Teach this now

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.

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!