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Leveled Texts

 Posted by on February 26, 2020  Reading Resources, Science Resources  Comments Off on Leveled Texts
Feb 262020

In my second year of teaching fourth grade, my science curriculum had a unit on plants. In an effort to integrate my English Language Arts and Science instruction, I wanted my students to read an informational text about plants during our small group guided reading time (In our district, guided reading was a time when students with similar reading abilities met in small groups to read and discuss a leveled book and receive more individualized reading instruction.)

So, I headed down to our guided reading library intent on finding a leveled text about plants for each of my guided reading groups.  However, I was met with not one book about plants in the entire library.  In an effort to be respectful of your time, I’ll spare you the details about the hours I spent in the coming days combing through our school library, area libraries, our local AEA catalog, online sites and resource catalogs and still could not find what I needed.  I found books at a few levels, but not at the levels all of my kids could read independently.  The books I did find were about plants, yet didn’t cover the same content from title to title.  Then there was the problem of needing multiple copies for everyone in the group.  I have to admit, I finally just gave up on the idea and read my kids a text aloud in addition to round robin reading from our old textbook.

This is one of the experiences that lead me to the development of StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way.  Through our research, I’ve found I am far from alone in my quest for science informational texts aligned to my curriculum that all my students could read.  In our latest survey about science informational texts, many teachers responded they were having issues finding appropriate informational texts for the Next Generation Science Standards:

“Most science books are nonfiction and that can be harder to read especially for lower readers.”

“I read difficult text to students and reword text so they understand.”

“Finding resources already integrated together are a challenge. It is up to me to find appropriate text that aligns with science and try to figure out which standards align.”

“I struggle with finding the texts I need due to lack of time to search.  I also struggle with finding the texts I need to match what I am teaching.”

StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way helps teachers with these struggles by providing informational texts written specifically for each Next Generation Science Standard Performance Expectation.  All students can access the texts online at their specific Lexile level.  This innovation means all students can independently read the same text with the same content. 

One of the criticisms of leveled texts presented in labeled bins in a classroom is that children may feel labeled as a good reader or a struggling reader by their designated level.  Our texts help to address this concern.  Since teachers are choosing the Lexile level of StarrMatica’s texts behind the scenes, the level is never displayed for the child and the content of the text is the same for each level.  So, a student doesn’t know there are multiple levels of the text read in his/her classroom.

Another criticism of leveled texts is how much a child’s reading choices are limited by the books available in his/her school at his/her designated level.  This criticism speaks to me as a former fourth grade teacher.  I had access to sets of leveled readers at our school, but there are only so many books and so many copies of each we could afford.  Having sets of texts about the same topic, all aligned to my curriculum and that all of my students could read independently would have been a game changer in my room.

If your school doesn’t ascribe to book leveling or guided reading, you still may be interested in choosing different Lexile levels or different text structures based on how the text will be used with your students.  If you are reading as a class, maybe you want to choose the highest level because, you will have an ability to discuss vocabulary and to address student questions.  If you are reading in small groups, maybe you want to have half of a group read the text written as a problem/solution piece and half of the group read the text as a descriptive piece before discussing the similarities and differences between the two sets.  You might also be interested in additional customization options to allow you to turn on and off voiceovers to read the text aloud, to choose ELA standards, and to select graphics.

You can visit http://www.starrmatica.com/index.php?/main/texts to learn more about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way.  Send me an email with questions or just share your classroom struggles and triumphs with informational texts.  I would love to hear what is and isn’t working for you!

Get to Know the StarrMatica Team: Sarah Wassner Flynn

 Posted by on February 26, 2020  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Get to Know the StarrMatica Team: Sarah Wassner Flynn
Feb 262020

Hi! I’m Sarah and I am a writer for StarrMatica. Writing for kids is a passion of mine I developed at my first job out of college with National Geographic KIDS magazine. Prior to that point, I had visions of working for a fashion magazine. But I soon realized writing for a younger audience and sharing stories about the world with them is really fulfilling. I soon forgot my fashion dreams.

After National Geographic, I did a stint at a couple of magazines in NYC, including CosmoGirl!, a spin-off of the (much more) grown up Cosmopolitan magazine. Transitioning from writing for kids to writing for teens was a natural progression, and I realized my future would likely be in writing for younger audiences.

Fast-forward a few years and I decided to venture into the world of freelance. I was expecting my first child and wanted a more flexible position which allowed me to write for a variety of audiences. That’s when I came into writing not only for National Geographic Kids Magazine but for National Geographic books as well. Writing books soon proved to be even more rewarding than writing magazine articles, because I am able to dig my heels into some very fun topics, whether it’s trash (like for This Book Stinks!), Greek Mythology (Weird But True Know It All: Ancient Egypt) or the science and culture of all things “cute” (This Book Is Cute). I’ve done several fact-based books, where I can really flex my research muscles and find super fun (and weird!) facts for books like Weird But True and 5,000 Awesome Facts. All told, I have contributed to or authored some 20 books and recently won a few awards for my work. It’s a fun, fulfilling career I am very lucky to have!

Though I am not strictly a science writer, I am interested in exploring the world around us and enjoy breaking down more complex topics into information kids can easily understand–which is what brought me to StarrMatica. I really enjoy the process of writing science content for kids from kindergartners to fifth graders, including finding the topics and coming up with fun, fresh approaches to explaining various concepts. I hope my work not only helps students but their teachers as well!

When I am not writing, I am busy running around with my four children, ages 11, 9, 7 and a newborn. The older three are at a perfect age to enjoy (and critique!) my work, so I often run whatever I write by them for their honest opinions–of which they have many!

It’s funny to look back at 22-year-old me who thought she’d wind up as a famous editor of a fashion magazine. While my life may be a bit less glamorous, it’s probably a lot more fun the way it all played out.

Phenomenon for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – 4-PS3-1

 Posted by on February 12, 2020  Phenomenon Ideas  Comments Off on Phenomenon for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – 4-PS3-1
Feb 122020

4-PS3-1 Use evidence to construct an explanation relating the speed of an object to the energy of that object.

If you are teaching the Next Generation Science Standards and are looking for phenomena ideas, you’ve come to the right place! I like to think about phenomena as lesson starters. They are photos or videos showing an observable event in the universe and are used to get kids thinking, asking questions, and discussing their prior knowledge. For more information about using phenomena, there is a handy printable guide and video here:

And now, on to our penguin phenomenon!

Did you know that even though penguins are classified as birds, they can’t fly? But as you can see in this photo, that doesn’t mean that penguins can’t become airborne. Penguins have the ability to hurtle themselves from the water in a spectacular way.

A penguin’s launch through the air actually begins on the ice. Penguins spread oil on their feathers with their beaks to make them slick in the water and to trap air between their feathers and skin. This air becomes extremely important later in the water.

The penguin starts the process of launching back onto the ice by actually diving down, as deep as 1,800 feet. That’s the same distance as six football fields! The dive gives the penguin a “running start” to its launch. When it gets deep enough, it turns back toward the surface. As it begins to swim upward, the penguin releases tiny bubbles of air that it had trapped between its feathers and skin. The bubbles cover the penguin’s body like a jacket. The bubbles store energy. As the penguin releases them, more and more energy transfers to the penguin, helping it rise through the water faster and faster.

Energy from the water collides with the energy made by the penguin using its flippers, tail, and tiny bubbles. The penguin’s speed, just as it breaks the surface of the water, is now twice as fast as it was when it was swimming downward! The faster the penguin’s speed, the higher it will rise as it flies out of the water toward the ice.


This excerpt is from the text: The Flight of a Penguin by Michelle Negron Bueno.  The Flight of a Penguin is found in, StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way, a collection of informational texts written specifically to address every K-5 NGSS Performance Expectation.  All texts in the collection begin with a phenomenon photo and are written at six different Lexile levels, so all students can read the same content at their reading level.  You can find out more about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way here: http://www.starrmatica.com/index.php?/main/texts