STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday: Snow and Ice– Writing Tips & Resources


Accordions and Information

The five-paragraph essay. Love it or hate it, it’s a thing. One of the reasons it is so hard to teach? Young writers rarely see pure examples in their pleasure reading. Still, this formulaic approach can help young writers learn to organize their thinking and writing.

So, how do we teach them to use this tool?

Step By Step

My favorite is the accordion method. Start by printing each of the sentences below on a separate sheet of colored paper.

Green paper:

  • Bugs have wicked cool mouthparts.
  • These mouthparts allow insects to chow down on their favorite food.

Yellow paper:

  • Some bugs have hypodermic needles for mouths.
  • A few insects use sponges for mouths.
  • And, others have strong grinding jaws.

Post those in random order on the board or wall. Challenge students to physically re-arrange them into a logical paragraph. This can be done together on the board or students can copy onto sticky notes and work individually on their desks.

Now, on the board, lay the sentences out with the yellow ones indented to look like an outline. Introduce the color scheme and provide examples from texts they are familiar with (textbooks, student writing, etc.):

Green = General topic

Yellow = Reason, detail or fact

Red = Example or explanation

Accordion it!

Next, demonstrate how a paragraph, like an accordion, can be lengthened if we add additional information. Show the new sentences below and have students move these examples into place on the outline.

Red paper:

  • The assassin bug stabs its sharp proboscis through the exoskeleton of other insects.
  • The house fly uses its labella to sop up spit-soaked food.
  • The mandibles of a cockroach crush with a force five times stronger than human jaws.

Rewrite on the board in standard paragraph form.

Once students are comfortable with the color scheme, challenge them to use highlighter markers to color-code pre-written paragraphs. You can write your own or use examples from textbooks or STEM Tuesday’s reading list. For example, Page 30 of What was the Ice Age:

“To have enough energy, Megatherium needed to eat a lot! It ate grasses, buts, and fruits. It dug roots out of the ground with its sharp claws. It stood on its hind legs to pull leaves from the highest branches. Some scientists think Megatherium might have even eaten meat.”

Once they are ready, have students use this color-coded sticky notes to create a paragraph about their favorite animal.  For some fun, let students swap yellow and red notes to create silly paragraphs.


To extend the lesson, demonstrate how a single paragraph can be lengthened like an accordion into a 5 paragraph essay, a section of a longer work, or an entire book. For example, in Ice: Chilling Stories from a Disappearing World students can study the introduction as one accordion and the entire book as another.

Finally, have students examine nonfiction trade books, magazines, and a variety of informational texts. Are super-structured paragraphs common? Discuss why and why not. Are they more common in one type of informational text? Is the formula more common in the over all text than as paragraphs? Do students prefer them or not?


Prepared by:

Heather L. Montgomery writes books for kids who are wild about animals. She is author of 17 nonfiction books for kids, including What’s In Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s Treasures and the upcoming Sick! The Twists and Turns Behind Animal Germs.

STEM Tuesday: Snow and Ice– In the Classroom

What can we learn by studying ice and snow? From chemistry to poetry, try these classroom activities to get your students excited about the cold!


Mission: Arctic: A Scientifc Adventure to a Changing North Pole: Weiss-Tuider, Katharina, Schneider, Christian: 9781771649568: BooksMission: Arctic: A Scientific Adventure to a Changing North Pole

by Katharina Weiss-Tuider and Christian Schneider


Until now, the world of the Arctic was a mystery. This guide follows the 2019 MOSAiC expedition whose mission was to let their vessel freeze in the sea ice and drift to the north pole. Why? To study how the Arctic is changing. Featuring photographs, facts, diagrams and more; the thrilling world of the Arctic will come alive as readers discover its secrets.


Student Activity

The MOSAic expedition site has a whole list of educational activities for elementary to high school students. They can learn more about the Arctic ecosystem, make ice cores, and much more. Find the entire list here: Also check out educational resources about the expedition here:




What Was the Ice Age? by Nico Medina and Who HQ

What Was the Ice Age?

by Nico Medina

A part of the “What Was” series, this book is a look at our world 20,000 years ago when glaciers and ice covered most of our planet.


Student Activity

All kinds of interesting mammals lived during the Ice Age. Have students research some of their favorites. Here are some ideas: woolly mammoths, saber-toothed cats, giant ground sloths, and Irish elk. Have them create diagrams of their ice-age mammal, drawing pictures of them, labeling different parts, and including facts when they can. Here are a few sites where students can find more information about their favorite ice-age mammals:



Out of the Ice: How Climate Change Is Revealing the Past: Eamer, Claire, Shannon, Drew: 9781771387316: Books

Out of the Ice: How Climate Change Is Revealing the Past

by Claire Eamer and Drew Shannon

A fascinating look into how unexpected things have been emerging from ice melting due to global warming. The book  discusses glacial archaeology, a scientific field in which researchers study these finds and discover new things about our past.


Student Activity

Ice mummies are revealed when ancient ice melts. And there is so much we can discover about their lives by studying their remains. Ask students to read more about an ice mummy, such as Ötzi the iceman, and then write a story about a day in the life of that person. Tell students to include factual information in their narratives, citing their sources.


Ice! Poems About Polar Life Book Review and Ratings by Kids - Douglas Florian

Ice! Poems About Polar Life

by Douglas Florian

With poetry, wordplay and lots of humor, poet Douglas Florian introduces children to animals that live in the polar region, and also explores scientific concepts like global warming, animal adaptations, and much more.


Student Activity

Take a look at a different part of the cold—snowflakes. Show students some macro photographs of snowflakes, explaining how each is unique. Have students pick a favorite and write a poem about its shape and form. The Library of Congress has some great resources for students.




Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. Visit her at

Feeling Lucky with Author Heather Alexander

Welcome to MUF, Heather Alexander, author of The Good Luck Book: A Celebration of Global Traditions, Superstitions, and Folklore (DK Children), out November 2023. Heather Alexander is the acclaimed author of more than 70 books for children, and she also works as a children’s book editor, packager, and literary scout. Here, she talks to MUF contributor Andrea Pyros about luck, her research process, and why we really cover our mouths when we yawn. 

Mixed-Up Files: Tell us a little bit about The Good Luck Book. Where did the idea for this come from?

Heather Alexander: THE GOOD LUCK BOOK is a large, illustrated, middle-grade nonfiction book that explores fascinating traditions and superstitions from all over the world. Kids will discover how and why they started, why people still do them today, if they hold up to science, the good luck charms we share, and the unique ways we wish for good fortune. All my nonfiction titles spring from my curiosity of the world around me or from articles that spark my interest. This one originated very close to home. You see, I generally pride myself on being very logical, but then I realized how many little superstitious rituals I do without thinking. They range from the typical, like crossing fingers or wishing on shooting star or blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, to the more personal, like knocking the side of an airplane before I enter. It got me thinking about lucky numbers, lucky foods, lucky animals–and when the list went on and on, I knew there was a book there.

The Good Luck Book by Heather Alexander

MUF: What was your research process like? How did you find all the different traditions and beliefs about luck?

HA: I always scour libraries and used bookstores, both in person and online. And for this book, I looked at a lot of university folklore websites and even checked out international message boards on the topic. Everything I found was then cross-referenced for multiple sources. There are sooooooo many superstitions and lucky charms throughout the world so I tried to focus on the more popular ones. Also, there are a myriad of variations on similar rituals, depending on where you live or where your family is from, so the one I ended up choosing may not be exactly way the reader has heard it.

MUF: How did you and your illustrator work together? What was that like? (The art looks great!)

HA: I know, right? The art is stupendous! It was created by four different artists: Ruth Burrows, Teo Georgiev, Sonny Ross, and Sarah Walsh. Usually, I only have the honor of working with one illustrator on a book, but because there was so much to illustrate in a relatively short time Stefan Georgio, the art director at DK, decided the more, the merrier–and the faster. While I didn’t interact directly with the talented artists, I did give art notes through Vicky Armstrong, my editor, and Stefan.

MUF: We’re sure you learned all sorts of fascinating things during your research and writing journey on The Good Luck Book. Can you tell us a few facts that really surprised you?

Author Heather Alexander

HA: It’s hard to pick a few! How about:

• Covering your mouth when you yawn comes from a very old superstition. Your hand was there to block spirits from coming out of or going into your open mouth!
• “If birds fly low, expect rain and a blow,” is a popular saying. Can birds predict “fowl” weather? It seems so! Most birds have a Vitali organ. This is a special receptor in their middle-ear that can sense a drop in atmospheric pressure, and that drop means a storm is on its way.
• Many shops and homes in India hang seven chilies and a lemon from a thread on the door. It’s an old superstition meant to keep away Alakshmi, the goddess of misfortune. She likes eating sour and hot things, so if she’s happy with the treat, it’s believed she won’t enter to bring bad luck. But, it turns out, this is actually a supersmart natural pesticide. When the cotton thread pierces the chilies and lemon, a pungent and sour odor is slowly released, and this stench helps to repel flies and mosquitoes!

MUF: What do you want readers to know about the concept of luck?
HA: Lucky charms can be fun and superstitions interesting to learn about, but the most important thing is to make smart choices and search for real answers. We each have the power to decide what we believe and what we don’t, what we let scare us and what we don’t, what wishes we send out into the universe, and—most of all—what kind of luck we bring to ourselves and the people around us.

Learn more about Heather at her website or on Instagram @halexanderbooks.
The Good Luck Book: A Celebration of Global Traditions, Superstitions, and Folklore by Heather Alexander, illustrations by: Ruth Burrows, Teo Georgiev, Sonny Ross, and Sarah Walsh.