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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!

An Easy Way to Incorporate SEL

Meg Zucker

Editor’s note: We at Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. love working with Meg Zucker. Meg is the founder of Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It, a not-for-profit organization that works to advance acceptance, understanding, tolerance and mutual respect for a person's blatant or invisible difference. We have great admiration for Meg’s commitment, and she has been an invaluable partner to us at Storyworks Jr. as we continue our SEL focus.




From my own life experience, I knew that other kids would stare and point at our oldest son, Ethan. Like me and his younger brother Charlie, Ethan was born with a rare genetic condition. As a result, Ethan has one finger on each hand and two toes on each foot. Although he undeniably looks very different, I (perhaps naively) never expected that other children would be cruel to him because of it. When Ethan was in the 1st grade at recess, a group of 4th graders on the playground surrounded him, taunting him about his difference. That night as Ethan cried himself to sleep, I felt angry and frustrated. I was convinced something needed to change—I just didn’t yet know how to do it.  


The following week, the school principal asked me to come speak to her staff. While I was grateful for the opportunity, I was also convinced that was only part of the equation. In order for other children to learn to accept kids that appeared different like Ethan, I believed it was vital they learn how to put themselves in the shoes of another. And that’s when I realized what I needed to do.


From that experience, I developed a national “Kids Flaunt Contest” with Scholastic, where students write an essay prompted by our theme, “The things that make me different make me, me.” The Kids Flaunt Contest motivates all children to recognize difference in themselves, whether blatant or invisible. Most importantly, the act of recognizing and embracing one’s own difference can transform a source of shame into one of pride. And, it can spark empathy toward one’s peers.


That’s why I’m so glad that Storyworks Jr. is focusing on SEL this year. Last year, executive editor Kara Corridan wrote a fantastic story about my son Charlie, and this year Storyworks Jr. is including even more stories about amazing kids. In fact, their October/November paired texts are about two boys with autism.



These stories come with another great contest I encourage your students to enter. It’s called “One of a KIND” and it asks children to describe a time when they had trouble fitting in, or they were a good friend to someone who needed one. It’s an amazing opportunity for students to learn more about themselves and one another—and to ultimately become kind, accepting and empathetic, both in the classroom and beyond. The deadline is December 15, so don’t miss out!

The Research Adventure Starts Now!

Rebecca Leon

If you've read our latest nonfiction feature, "Swarms of Terror," about the sky-blackening masses of locusts that descended on the American prairie in the late 1800s, you know what a thrilling read it is. (And if you haven't, there's a treat waiting to - er - leap out of your December/January issue.) But did you know that there's a brand-new Research Kit that goes along with it?



Inspired by project-based learning and all the ingenious, thought-provoking ways we've seen Storyworks used in your classrooms, we wanted to provide you with a resource that would send your students on truly engaging research journeys - ones where they were itching to know more and bursting to share their findings. (Not to mention meeting state research standards!)



And who better to help develop a research tool for your students than our researcher extraordinaire, associate editor Allison Friedman? (That's Allison with her brilliant creation!)


The Research Kit is all about choice. Starting with a key detail from the article - that humans played a role in the disappearance of the Rocky Mountain locust - it presents a big question: "How can human activity cause or prevent extinction of animal species?" From there, students choose the research path they wish to take, the animal they want to explore, and the way they want to present their findings.



From the student who will keep digging deeper to write a magazine article about the extinct Caribbean monk seal to the kid who yearns to make a video about saving grizzly bears, there's something to ignite every child's passion.


Which research paths have your students chosen? I'd love to hear! Drop me a line any time at rleon@scholastic.com.

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!

Taking Summarizing to a Higher Level

Rebecca Leon

Here at Storyworks, we're always searching for ways to make our support offerings the best possible learning tools for your students. That's why I'm super excited to share with you our new-and-improved higher-level summarizing activity for our nonfiction and paired-text features. It's called  "Quick, Tell Me What Happened!"




If you're a fan of our lower-level summarizing activity, with its handy sentence starters and prompts, don’t worry—you'll still find it with your resources. It's a great way for students to get started with this challenging skill, and it provides a model of what to include.

But for students who are ready for the next step, I wanted to create an activity that would not only get them to produce a summary, but also teach them how to apply the skill to any text. Our new format walks them through the process.

We've even included a helpful pre-writing tip: Summarize the article out loud with a partner before writing.



Our Storyworks teacher-advisers were invaluable in giving me feedback on this activity, as they do with so many of our resources. Our fabulous adviser Allie Curtis even had her 5th graders "test drive" an earlier version, leading to some smart revisions. (Those are her students in the photo above!)

My hope is that this brand-new activity will prepare students for an even more-advanced activity: a blank sheet of paper with the instruction "Write a summary."  I can't wait to hear how this works in your classroom. Please let me know anytime! Contact me at rleon@scholastic.com.


Volcanic Learning Extensions

Anna Starecheski

We knew that Lauren Tarshis's gripping story "Mountain of Fire," about the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, would be a home-run for Storyworks Jr. readers. The science of volcanoes is fascinating, and their power is breathtaking. Keep your students engaged with the learning extensions below, and as always, let us know if you came up with any great extensions for one of our stories!


TO READ: An in-depth account of the eruption of Mount St. Helens

TO DO: A timeline

This fantastic book by Patricia Lauber goes into great detail telling the story of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, from the warning signs to the slow return of wildlife to the area. This will appeal to science- and history-minded students alike, with its vivid photographs and diagrams.

LEARNING TASK: Have students create a colorful timeline poster of the events leading up to and following the eruption of Mount St. Helens.


TO WATCH: A mesmerizing video of lava

TO DO: A creative writing assignment

This beautful video from National Geographic shows the power and beauty of volcanic lava. You can also feel free to click around and watch other volcano videos, like this one.

LEARNING TASK: After watching the video, have students write creatively about the spectacle of a volcano. They can write a poem, a paragraph, or even make a list of similes and metaphors describing volcanoes or lava.  


TO EXPLORE: A fact-filled infographic

TO DO: A research project

This easy-to-read infographic shares some fun, unexpected facts about volcanoes.

LEARNING TASK: Go over the infographic as a class, discussing which facts students found the most surprising or interesting. Then have students work in pairs or small groups to research volcanoes further, using your school's library, the internet, or any other sources you may have. Each pair or group should come up with at least one new fact about volcanoes that they found surprising. For an extra extension, these facts could be compiled into a binder or on a bulletin board.


TO STUDY: A visual display of various volcanic rocks

TO DO: A hands-on nature exploration

This website has great photographs of all the different types of igneous rocks. In our article we mention pumice, but there are many more fascinating types! 

LEARNING TASK: If appropriate for where your school is located, have students explore outside and look for rocks they think might be volcanic. Your students might be surprised to be able to find examples right in their backyard, so to speak. For more urban environments, remember that granite is an igneous rock!


We hope these extensions inspire your students, and if you tried any of them out, let us know by emailing us or tweeting with the hashtag #StoryworksJr!

Teaching Grammar With Storyworks

Anna Starecheski

At Storyworks, we believe the best way to learn grammar is through reading. That’s why we’ve created an approach that allows students to uncover key grammar concepts in the context of our articles and stories. With each issue, they’ll practice a featured grammar skill with our entertaining activities.

Our popular Grammar Cop column, which appears in every issue, focuses on one key grammar skill. Students must correct grammar errors in a delightful short feature on a fun topic. Check out this example from our September 2017 issue: Students practice capitalization while learning fun facts about chewing gum!

Need reinforcement? We've got you covered! For every Grammar Cop column, we offer a supplementary activity sheet online where students can continue practicing the featured skill. Click here for a sample!

For a fun extension activity, have a grammar scavenger hunt! Have students look through the issue of Storyworks, as well as old issues, other magazines, and classroom books, for examples of the grammar skill highlighted in the latest Grammar Cop.

You can also use a Storyworks text as a mentor text to teach a particular grammar skill. One of our teacher BFFs, Kristen Cruikshank, came up with a fantastic grammar lesson based on short fiction from Storyworks. Check it out here!

Do you have a creative method for teaching grammar using Storyworks or Storyworks Jr.? We want to hear from you!



A Hopeful Poem for Difficult Times

Lauren Tarshis

Hi teachers,

When I wrote "Our World Turned to Water," the nonfiction feature for the September issue of Storyworks, I never imagined that when it came out, millions of people would be facing the aftermath of terrible disasters. While this story is about events in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2016, I hope you’ll find that the facts and themes will help your students grasp what many Americans have recently experienced, and will inspire your students to want to help in any way they can.

We had asked poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich to write us an original poem to go along with my story. "What We Know" is about the spirit of coming together to overcome any difficult event; whether that be a flood, a hurricane, an earthquake, a wildfire, or a personal problem.

I hope that my article and Rebecca’s poem will provoke a rich discussion in your class.


Download and print the poem here.

Try This Reading Workshop Minilesson on Sensory Details!

Rebecca Leon

Hi, teachers! By now, you're probably settling in to the new school year. If you haven't had a chance to dig into the fantastic narrative nonfiction feature from the September issue of Storyworks Jr. (psst, it's about the Titanic!), we have great news! We've done some of the work for you! I have designed a Reading Workshop minilesson to go along with this riveting story.

Have your students grab their brand-new issue of Storyworks Jr., their Post-It notes, and pencils, 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 that help you imagine you're in a historical text.

  1. First, refresh your students' memories on the article. Remind them that you'll be working on ways to understand stories about history. Explain that when you read a historical text, you can put yourself in that time or place and think about what it would feel like to be there. There's someone who can help you with that: the author of the story. The author of a story often includes details that can help you see, hear, feel, and smell what's going on and imagine that you're with the people in the historical event you're reading about.
  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 "Jack imagined crowds cheering as the ship pulled in."

  3. Here's an example of a think-aloud: "In a few hours the Titanic would be at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean." Wow, I immediately have a picture in my mind.  I'm seeing this huge, beautiful ship sitting sadly on the sandy ocean floor with fish swimming by.  I think the author wanted to start off making a strong impression. [Continue reading] "More than 1,500 people would be dead. But at 11:00 that evening, April 14, 1912, everything seemed fine."  I'm feeling nervous, because I know what's going to happen. The people in the article don't, but I do. [Continue reading] . . . "brightly as diamonds." Look how the author described the sky. I'm seeing the sparkling stars. [Continue Reading] ". . . the hum of the ship's engines." Now I hear what Jack is hearing. [Read rest of section] I just read a lot of details that put me on the Titanic with Jack. I'm looking at "fancy as a room in the finest hotel."  I'm seeing a room with a big, luxurious bed with lots of pillows.
  4. Talk about the details you underlined and how they help you imagine what it must have been like to be on the Titanic. Reiterate that the author included these details on purpose, to help you put yourself in the story. Ask students what other details help them see or feel what it was like to be on the Titanic.
  5. Have students read the next section, "Too Quiet," and then turn and talk with a partner about which details helped you imagine being there. Hopefully, you'll hear students discussing the fact that the engines stopped and it was "strangely quiet." After students are finished with their turn and talks, bring up this detail and point out that the section header also gives you this sensory detail.
  6. Wrap up the lesson: Tell students that they can use this strategy while reading about any historical event. Have students return to their reading spots and continue reading the article, marking sensory details with a sticky note.

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 minilesson:

  • Have students keep reading the same article to practice.
  • Have students choose another Storyworks Jr. article to practice the strategy. You might guide them to the other nonfiction selections, such as the paired texts, Word Power, or debate.
  • 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 Jr. You can differentiate by distributing the lower-Lexile version of one of our articles to the students who would benefit from it.

Remember, Storyworks Jr. can be flexibly used however it works best for you. One question in the Teacher's Guide could become an idea for a minilesson. 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 storyworksideabook.scholastic.com.

3 September Stories You Don't Want to Miss

Kara Corridan

Hi, Storyworks Jr. teachers! Your October/November issue is ready for you, but we know some of you are still working on the September issue. Before you move onto the next issue, here are three stories in our September issue you don't want to miss, according to our beloved teacher advisers!

"Y'all did an awesome job including a fidget spinners debate story in the first issue! My students were so into their responses! I used it as a rapport-building activity during the first week of school and they haven't stopped asking for another article. The next one I plan on showing them is the hamburger/taco paired text!"

-Alejandro Sifuentes, bilingual grade 3 teacher in Round Rock, TX

"My students have already read the paired texts for this month. They loved learning about the history behind hamburgers and tacos, and the articles inspired inquiry surrounding the history of other favorite foods!"

-Lorraine Magee, grade 3 teacher in Natick, MA

"I'm excited to teach the paired nonfiction texts on the history of hamburgers and tacos because the paired texts allow so much flexibility for use, both in wholeclass and small group instruction."

-Mindi Rench, grade 3 teacher in Northbrook, IL

"I am so excited to use "Jesselyn Silva, Tough Girl" in my classroom. I know my students will be inspired by Jesslyn's growth mindset and perseverance!"

-Lorraine Magee