Storyworks in practice
Teach Earth Day With Storyworks and Storyworks Jr.
Earth Day is on April 22nd, and if you're in search of a great lesson, we've got you covered! We've gathered our favorite Earth Day-friendly articles from this years' issues of Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. and have suggested some mini-lessons to go along with them. Happy Earth Day, from us to you!
In this fun debate from the February 2017 issue, students will learn the surprising ways in which helium balloons are not so environmentally-friendly. But does the fun outweigh the harm? Use this teacher's fun and simple debate lesson plan along with this debate!
This paired text from the February 2017 issue is sure to blow your students' minds! Two texts explore two unlikely invasive species: goldfish and wild pigs. These stories are exciting to read, while teaching an important lesson about the environment. For a fun extension activity, have students research invasive species in your area.
This bite-size nonfiction piece from the October/November 2016 issue covers an incredible kid named Mikaila Ulmer, who was disturbed by the plight of bees in the world today. Mikaila has created a business selling lemonade while raising money and awareness. She uses local honey in her lemonade, and a portion of the profits go to saving the bees. Your students are sure to be inspired by Mikaila's mission! For a learning extension, do some research with your students and find out which local plants in your area are best for bees. You could even plant some at your school!
The feature nonfiction from the September 2016 issue is about one of the most well-known and destructive invasive species: the Burmese python. These huge snakes live in the Florida everglades and gobble up everything in their paths. We predict that your students will be fascinated by these slithery creatures. For extra fun, watch this video about invasive species created by our colleagues at Action magazine!
Do you have a successful Earth Day lesson we should know about? Tell us about it in the comments below!
A Text Features Game to Boost Engagement
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 issue of Storyworks: The Amazing History of American Television.
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!
Boost Opinion and Persuasive Writing with a Debate
Editor's note: We know that kids tend to get very passionate about our debates, and superstar 2nd grade teacher Beth O's students really took it to a whole new level! We love Beth's simple two-day approach to the debate in the March/April issue of Storyworks Jr. It's one that students have strong feelings about: Should You Always Get a Trophy? We hope it will work well in your classroom!
My class loves to debate. After all, who doesn’t love trying to prove their point or get their way, kids and adults alike! My second graders have been working on Opinion Writing, and I thought that the article, "Should You Always Get a Trophy," would be a subject that they had a lot of background knowledge about and also some strong opinions.
This was a two-day project. On the first day, and before previewing the article, I had students sit (on top of their desks for more exciting and active engagement) and have a whole-class discussion about their experiences with trophies. What kind of sports are you in? Who has received a trophy before? How do you feel when someone else gets a trophy but you don’t? How do you feel when everyone gets a “participation” trophy? Do you think you should get a trophy, even if you’re in last place? Students were encouraged to support their answers using the word "because" to add their thoughts. They even used language like “I respectfully disagree with ____, because...!” Since most kids have had experience with this, their feelings were so strong about this topic!
Next, students were given a large copy of the article, so that they could take notes that support both sides. Excitement was building, because most students already knew which side they would want to be on for our big debate! They read the article independently, and then shared what they thought they should highlight together.
Next, students wrote their ideas on the Storyworks Jr. printable, What Do You Think, that utilized both text evidence and ideas from their own schema, proving their point for tomorrow’s big debate.
They chose what side they would be on, and we even had a team huddle and cheer as we prepared for Day 2.
After we practiced our debate strategies, we sat on opposite sides of the room. I stressed to the kids that they should not be a “conversation stealer” and try letting all teammates get a chance to share their point of view. They did a great job of using text evidence and their own personal thoughts. I even had class leaders emerge and ask others to step down to let a quiet classmate get a chance to speak!
The team who debated on the side of “everyone gets a trophy” even had nice, shiny trophy props to try to persuade the other side!
Needless to say, these kids had a blast with this debate! Storyworks Jr. debates are a great way to get kids excited about sharing their opinions while also building speaking and listening skills. My kids are so excited to see what the next Storyworks Jr. debate will be!
Using QR Codes to Enforce Vocabulary
Editor's note: Our beloved Link Ladies are back with another super-doable app-style learning activity! We're sure you've seen QR codes everywhere, but if you're anything like us, you may have found them a bit mysterious. Here, the Link Ladies lay out exactly how QR codes work, how you can make them (trust us, it's easy), and why you should use them in your classroom. This activity links QR codes to vocabulary to deepen understanding in a fun way!
Vocabulary is a great equalizer. One of the best ways to lessen the achievement gap is to increase students' vocabulary. Storyworks does a great job of using bold text to highlight challenging or Tier III vocabulary throughout its nonfiction articles. Front-loading these words will help to increase your student’s comprehension and ability to interact with the text in more complex ways.
The app: Scan
Why we use it: It's an easy way to engage your students in the content before they even see the article. The app is so basic, any student can use it. The website is a simple way to literally link what students know to the text.
Wondering why we should be using QR codes in the classroom? According to BBCActive.com, QR codes can give direct and simultaneous access to all students to the same resource with the scan of your device in school or at home. They can hold over 4,000 characters of information and are easy to create. They can also be printed on just about anything. Whether you are sharing a web address or a hidden answer to a class question, QR codes are fun and engaging to use.
- Vocabulary Development
- Using Context Clues
Time: 1 class period
What you’ll need:
- Storyworks article of your choice. We used the paired texts “The Amazing History of American Television" and "The Box that Changed America” from the March/April 2017 issue.
- Computers or iPads
- A scanning app on iPads (Scan and Quick Scan are two free apps you can use)
Frontloading Vocabulary: BEFORE you read the articles, pull out the bold vocabulary words (as well as any other words you think your students will need to know to fully understand the text). Here's the bolded vocab: lure, cultural, anchorman, dedicated, diversity, rural.
Assign a group of students "vocabulary duty." For the first time, we chose our most independent learners. As you do this more often, give each student an opportunity to get the vocabulary words ready for the class. These students will be responsible for looking up the definition of each of the vocabulary words and creating the QR codes for the class to interact with. In 1-2-3, these words will be ready for the class. Here's how it works:
Go to http://www.qrstuff.com/
1. Click on "plain text" on the lefthand side of the page.
2. Type the definition of the vocab word in the box.
3. Click on the color you would like the QR code to be. Your QR code is now created!
4. Save your code by clicking on "Download QR code." When it asks you to open a subscriber account, just click "No thanks."
Congratulations: You just created your own QR code! It will then create a .png file that you can save on your desktop or copy & paste into a Word or Google Doc for later.
Once your students have all the QR codes saved, print them out.
You can now have students interact with the words using the Scan app (note that any scanner app will work, but we like the simplicity of the Scan app).
Your options are endless! You can choose a vocabulary activity that your students already know with the twist of getting the meaning from the QR code. Here are some other ideas on how to get your students to interact with the vocabulary words.
- Put the vocab word on a strip of paper with the QR code at the end. Example:
- As the students read the article, they can use the codes to help them define the words.
- Scanning is as simple as point and shoot:
- Open up the Scan app on your iPad or smartphone
- Hold the device so you see a square to capture the code. It will vibrate when it captures it. Then it brings you to the vocabulary word’s meaning.
- Students continue to scan as they come across the new words.
- Have students create a sentence using the new word.
- Have them draw a picture that depicts the word’s meaning.
- Have them list 3-4 synonyms they already know that have the same meaning as the new vocab word.
Once you see how simple the QR code generator is, you'll want to find more uses for it. We also create a code each month that links to the answers for some of the questions from the Teacher Resource page for the article. This is another way to extend a student’s learning and offers additional engaging activities for each article—especially for those students who routinely finish early and need a challenge.
If you want to try using QR codes (without making them yourself), here are QR codes for each of the vocabulary words in the Paired Texts articles. You will see how “linked” your students get and will surely want to start making them yourself. (answers to the math homework… answers to the pause and think questions in Storyworks Jr… the audio for each page of a picture book… the ideas will keep coming to you.) Enjoy!
Text Marking Word Clouds For Visual Learners
Editor's note: Lisa Shumaker from St. Charles, Illinois, is one of our secret weapons at Storyworks Jr. She is not only tech-savvy, she is a remarkably gifted teacher. We think your students will love this super-simple but high-impact activity to practice main idea and supporting details. Please share how it works in your classroom this spring.
- Lesson length: 4 Days
- Grade: 3
- Text: "How to Save a Baby Elephant" from the March/April issue of Storyworks Jr.
- Technology: can be as high-tech or low-tech as you want it to be
- Instruction type: Small group/independent/Partners
Day 1: Pre-Reading
Small group: Begin by introducing key vocabulary in small group by showing students the Vocabulary Slideshow. Have them hunt for the vocabulary words in the text and read them in context to a partner. Next, prompt students to pay close attention to the headline, subhead, and photos on pages 4-5. Ask students to make observations about the photos and draw upon their background knowledge to make predictions about the setting of the story. After that, read through the headings and have students pause to predict what each section will be about. Finally, set a purpose for reading: “As you go back to your work spaces, listen to the story read aloud and think about how the photographs and images helped you to comprehend the story.”
Independent work: Students go back to their work spaces and complete the vocabulary organizer and watch the video read aloud as their first read.
Day 2: Active Reading
Partner work: In partners, have students complete a “second” read of the text. Have students use text marking to actively engage with the text. Here are the symbols my students use to text mark, courtesy of Upper Elementary Fun:
Set the purpose for reading: “Today as you read the text, use the text marking strategy to practice active reading to enhance your comprehension.” As they read, they should be answering the Pause and Think questions verbally with their partners to monitor comprehension.
Day 3: Close Read
Small group: To check for comprehension and understanding, have students share their reactions to the text by giving an example of one place in the text they marked and why. Then, establish the purpose of today’s read: “Today when we read, we will be focusing on finding evidence that shows how humans can affect elephants.” Next, conduct a think-aloud by reading the first section of text. “I notice that the authors have used some pretty bold/powerful word choices to describe what poachers do and how they affect elephants.” Model highlighting some of those strong words in the text (ex: killed, illegally, dies, orphans). Inform students that these words help the reader to visualize the negative affect that poachers have on elephants. Have students read through the next section with a partner, reminding them that they are highlighting words that show how poachers affect elephants. Have students share out the words they highlighted.
Partner work: Send pairs of students back to their work spaces to read through the rest of the article highlighting the positive and negative affects humans can have on elephants.
Day 4: Skill Building
Small Group: Begin by setting the purpose for learning: "Today we are going to be working on finding the main idea of this article." Pass out the Main Idea Reading Kit to students. Have students read aloud the definition of main idea provided on the Reading Kit. Next, explain to students that they will be generating word clouds to help them visually represent the main idea of the text. Model for students how to create a word cloud using this website. Have students contribute to the creation of the word cloud by suggesting words that should be included. Below is an example from our lesson:
Lastly, as a small group, use the visual word cloud as an aid to fill in part of the Main Idea Reading Kit.
Independent Work: Share the link with students so that they can create their own word cloud. Have students import the words they highlighted that show ways humans can positively affect elephants. Students can choose whatever symbol/shape for their word cloud that they feel best represents the main idea of their word cloud.
Have them use their word cloud to independently fill in the remainder of the Reading Kit.
More Favorite #MyStoryworksMoment Tweets!
In February, we asked you to join our social media community at #MyStoryworksMoment to share your quintessential and out-of-the-box moments using Storyworks or Storyworks Jr. in your classroom. We just love these visual connections that teachers are posting. It continues to inspire and amaze us to see your beautiful tweets, so keep them coming. Plus we love connecting with you on social media! Here are a few more of our favorites:
Not one but two awesome teachers shared pictures of their classes building real-life popsicle-stick bridges after reading our fiction story "The Popsicle-Stick Bridge" in Storyworks Jr.!
Storyworks adviser Dana Canales of Texas shared some awesome tweets about how she uses Storyworks to prep her students for STAAR assessments! We loved her idea so much that we asked her to turn it into an Ideabook post. Luckily for us, she agreed! Her post is coming soon.
Our beloved Link Ladies shared a snippet of their famous app-style learning: Their students were so excited to read about lucky charms around the world in Grammar Cop that they researched more on their own!
We've already showcased some of our favorite #MyStoryworksMoment tweets, and we're eager to share more with you! We can't overstate how much it makes our day to see your tweets. We're so excited to be in touch with you! Feel free to follow our editors on Twitter:
Making Science Connections with Storyworks Jr.
Editor's note: See how superstar second-grade teacher Beth O serves up a great curriculum tie-in to her science standards using our Paragraph Power article from the March/April issue of Storyworks Jr. It's about an incredible kid named Khloe, who took initiative to help homeless women in her community. Frankly, we never even thought that it could be connected to science! Take a look at this innovative way to use our Paragraph Power article and see if it can work for you.
As we get busier and busier with new curriculum each year, I am always searching for ways to integrate science and social studies into reading and writing. One article in the March/April issue of Storyworks Jr. really seemed to tie in to our Next Generation Science Standards for second grade: Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.
I made my reading groups a copy of "This Kid is Changing Her City," so that they could easily take it around the room and talk about matching it up to the Engineering Design Process we are starting to learn about. (We have student-made posters for science around the room.)
After reading about how Khloe, a 9-year old girl, made a difference in her city and possibly beyond, students were searching for that always-important text evidence that would support how she developed her plan.
They could easily relate to the first step of designing something, which is ASK. They were able to locate the proof they needed that Khloe had noticed a problem with homeless women and then asked her mom how she could help them.
Next, she learned about and MODELED strong fabric bags that would last a long time and hold items like soap and socks.
She was also able to EXPLAIN how homeless people might feel just trying to survive. This happened to be exactly the process that we've been talking about in class when we discuss people who make a difference!
Students were eager to point out that at the end, she EVALUATED her idea, realized it was a success, and now wants to make it even bigger by bringing it to Africa. My kids were inspired to think about how they could make a difference.
The best part is always turning around the teaching, and letting students make their own connections to the design process. With use of schema and text evidence, my little second graders were able to read and search the text for what they needed, and our ELA resource offered up the perfect science lesson.
How a Poem Changed a Teacher's Career
I'll be frank: The one part of Storyworks Jr. that gets the most mixed feedback is our poetry. For every teacher who tells us how grateful she is that we include poems in each issue, another tells us it's the part of Storyworks Jr. she uses the least. But we continue to include poems because we believe in their ability to present language and ideas in unique ways, and to help children explore their own voices and emotions. And then every once in a while we learn of the impact a particular poem has had on students, and we know we're on the right path. Here's one such story that deeply moved us.
"Same Hands," the poem we feature in the March/April 2017 issue of Storyworks Jr. as part of a trio of texts about how animals are helped—and hurt—by humans, originally appeared in Storyworks in 2012. Not long ago, I happened to be Googling this poem and came across a teacher's blog post about it. Angie Nesbit of Illinois had written about how she'd taught this poem to her Storyworks students, and asked them to model the poem and create their own. "What happened after this assignment," she wrote, "no teacher could have planned." In her words:
"A student wrote a poem about bullies of the present, and 10 years later. When reading the poem, you could hear a pin drop in the classroom, and there was silence once the poem was over. Throughout the day, I read the poem to all my classes, and it had the same result... silence. I decided I would write back to this student as if I was the bully, and then another class wrote back 10 years later.
I must say, this was one of the most exciting moments in my teaching career, to see how students took this to heart."
Here is the first student's poem (to get the most out of it, be sure to first read "Same Hands"):
And here is the version written by Ms. Nesbit and her class:
We are so gratified to know that a poem that had this kind of influence on students is now being shared with our Storyworks Jr. readers. Tell us: What poem has made a difference in your life, or your classroom?
Where Storyworks Meets SEL
Want to meet a pioneering teacher who's taking Social/Emotional Learning to a whole new level? Introducing Anna Maria Montuori, a fourth-grade teacher in North Babylon, New York. This is her school's first year with a district-wide SEL program, and she's among the teachers who are embracing it wholeheartedly. She's been able to incorporate Storyworks into her initiatives, and we predict you'll be as inspired as we were when she described them to us. I was especially glad to speak to Anna, because Storyworks Jr. will be incorporating SEL into much of our content in the 2017-18 school year, and we'll have a fabulous contest to accompany it. In the meantime, here's what's happening with her class:
They've created Marvelous Me posters, highlighting students unique talents. Anna wasn't sure what kinds of talents her students would come up with, but she was pleased when they listed things like "I'm good at taking care of my baby brother," "I am good at getting a winning hit in baseball," and "I'm good at baking for my mom."
Her students were also inspired by the play in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Storyworks, "Girl, Fighter, Hero." This play tells the story of Sybil Ludington, a teenager who acted as a messenger during the American Revolutionary War. By using the support materials that accompanied the play, Anna and her students talked about Sybil's best traits, which include bravery, cleverness, and resourcefulness.
Those traits were added to the class' Character Tree, on display outside their classroom. It's adorned with construction-paper leaves with admirable qualities such as perseverance, honesty, and self-control. Check it out:
They've coined a new phrase: "put-ups," which are the opposite of put-downs. Students jot down kind things to say about a classmate and tuck it in a pocket on the wall. The put-ups are then shared with the class. It's been gratifying for Anna to see her students identify great qualities about one another, such as "She lets me borrow a pencil when the point on my pencil breaks" and "He cheers me up when I am sad."
And speaking of qualities, every day in February, one of her students would broadcast over the loudspeaker, sharing a few sentences about their "Quality of the Day." Can you just imagine how excited they were to get that airtime?!
Lastly, here's an idea I especially love (particularly since I recently volunteered at my older daughter's middle school, selling half-day snacks, and saw the sometimes upsetting dynamics of lunch-table seating): "Mix It Up at Lunch." This is when students are randomly assigned to tables labeled with character traits, where conversation-starter sentence strips are waiting for them. Questions include "Who is your hero and why?" and "Talk about a time when someone was unkind to you. How did it make you feel?" The idea, of course, is to encourage students to sit with kids they'd not normally sit with and then engage in discussions about their feelings and the proper way to respond in social situations. The main goal is for these discussions to lead to improved behavior—and Anna is seeing firsthand that it's working. "There's been a decrease in problems in my class," she reports.
It makes us so happy to know that teachers see in our resources not only stories that touch on key ELA skills, but strong characters that are easily woven into their SEL initiatives. We'd love to hear what you're doing in your class to foster tolerance, kindness, and acceptance. Please share in the comments!
Making Infographics: A New Approach to Reports
Editor's Note: We can always count on superstar teacher Jackie Rabinoff to squeeze every last drop out of her Storyworks subscription, and we love her for it! Her latest lesson takes a new approach to the old-fashioned research report using Storyworks' infographics as mentor texts of sorts. We love this activity because it's research-focused, cooperative, creative, and super-fun! Most importantly, it's simple and doable. Take it away, Jackie!
It is nearly impossible to exhaust all the resources that Storyworks provides. Just when I thought I had examined every nook and cranny of the Storyworks website, I found something new. This time I discovered "Make Your Own Infographic"—a step-by-step activity that will help students craft an infographic about a topic of their choice. It is a reproducible provided every month which can be found with the other Infographic activity sheets. I had been seeking a project that included research and I thought this would be an enjoyable, motivating activity.
First, as a class, we examined many infographics from past issues of Storyworks. I directed the students to take note of what each had in common. I wanted them to notice that these infographics had more pictures than words (hence infographic), were persuasive in nature, and had topics that were unusual yet thought-provoking.
I informed the class they’d be working in groups to design their own infographic. We debated the appropriate group size for this activity and it was decided that three in a group would best fit our needs. I “randomly” clustered them (or so they thought) and it was time to begin. I handed out a brainstorming sheet of open-ended questions I created to help them come up with a topic. I reminded them that our goal was to persuade an audience so the topics needed to be something atypical. I had each group dream up three ideas and label them “first” “second” and “third” choice. I collected the sheets and was able to divide up the choices so each group had different topics.
Next I handed out the “Make Your Own Infographic” worksheet from Storyworks, which served as a step-by-step guide for my students to follow. Using laptops in the classroom and taking several visits to the computer lab, the children conducted research for many days. They gathered as much information as possible before deciding which material would be most suitable for their purposes—something they learned from watching Lauren Tarshis’ behind-the-scenes videos on the Storyworks website!
After a quest for the perfect accompanying graphics and pictures, the writing and editing process began. Aside from just typical grammar and mechanics, the children had an abundance of practice in summarizing, since they needed to condense information into a small blurb. In addition, the more time spent on the computer, the more adept they became at keyboarding, cutting and pasting, changing font color and size, using spell check, etc…
Lastly, I gave each group a big piece of construction paper and let them create their final product. I displayed the infographics in the hallway and the eye-catching pictures and clever topics caught the attention of all who passed by. Thanks to Storyworks, I now have a cooperative learning, child-centered alternative to the old-fashioned “report.” Take a look at what they came up with below:
An entertaining research project? Sounds like a topic for an infographic!