Storyworks in practice

Short Nonfiction Leads to Rich SEL

Anna Starecheski

For the September issue of Storyworks Jr., I had the honor of writing about an amazing young girl named Jesselyn Silva. Jesselyn is 11 years old, and she loves to box. I was bowled over and inspired by Jesselyn's passion and dedication, and I hoped Storyworks Jr. readers would be too. But I never could have imagined the lesson one class got after reading her story.



Upstate NY teacher Teresa Weinmann saw that Jesselyn's story could open the door to an important social-emotional learning lesson on the importance of being yourself. And she had the perfect person to help her deliver this lesson: her friend Karen. Karen is a mother, an insurance agent, a singer, and a boxer. Teresa invited her into her classroom, and what followed was an experience her students will never forget.


Karen started by showing some photos of a boxer from behind. She asked the students what they saw, if they could tell if it was a man or a woman. The kids' minds were blown when Karen declared "Well, it's me." She talked about gender stereotypes and was thrilled when she asked the kids what kinds of jobs girls should have. "Any job," one boy said. And what kind of jobs should boys have? "Whatever they want." These kids had the right idea already!

Karen spoke about her journey to finding her passion in boxing and how it makes her feel strong and confident. 

She told the students that they can be anything they want to be, and that it's important to do what you love and be true to yourself. They discussed positive words they could say to themselves when they feel down or defeated by themselves or others. 

The conversation went in many directions, from bullying to being a male ballet dancer to not judging someone by how they look. And then came some fun!



Karen showed the kids her boxing equipment and even taught them some moves! But the learning wasn't over then: Teresa gave the kids paper boxing gloves and had them write positive words to describe themselves on one glove, and on the other glove they wrote phrases that might encourage them when they are faced with a challenge.



A short nonfiction story about an incredible young girl led to a learning experience these kids will never forget. We are always thrilled when teachers take a story from our magazines and turn it into something we never could have imagined. Do you have a story like Teresa's? We want to hear about it

Tell About This: An App for Fluency, Comprehension, and Fun!

Thomasine Mastrantoni and Deborah Goldstein, the Link Ladies

Editor's note: The Link Ladies, two of our favorite library media specialists, have brought us yet another winning app that will make your teaching life easier and make your students excited to learn. This latest app, Tell About This, allows students to record answers to prompts and questions, boosting fluency, comprehension, and confidence. Follow the Link Ladies' simple step-by-step instructions and bring app-based learning into your classroom!


As your students dive into text, it's great to have a way for them to share their thinking. Using this app, students will have an opportunity to independently explain how what they've read so far connects to the text as a whole.


The app

Tell About This, free and paid versions. (The paid version is $2.99)


Why use it?

Tell About This is an easy-to-use app that enables your students to do exactly what it says: tell you about it. They can respond to a reading prompt or a question, write their own, or use a pre-made prompt. It is a great app to practice fluency, independence and comprehension. You can set up the prompts to assess any topic or skill you are working on.  

The free and paid versions work exactly the same. The limitation with the free version is that you can only create and save one custom prompt at a time. You can also only create one Tell About (student-saved response) at a time in the free version. We use the paid version, so we can create and save unlimited Tell Abouts. Once you see this app in action, we bet you'll agree that it is well worth the money.


Skill focus:

  • Citing text evidence
  • Comprehension
  • Assessment
  • Fluency



1 class period


What you'll need:

  • The nonfiction feature "The Amazing Penguin Rescue" from the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Storyworks Jr. (or any article that contains Pause and Think comprehension questions)
  • iPads with Tell About This app


The set-up:

We designed this lesson as stations around the room. We have enough iPads to have multiple iPads at each station. Before you are ready to have the students independently work through the Tell About This stations, you need to set up the Tell About This prompts in the app. (By the way, if you only have a few iPads, that's fine too.)

To set up a Tell About This prompt, open the app and choose Create a Prompt.

Then, follow steps 1, 2, and 3 on that screen. Take a photo of your article (or use any photo you choose), add text (we typed the Pause and Think question here), and record audio (we recorded ourselves reading the Pause and Think question). Then, click on "Save."


The app will ask if you want the prompt to be saved into the “Custom” category. Choose YES.


Do this on each iPad. We divided up the iPads in our Library Media Center and recorded a different Pause and Think question on each so as students move from station to station, they have a different question to think about and respond to. (Pause and Thinks are a great Storyworks Jr. feature: They give students the opportunity to take a moment and think about the specific details they've just read.)


The lesson:

First we watched the video read-aloud for the nonfiction feature article in the December/January issue of Storyworks Jr., The Amazing Penguin Rescue. This gives all of our students an overview of the article and makes it accessible to everyone. 

After watching the video read-aloud, tell your students they are ready to conduct a close read independently. Remind them to answer the Pause and Think questions. 


Students will be responding to these Pause and Thinks by using Tell About This. You've already created the prompts in the app and placed iPads with different prompts at stations throughout the classroom. At each station, students will see a different part of the article. Students should be instructed to re-read that section and then use the Tell About This app to answer the Pause and Think. You can have copies of the magazine at each station.

When the students are ready to record their Tell About This response, they should open the app and choose "Custom."


When they click on Custom they should choose the image that matches the text they are working with.


When they open the Custom prompt they will hear the Pause and Think question that you recorded. When they have their response ready in their minds, they should click on the microphone (bottom right) and then click on Record and speak their answer. They can click on Pause when they are done recording.


The next step is for them to save and choose an author. If they have not saved before, it will prompt them to add a profile. The name is the only part that needs to be there—adding a selfie is just fun.


Once they have saved it, they can find it on the home screen under “My Tell Abouts.”


Their Tell About can be saved to the camera roll as well.


With this idea, you can have all your students tell you about what they are reading, cite text evidence, practice their fluency and become more independent! Yes, tell me about it!

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!