questions (found in the Teacher's Guide) and put her own spin on them to provide an effective differentiated lesson using her "Color RAP" strategy. Try Allie's lesson in your classroom (she's even provided her materials for you) and let us know how it works for your students!


What you need:


Get started: I usually do this strategy as a second-read of the article. After we've read the article once, I divide my students into groups based on their abilities. I name these groups after colors— the blue group is usually my lowest-performing students and the color groups increase in ability level with the purple group as the highest-performing students (of course the groups are flexible). I have found that differentiating the level of critical thinking in the questions I pose and give my students has been a great way to give each group a special purpose for close reading, while providing an opportunity for me to guide and stretch their thinking about text.


Each group gets a RAP rubric and a "question card." I create these question cards myself using the Close-Reading Questions from the Teacher's Guide. I give each group a question that is differentiated for them based on complexity level of the question and data from previous lessons.



Students work collaboratively in their Color RAP groups to answer the question.



After each group works to respond to its question, I display each question under the document camera. We discuss the question and find the evidence to the answer from the text. Then we look at the group's response to that question and score the response using the RAP rubric.



After reviewing and scoring each group's question, I use the Critical-Thinking Question (also found in the Teacher's Guide) as an exit slip (formative assessment). I've had a lot of success with this strategy in my classroom, and I hope you will too!

A Text Features Game to Boost Engagement

Allie Curtis and Shannon Seigler

Editor's note: Superstar coaches, Allie and Shannon, are back with another winner of an activity: Tabletop Twitter! As soon as you tell your students the name of this activity, we predict they'll be excited! This activity has students previewing text features while "tweeting" their thoughts, comments, and questions. It's fun for kids, and gets them thinking about the text before diving in for a first read. Check out how Mrs. Tiffany Spiva's fourth grade superstars rocked this strategy!  Let us know how it works in your classroom!

Tabletop Twitter is a great strategy for getting all students to interact with text and it gives them a chance to share their thoughts about what they've read. It's a different way of getting kids interacting with text and one another, and it gives us insight into how kids are thinking about and looking at text. We like using the strategy with infographics and text features the most because it gives a fun and engaging purpose for looking at text features. The kids love it because the hashtag format is in their comfort zone and makes them feel like what they're doing is "cool," not just "school"!

How to get started: Cut or copy and glue images or short excerpts from your article onto individual large pieces of bulletin board paper or chart paper. Place the pieces of chart paper around the room in separate locations.

How to choose the text/images: The selection of images or excerpts you choose is key to getting the most interaction and reaction from your students. The selection should be something that evokes emotion or thinking from your students so they will be motivated to write down their thoughts, reactions, and questions.We loved using the thought-provoking sidebars, pictures, and captions like this one in the March/April 2017 issue of StoryworksThe Amazing History of American Television. (Note for Storyworks Jr. teachers: This story appears in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Storyworks Jr.!)

How to introduce the strategy to students: Discuss what we know about “twitter” and how to tweet. Explain the process so students fully understand: They are to write a comment/question in 140 characters or less, using a hashtag symbol (#) when appropriate. Put a 140-character statement on the board so students have a sense of the length. Set a timer for 2 or 3 minutes and let students know when the timer rings the twitter time is up! Remind students: “Writing is right, but talking is taboo!”

How it works: The students will read the excerpt or caption of a picture, then silently “tweet” their thoughts and/or reactions.  The teacher is moving from table to table re-tweeting and/or writing comments or responding to something already written. When the timer goes off, the students move to the next table and repeat until each student has “tweeted” about each excerpt/image. Students read each other’s “tweets” and respond back to each other by posing a question or comment.

The “tweets” will be posted, so after reflection—and any time during the unit study or lesson sequence—students can return and add more thoughts. Consider this low-tech form of social media a perfect way to build a base of knowledge!

Writing Contests: 8 Ways Your Students Might Win!

Looking for more ways to have your students test their writing chops? Direct them towards Storyworkscontests! Interested in giving them a chance at the prize? These 8 tricks will definitely increase your chance of winning. Note: Storyworks Jr. has contests too! Look for the prompts at the end of every nonfiction feature (pictured below) and encourage your students to enter!



  1. Follow the rules. It sounds simple, but so many entries we receive get disqualified right off the bat because they are sent in after deadline, lack the requested contact information, or don’t answer all aspects of the writing prompt. Regardless of who made the error (be it a student, parent, or teacher), if an entry is to be considered, it must follow all the rules listed on the contest activity sheet.
  2. Make it legible. If we can’t read it, we can’t judge it. Encourage students to type up their entry if you suspect that their handwriting may be difficult to interpret. (Did you know we accept emailed entries?)
  3. Keep it organized. If you are sending in a class set of contest submissions, make sure the contact information from our contest form is clearly marked on each entry. Hunting around for loose or missing parts of submission does not bode well for its winning status.
  4. Make your Google Doc public. You have no idea how many emailed entries we want to read…but can’t. Remember to make your entry viewable to anyone with the link. We can’t open your submission unless you give us permission.
  5. Wake us up. Too often, I have to nudge snoring contest judges Alicia and McKenzie because they’ve fallen asleep from reading the same essay over and over and over and over again. (An exaggeration…but you get the picture.) Make sure the entry is full of pizazz, energy, passion, and your student’s particular voice.
  6. Relate to your experiences. We always love a submission that answers the question while relating back to the student’s world. Has the student ever experienced anything like the characters or people he is writing about? How would he feel if he were in their shoes? We award brownie points for answering the question while seamlessly tying in anecdotal life experiences.
  7. Cite text evidence. Whenever applicable, have your students cite their sources (which for most cases…this means us). Call us vain, but we adore it when students say things like, “In the Storyworks article ‘Black Sunday,’ Lauren Tarshis claims [insert supporting detail here].” It makes our citation-happy-hearts soar. We love it when students use supporting text evidence, and we love it even more when they cite their source.
  8. Proofread. Check for spelling and grammar mistakes while making sure the entry flows. Perhaps have your students revise each other’s work. Just please don’t let them scribble something out and send it to us without giving it a second thought. Put some care into the entry. This certainly means more than one go-through.


Best of luck! And as we say to our winners, “Keep on reading and writing!”

Four Fab Teaching Ideas (Thanks, Twitter!)

Anna Starecheski

It's such a joy for all of us here at Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. to scroll through Twitter and see what you're up to. We love seeing the unique ways in which you teach with our magazines—often, you come up with ideas we never had in mind when we were gathering stories and creating support materials! We're constantly sending each other links to your tweets—"Did you see this?!" "Check out this idea!" "WOW!" Your creativity and passion are incredibly inspiring. To us, the best part of sharing these ideas on Twitter is getting to share them with your fellow teachers and building our Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. communities. Here are a few of our recent favorite tweets from you!


We love how third-grade teacher Gladys Sanchez uses Seesaw to collect her students’ work as they read the story "Like Magic" from the October/November issue of Storyworks Jr. Plus, we’re swooning over that graphic organizer she created!


Using Kahoot to review key skills is always a win! Elizabeth Praschil created this Kahoot to review text features in the Storyworks Jr. feature nonfiction "Into the Dark Water." For more on Kahoot, check out this how-to Ideabook post!


It’s always great to see teachers using our resources in ways we never thought of: Dana Canales used the fiction story "Freddie in the Shade" in the September issue of Storyworks to teach her students about compound sentences! For more on how to use Storyworks as a mentor text to teach grammar skills, don't miss teacher Kristen Cruikshank's Ideabook simple method!


We had a feeling that students would love the  paired texts "The Amazing History of Dogs" in the September issue of Storyworks—Dawn Rodriguez helped her students make text-to-self connections by putting together a fantastic bulletin board of their dogs or dream dogs.


Keep sharing, and remember to use the hashtags #Storyworks and #StoryworksJr so we'll see your tweets! And don't forget to follow us!


  • Lauren Tarshis, editor of Storyworks@laurenTarshis
  • Allison Friedman, associate editor of Storyworks@alli_friedman
  • Kara Corridan, editor of Storyworks Jr.: @kcorridan
  • Anna Starecheski, assistant editor of Storyworks Jr.@annastarecheski
  • Rebecca Leon, education editor for Storyworks and Storyworks Jr.@RebeccaLeon12
  • Aimee Dolan, director of teacher outreach for all of our ELA mags: @Dolan_AS

Debate With Google Classroom

Thomasine Mastrantoni and Deborah Goldstein, the Link Ladies

While we Link Ladies love apps, this time we'll show you a new way to use Google Classroom. Knowing how many districts have “gone Google,” we want to share with you a way to modify how students engage with Storyworks text. Anytime we can find ways for kids to express what they understand and back it up with text evidence to “prove it,” we go for it.  



Why we use it:

Google Classroom is a great way to foster online collaboration and integrate technology. It can boost productivity and engagement. And it’s FREE!


Skill Focus:

  • Citing Text Evidence
  • Comprehension
  • Opinion Writing
  • Collaboration



1-2 class periods


What you’ll need:


The setup:

Create an assignment on Google Classroom that includes the Storyworks debate and a graphic organizer where students can record text evidence for both sides of the debate. Be sure that your template can be easily customized for each issue’s debate. Once you make it a regular writing activity, you will see how your students’ arguments and connections to text evidence become stronger as they develop their opinion writing skills. Here’s what our template looks like—feel free to use it!



The Lesson:

To get students engaged, begin by having them sit in their seats quietly doing nothing for two minutes. (No talking, no moving around, no reading—nothing!) When the time is up, have them turn and talk with a partner about what they were feeling during the two minutes. Then share the title of the Storyworks debate: “Is it Good to be Bored Sometimes?” The do-nothing activity you just completed will help them feel invested in sharing their opinion.


Discuss with your students how the debate is structured to provide evidence to support both sides of any given argument. Their goal will be to find evidence that supports their opinion, but they should also see the other side, too. Maybe this will bolster the opinion they already have—or maybe it will actually change their mind. Part of the fun is seeing how it all unfolds in their minds!



Students will access the article and their assignment through Google Classroom. The purpose of using Google Classroom is for your students to share a document that they can all access and contribute to. Creating a collaborative learning space develops an environment where students feel safe expressing their own opinions.  Students are now used to communicating online and sharing (sometimes too much) with their friends. Expanding our learning environment via Google Classroom meets students in a forum they are innately comfortable in. A collaborative space like Google Classroom also allows those students who need extra time the opportunity to participate at their own pace. They can read what others are thinking which often sparks their own connections as well.


Once students have read the article, they can then open the Google Doc (again, either a version of ours, or one you’ve created). Here they will work on sharing their opinion on boredom as well as citing text evidence that supports each side of the argument.


Be purposeful in promoting “boredom” in your classroom.  Watch your students rise to the challenge. Creativity will soar! Then revisit this Debate in May/June and see whether their opinions have changed. We even followed up this Debate with a full class period on mindfulness to take this idea full circle.  


Character Analysis Made Easy

Susan Feudale

Editor's note: When 6th grade reading teacher Susan Feudale shared her method for teaching Storyworks' October/November fiction story "The Good Deed," we knew her idea belonged on the Ideabook. If you missed Susan's recent vocabulary and creative writing activity, also using this fiction story, check it out here! Today we're thrilled to share Susan's second exciting lesson: a fun character analysis approach that brings the idea of character into students' own lives by having them analyze themselves. Susan always finds creative ideas to make teaching Storyworks her own!  Give her one-two punch a try in your classroom, or save for when need a fresh approach to character analysis!


On Monday, I shared a super-simple and fun creative writing exercise that my students completed after reading "The Good Deed," and today I'm excited to share the second part of our lesson. The two young protagonists in "The Good Deed," Heather and Risa, are fantastic characters for a character analysis lesson.



First, using a double sided character sheet, my students worked with a partner to complete the following about Heather and Risa: thoughts, dialogue/words, feelings, and actions.  They also designed the characters in the center of the sheet to look like Heather and Risa. I find adding visuals is key to student engagement.



Finally, to complete our character analysis lesson, students made lists of "inside" and "outside" traits about themselves. This was a great way to bring the lesson into their own lives, and a fun way to end our character analysis unit. I hope this approach works in your classroom!

Try This Reading Workshop Minilesson on Main Idea!

Rebecca Leon

Happy back to school, teachers! We know that the beginning of the year can be a whirlwind of learning names, settling in, and getting into a classroom rhythm. In all that hubbub, we wanted to do some of the work for you. I have designed a Reading Workshop model minilesson to go along with our September nonfiction feature in Storyworks: "Our World Turned to Water." It's the riveting, inspiring tale of the August 2016 Louisiana flood. Of course, when we decided to run this story we had no idea that by the time it came out, an even more catastrophic storm in Hurricane Harvey would devastate Texas—and parts of Louisiana. We hope you can use this article to build empathy—and provide hope—for the victims of these unprecedented disasters.

Have your students grab their brand new issue of Storyworks, their Post-It notes, and pencil, and you're ready to go. This lesson is designed to be done after you have already read the article once as a class.

Teaching Point: How to look for details to help you find the main idea in a nonfiction text.

  1. First, refresh your students' memories of the article. Remind them that you'll be working on how to find the main idea of a story using details from the story. These small details often fit together to create an important idea, for a whole story or a chunk of text. Tell your students that you'll be showing them how to look for these details, and how that will help them find the main idea.
  2. Return to the beginning of the article and start reading. Do a think-aloud as you read. Pause to talk about the details that jump out at you and underline them for the class. Talk about how the details make you feel. Read up until "Thousands of people had lost everything they owned."
  3. Here's an example of a think-aloud: "Much of the school was damaged, and many people lost their homes." I'm picturing how terrible this must have been for people. [Continue reading] ". . . under 10 feet of water." Wow, that would be way over my head. That would reach my living room ceiling. I'm going to underline that. [Continue reading] ". . . lost everything they owned." This flood devastated many people. It reminds me of what I've been seeing on TV about Texas and Louisiana and how Hurricane Harvey has affected people there.
  4. Talk about the details you underlined and how you can put them together to come up with a main idea. The main idea here is that a terrible flood turned many people's lived upside down. The flood was much worse than an ordinary one. 
  5. Keep reading, starting with "But that was only one part of the story..." Point out that this sentence implies that there's going to be another important idea. Read the rest of page 4 aloud. Have students underline or mark with a Post-It note any details that popped out at them.
  6. Then have students turn and talk with their neighbors about what they underlined. Once they've had a minute to talk, you can bring the class back together and talk about what you heard the students discussing. At this point you can describe the second main idea: In this terrible disaster, people acted kindly and helped each other.
  7. Wrap up the lesson: Recap with your students why it's important to find details that stick out and put them together to create main ideas. Then have students return to their reading spots and read the next part of the article, through the end of "A Rainy Morning." Have them underline details that pop out and then turn and talk with a partner about how they fit together to make main ideas. 

 Of course, you should tailor this lesson to your own needs and to the specific teaching point you want to make. Here are some more ideas for practicing a strategy presented in your mini lesson:

  • Have students keep reading the same article to practice.
  • Many of the activity sheets that come with this article could function not solely as individual student worksheets, but as thinking tools, graphic organizers, or anchor charts when projected on the Smartboard—perfect for effective modeling during a mini lesson. You can choose one and project and model a graphic organizer with whole group too.
  • You could have students choose another Storyworks article to practice the strategy. You might guide them to the other nonfiction selections, such as the paired texts, Word Power, or debate.
  • You could have students practice the strategy with their independent reading books.
  • Or, conversely, you could use a favorite minilesson you already have to teach a strategy, then have students practice it using an article they choose from Storyworks. You can differentiate by distributing the lower-Lexile version of one of our articles to the students who would benefit from it.

Remeber, Storyworks can be flexibly used however it works best for you. One question in the Teacher's Guide could become an idea for a mini lesson. Our goal is simple: to provide you with the tools you need to do the invaluable work you do every day, and to make it as easy and joyful as we can. Please feel free to share your Reading Workshop minilesson ideas with us too! Email us at

Creating “Super Readers” with Storyworks

Jackie Rabinoff

Editor's note: You can tell that Jackie Rabinoff is a BIG Storyworks fan. Even though she's preaching to the choir, we just loooove her enthusiasm and passion! Word of mouth has always been our most successful growth strategy. So if you feel so inclined, please share Jackie's Super Reader connection with Storyworks with your teaching friends! (You can also send them this link to our 30 day free trial.)

With Storyworks as my secret weapon, it is no wonder my students consistently display success in Language Arts. If you and your class have ordered from any Scholastic Book Club, you may have received with your shipment an excerpt from “Every Child A Super Reader” by Pam Allyn and Dr. Ernest Morrell. As I was reading it, I couldn't help but make the connection to Storyworks. Let me prove it to you!

Principle 1: Super Readers learn to read by reading interactively.

Let’s see…. each issue of Storyworks provides an online component with videos, vocabulary slideshows, audio versions of the stories and poems, projectable worksheets…need I say more?

Principle 2: Super Readers have a strong foundation in oral language.

This is a no-brainer. Not only is there a read-aloud play featured in every issue, but there are many other opportunities for speaking, such as class discussions, expressing opinions, debating, and persuading.

Principle 3: Super readers understand that reading and writing are mutually beneficial language processes.

In every issue of Storyworks there are as many opportunities for writing as there are for reading. For example (deep inhale), writing prompts accompanying each story, extended-response critical-thinking questions, outlines for persuasive and opinion essays, exercises to teach good grammar, guides to writing interesting leads to hook the reader, Wild Word, Word Nerd and other writing contests! (exhale)

Principle 4: Super Readers read broadly and deeply for authentic purposes.

To quote the book:Super Readers are voracious. They are hungry to read and can read easily across many genres. They are absorbing great amounts of words, images and texts of all kinds," which is EXACTLY what Storyworks provides!

Principle 5: Super Readers have access to many kinds of text.

Nonfiction, fiction, play, poetry, debates, paired texts, infographics, photographs, visual texts...and a partridge in a pear tree!

Principle 6: Super Readers need to make choices about what they read.

Many times after reading an issue of Storyworks, my students may choose to further their knowledge of a subject they read about.

Principle 7: Super Readers need reading role models.

One of the things I like most about Storyworks is the presence of the editors. Through videos, the editors share their research and writing process, their inspiration and their craft. The author of the story is not invisible; there is a face to go with the name.

Principle 8: Super Readers thrive in a collaborative community of readers.

Don’t expect your class to be sitting silently when they’re engaged in an issue of Storyworks. For each story, it is suggested that students work in small groups to read the article and to complete other skill-building activities. In addition, many prompts for class discussions and "turn and talks" are provided. 

Principle 9: Super Readers develop the strengths and skills to read by spending time reading independently.

ALERT: DO NOT DISCARD ANY OLD ISSUES OF STORYWORKS!! Past issues and activities are ready made for independent work centers, “Do Nows,” DEAR Time reading, rainy-day indoor recess and for that one student who always finishes his seat work in a split second!

Principle 10: Super Readers are joyful readers.

This is an easy one. Just look at your students’ faces when a new issue of Storyworks arrives!

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!

Reader's Theater Tips From Teach123

Michelle Divkey

Editor's note: The plays in Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. are always a huge hit with students—and it's easy to see why. They're engaging, digestible, and tons of fun! Teachers like them for the fluency boost reading aloud gives their students. Plus, they are perfect for those last few weeks of the school year. ​Teacher Michelle Divkey has some AMAZING ideas for how to incorporate reader's theater into your curriculum. This post was created for Scholastic's #SmartTeachingTips campaign. Search the hashtag for lots of other amazing teaching tips!

As you know, I love reading and giving stuff away. When Scholastic contacted me and asked if I would be willing to tell my readers about their magazines, it was a quick yes.

Do you have any budding actors and actresses in your class this year? Channel all of that creative energy and increase your students' fluency skills with Readers Theater. The October/November issue of Storyworks Jr. magazine includes the Readers Theater script, Yeh Shen: A Chinese Cinderella Story
Getting a Storyworks Jr. magazine in the mail is like getting a gift for yourself. Readers Theater is fun, which keeps students engaged at this crazy time of the year.



You can organize the performance of Yeh Shen: A Chinese Cinderella Story different ways. Add a simple prop like the red fan (in the picture at the top of the page) to make it more engaging for your students. I found the fan at Dollar Tree this summer. I also bought a box of fans (dozen) at a party supply store for $2.50.


There are enough parts of the script for half of your class to perform it. Divide your class in two groups. Both groups will perform the play. Write the names of the students in the groups on a marquee sign like the one in the picture above. This will help students remember their group.


Use glitter to add a little glitz to your bulletin board with the play groups.


Color code your groups. Students can wear a necklace with the name of the character or their part of the play. When it is time to practice all you need to do is say, "It is time for the green group to practice" instead of calling a list of students. Color coding is a big time saver!


Let students make their own signs. You can also set this up as a center. You can get a free copy of the play signs and marquee here.


Your students fluency skills will improve with all of the practicing they will happily do. I'm sure your students will want to know when the next issue of Storyworks Jr. is coming so they can begin the next play!