Storyworks Jr.: Differentiating Instruction with the Video Read-Aloud

We know that 3rd grade is a critical year for both kids and teachers. It’s often the first year of high-stakes testing, for one thing. It’s also when students cross a crucial bridge in literacy, from learning to read to reading to learn. For a long time, 3rd-grade teachers had been asking us for a magazine just for their students—which is why we created Storyworks Jr. (You can read more about how and why we created this extension of the successful Storyworks brand here.) As the magazine’s editor, I’m excited to tell you about one of its strongest forms of teacher support, which happens to be a powerful differentiation tool. (More on that in a minute.)

Storyworks Jr. offers readers a wide range of genres—fiction, paired texts, read-aloud plays, poetry, debates, writing activities—and lots of nonfiction. And within all that super engaging text, we give teachers plenty of opportunities for differentiation. For example, our main narrative nonfiction article appears in a lower-Lexile version, a higher-level version, and what we’re calling a “starter” version, which is a very basic presentation of the facts for struggling readers. We’ve got audio versions of several stories, too. 

But we’re especially proud of our new approach to video, which we’re calling the Video Read-Aloud. We see it as a real game-changer for instruction (and that’s exactly how teachers who’ve used it are describing it!).

Our Video Read-Aloud is basically a hybrid of everything that’s most effective about audio, and everything that’s most engaging about video. It lets teachers build interest and provide background information. At the same time it supports students by modeling a fluent reading of a text that’s visually inviting. 

For instance, our first Video Read-Aloud was about the eruption of Mount St. Helens. In this new format, the author (in this case, our Editorial Director, Lauren Tarshis) reads her narrative nonfiction article, while photos and footage pull students further into the story. Teachers tell us that for those students who don’t know the first thing about camping (which is what the boys in our story were doing when they were caught in the eruption), the video immediately allows them to envision the experience. And it dovetails perfectly with Common Core’s Speaking and Listening standards.

The video serves as an ideal way to differentiate. For instance, struggling readers can watch it as a “first read,” and then read the article in small groups or with teacher support. They can also watch the video while reading along at home or in the classroom, to reinforce the story and build fluency. Meanwhile, on-level readers can watch the first two or so minutes of the video, then turn it off. (This way their interest is piqued but they don’t know how the story will unfold.) They can then read the article in full, and watch the rest of the video.   

Curious about our debut Video Read-Aloud? You can watch it—and check out our prototype issue—by clicking here