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These Learning Extensions are Out of This World!

Anna Starecheski

We couldn't think of a better nonfiction feature for this year's final issue of Storyworks Jr. than Lauren Tarshis's "Disaster in Space," about the Apollo 13 mission. We know that outer space is always a high-interest topic for kids, and we hope that your students will be left hungry for more knowledge about space, NASA, engineering, and more! Here are a few resources to get them started.


TO VIEW: A photo timeline of the mission on space.com

TO DO: A small-group discussion

Your students will be fascinated to click through these behind-the-scenes photos from before, during, and after the Apollo 13 mission. We especially love the photos (like the one above) showing the extensive training the astronauts went through.

LEARNING TASK: In small groups, have students look through the photos and discuss what they learned about how the astronauts prepared for their mission. Why was all this practice important? How do they think it helped the astronauts when they found themselves in a crisis?


TO WATCH: A question and answer session with the Apollo 13 crew

TO DO: Write a letter

Astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise are still alive today (Jim Swigert sadly died of cancer in 1982) and your students can see them in this video of a Q&A session at a school. Once you click the link, the video will start at the 1:39 mark, which is when the Q&A starts. It goes until approximately the 8:30 mark.

LEARNING TASK: Have students write letters to Fred Haise, Jim Lovell, or Gene Kranz asking them a question they didn't hear answered in the video. You can mail their letters to the address on this page, but note that because of the age of the men, it is unlikely that they'll respond.


TO EXPLORE: An interactive website for kids from NASA

TO DO: Write a paragraph or make a poster

This section of the NASA website is interactive for kids, and there's a great selection of videos about the moon, including one about the Apollo missions. Have students explore on their own or in pairs.

LEARNING TASK: Have each student write a paragraph or create a poster about at least two new facts they learned from the website. Why did they find these facts interesting? How do they add to their understanding of the article?


TO READ: A story from the Storyworks Jr. archives

TO DO: Create a timeline

Did you know that as a Storyworks Jr. subscriber, you get access to all our previous issues? These paired texts from the October/November 2016 issue are about explorers of the past and the current Mars rovers.

LEARNING TASK: Have students create a timeline of exploration from the 1400s to today, including what they learned in these paired texts and "Disaster in Space."



Bring Some Fun Into Your Classroom With Reader's Theater

Kriscia Cabral

Editor's note: Kriscia Cabral is a Scholastic Top Teaching blogger and a big fan of Storyworks. Kriscia loves to use reader's theater in her class to build fluency and get kids working together in a unique way. Check out her strategy below and try it in your classroom for some post-testing fun!


I love reader's theater, and it's a big part of my classroom. We do a weekly reader's theater presentation using every read-aloud play provided in Storyworks. The first time we did it, the students wanted to act it out for the class instead of simply reading it from their desks. One group got the idea of adding scenes and props. Another group thought it would be fun to intrepret the story as a puppet show! My favorite part of this strategy is that it gives me an opportunity to hand over learning to my students and let them take the lead.



  • Fluency
  • Comprehension
  • Collaboration
  • Compromise
  • Presentation skills


The Lesson:

  • First, I have students form groups. Often they pick their groups themselves, but sometimes I select them based on reading groups, or if I want them to work as a mix of high, medium and low readers. I also have the kids assign their own roles within their groups.
  • Then, students decide how they want to present the play to the class. Sometimes this takes the form of a puppet show, or a podcast with students recording themselves with different voices, or a live-action play. Each group gets to select how they'd like to present the play. The possibilities are so exciting for the kids!  



  • What I love most about Storyworks reader's theater is that the plays usually tell a story that my students have never heard. Many times it's based on an event in history that they can learn from.
  • We often take our productions "on the road" and share with other classes and grade levels who sign up to experience our productions. My kids bring their magazine copies along to share with audience members. This reinforces our school-wide cultural of literacy and community. And we always have time at the end for rich discussions among all of the students, sharing what performers learned from their interpretation of the play.



I love this activity, because it lets students take charge of their own learning and build skills while having tons of fun!

Five Books to Teach Earth Day

Anna Starecheski

With Earth Day coming up this month, we wanted to share with you a few great books to add to your classroom library. And of course, as a Storyworks and/or Storyworks Jr. subscriber, remember that you have access to the archives, with many stories perfect for Earth Day!



Luna & Me by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw tells the true story of Julia Butterfly Hill, who also happens to be the subject of the play in the March/April issue of Storyworks Jr.! Julia went to extreme lengths to save a redwood tree named Luna from being cut down by loggers—she actually lived in Luna for more than two years. This picture book version of her story makes a great companion to our play, and is delightful on its own as well.



One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul is another story of an inspiring woman who did incredible work for the environment. Isatou Ceesay saw a huge problem in her home country of Gambia: plastic bags were everywhere. Isatou figured out a way to recycle the plastic bags and transform her community. This picture book is great as a read-aloud or as independent reading for your more struggling readers.



Wishtree by Katherine Applegate is beloved by many, and for good reason. It's told from the point of view of a wise old oak tree watching over a neighborhood. This story celebrates nature in a way kids can understand and appreciate, all while telegraphing a clear message of acceptance, friendship, and hope. This longer book is ideal for readers in grades 3-6.



Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty is a delightful, educational picture book that's ideal for struggling readers. It's just what it sounds like: The history of the Earth, told from the point of view of Earth. It's packed with fun facts and is sure to enthrall your science-minded kids!



Who Was Rachel Carson? by Sarah Fabiny tells the story of an incredible environmental activist who warned the world about the dangers of DDT and pesticides. We know that the "Who Was" series is a staple of classrooms everywhere because of their kid-friendly approach to biographies, and this one is exceptional!



Digging Deeper Into Vocab With Word Power

Leslie Smothers

Editor's note: We found 4th grade teacher Leslie Smothers on Twitter, and we couldn't be happier to be in touch with her! Leslie uses Storyworks in super-creative ways, and we love her strategy for digging deeper with our short nonfiction feature Word Power, on the first pages of every issue of Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. The best part: She's provided you with step-by-step instructions and her printable activity sheets!


Teachers are always searching for ways to increase student vocabulary and enhance student writing. Word Power in each issue of Storyworks can do just that! With this text, my students enjoy the word hunt and, with a "shades of meaning" activity, they dig deeper into vocabulary. Shades of meaning is a vocabulary strategy that shows students the subtle differences in words that are viewed as synonyms. For example, would you rather your principal was furious or mad at you? See what I mean?


My students LOVED “Death by...Chili Pepper?” in the March/April 2018 issue of Storyworks. Here's how I used this strategy with that story:


  • After reading the text, they went on a word hunt to find four synonyms for spicy.



  • Once they discovered the words in the text, students evaluated which word had the strongest and weakest meaning. They had to not only justify answers, but also draw a picture of each word. The justification is simply putting their rationale for each choice on paper, while the pictures help with both vocabulary retention and understanding. 
  • To take it one step deeper, students searched for an antonym for spicy in the Word Power text. There is only one. 



  • Once located, they determined four synonyms for this word on their own. Per my students, this was much more challenging because they had to reply on their own vocabulary knowledge compared to searching the text for synonyms.  Similar to the previous activity, students evaluate the synonyms for strongest and weakest meanings. This included justification and pictures of words selected. 



Here is a printable PDF of my Shades of Meaning Vocabulary Strategy activity that correlates with the Word Power in the March/April 2018 issue of Storyworks.

Want to use it with future Storyworks Word Power text?  Here is a Universal Shades of Meaning Vocabulary Strategy activity that has the word box blank!


I hope your students love this vocabulary building activity as much as mine!

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!

Our Gift to You: A Play for MLK Day

Anna Starecheski

Happy New Year, teachers! We hope your holiday break was restful and rejuvenating! As you dive into the second half of the school year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is fast approaching and we wanted to give you a great way to teach your students about this incredible hero. This play, Sitting Down for Dr. King, tells the story of the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-ins of 1960 through the eyes of a little boy who witnesses the protest. It's a unique way for students to learn about Martin Luther King Jr., because he isn't actually in the play. Instead, the story focuses on Dr. King's message of nonviolence and how he inspired these brave students to sit at the lunch counter despite endless abuse and harassment. 


We've bypassed the paywall to bring you this play for free! You can download and print a PDF here. And if you're a Storyworks subscriber, you can access all the resources that go along with it here. We hope your students will enjoy learning more about Dr. King's powerful message. 

5-day Science Extension from ELA Nonfiction: Egg-cellent!

Erin Burns

Editor's note: We go bonkers when Storyworks teachers help students take their learning further! We were all smiles when upstate New York 4th-grade teacher Erin Burns shared her amazing 5-day science research extension with us! This idea sprung from the December 2017/January 2018 paired texts, The History of Teeth. We convinced Erin to share this powerful lesson, including highlighted science standards, with our Storyworks community. Please give it a try or share how your class created a learning journey with our nonfiction stories.



Day 1: My 4th-grade class began by having dictionary races to look up the vocabulary that went along with the article "The History of Teeth." We put our words in our Word Nerd journals and began diving in to the text. (Note: For more info on Erin's genius Word Nerd journals, click here!) We read the story aloud and compared the ancient practices of tooth care to what we do today. It was a class consensus that we are happy we live in modern times.



Day 2: We used the Storyworks resource Finding Evidence. We were able to do a closer read and analyze the text more. Many students who wear braces came to the conclusion that they like wearing metal braces instead of cat intestines to help straighten their teeth! This article got my class thinking quite a bit about a tooth—especially since we were lucky enough to have a student lose a tooth the same week we were reading! We wondered: What is a tooth made of? How long does it take a tooth to decay? What does a dentist see when they drill into a tooth? It was time to do some research and science activities.


We read an article by Primary Junction on Teachers Pay Teachers about the different layers of a tooth: crown, enamel, dentin, pulp, and nerves. After reading, the students constructed a paper model and positioned it on red paper to represent the gums. They labeled the parts and we made a display.



Day 3: Time for an “Egg”speriment! We hard-boiled a dozen eggs. Our class split into groups of four and each group got three eggs. I explained the shells of the eggs are like the enamel on our teeth. The whites would be the dentin and the yolk would be the pulp. Each group had three jars: one with apple cider vinegar, one with dark soda, and one with water. They placed one egg in each and predicted what they thought would happen to each layer of the egg.



Day 4: We retrieved our eggs from each cup to see what happened over a 20-hour period. Students observed the color of the enamel, the texture, and even the smell! We then tried brushing the shell (enamel) to see if we could remove the stains. Students made observations and realized brushing could not undo all the damage. We placed our eggs back into the cups to see what tomorrow would bring.




Day 5: We took our eggs back out of the cups for one final observation. Students made observations of the shell (enamel) again and this time we decided to open up the “tooth” to see the inside layers. What a discovery to see what acidic and sugary foods did to our teeth! Students filled out an observation log and made conclusions based on our readings and experiment. Thank you, Storyworks, for helping us link ELA and science!



See how this lesson aligns to New York State Standards here!


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.