Learning to Ask and Answer Questions: Getting to Know the Tools Around Us | EL Education Curriculum

You are here

ELA G1:M1:U1

Learning to Ask and Answer Questions: Getting to Know the Tools Around Us

You are here:

In the first unit of this module, students launch their learning about tools and work by considering the best tools for specific tasks. Students consider the unit guiding question, "Why do we need tools?" as they interact with and read about tools. In the first part of the unit, students build their knowledge of tools by engaging with a variety of texts and completing "tool challenges." Each challenge presents students with a dilemma based on the question, "Which tool is best for the job?" As students engage in the challenges, they discuss, ask questions, respond to questions, and ultimately experience using tools for themselves.

During the second half of the unit, students engage in a series of focused read-alouds of the book Tools by Ann Morris. Through this text, students continue to learn about why people use tools, discover new and various tools, and decide how tools help make tasks easier. Students practice sorting tools into categories while using their question-asking skills as they work with a partner on the sorting task. Students deepen their knowledge about tools when they read about the functions of specific tools in the index of Tools. The Unit 1 Assessment is a final, less scaffolded, focused read-aloud during which students demonstrate their understanding of the different types of tools through partner discussions, sorting, and informally providing a written response to the question, "What job does this tool help to do?" (RI.1.1, RI.1.7, L.1.5a, SL.1.1a, L.1.5a and L.1.5b).

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

Why do we need tools?

  • Tools make our lives easier by helping us do work.
  • Tools help us create things.

How do habits of character help us do work?

  • Habits of character are behaviors that help us learn and do our work. 

How do we create a magnificent thing? 

  • People use tools and habits of character to create magnificent things.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Everyday Tools
  • Task: Informational Writing about Tools: What job does this tool help to do?
  • Targets (CCSS explicitly taught and assessed): RI.1.1, RI.1.7, SL.1.1, L.1.5a, L.1.5b
  • Texts: My Math Toolbox, I Use Science Tools, Tools, A Chef's Tools


Each unit in the K-2 Language Arts Curriculum has one standards-based assessment built in. The module concludes with a performance task at the end of Unit 3 to synthesize their understanding of what they accomplished through supported, standards-based writing.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards and to be taught during the integrated literacy block of the school day. This module also intentionally incorporates social studies content that many teachers across the nation are expected to address in first grade. These intentional connections are described below. (Based on your state or district context, teachers may also choose to address additional specific social studies standards during other parts of the school day.)

Habits of Character/Social-Emotional Learning Focus

Central to EL Education's curriculum is a focus on "habits of character" and social-emotional learning. Students work to become effective learners, developing mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration); work to become ethical people, treating others well and standing up for what is right (e.g., empathy, integrity, respect, compassion); and work to contribute to a better world, putting their learning to use to improve communities (e.g., citizenship, service).

In this module, students work to become effective learners by developing the mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life. Throughout Unit 1, students practice collaboration (one specific habit of character) as they engage in a series of challenges, which progress from a high level of teacher modeling to small groups and then partner work.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Accountable Independent Reading

The ability to read and comprehend text is the heart of literacy instruction. Comprehension is taught, reinforced, and assessed across all three components of this primary curriculum: Integrated module lessons, Integrated Labs, and the Reading Foundations Skills block (see Module Overview). For Unit 1, during the independent reading in the Skills block, reinforce the comprehension skills and standards that students are practicing during the Integrated Literacy block: 

  • RI.1.1 Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
    • Invite the students to read aloud a portion of an informational text and ask comprehension questions.
    • After a student reads aloud the first few pages of an informational text ask, "What questions do you have? What are you wondering?"
  • RI.1.7 Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.
    • When conferencing with students, have them explain how the illustration or details in the text relate to the key ideas in the text.
    • Ask:

"How do these illustrations help you understand the text?"

Supporting English Language Learners

The Meeting Students' Needs column in each lesson contains support for both ELLs and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and some supports can serve a wide range of student needs. However, ELLs have unique needs that cannot always be met with UDL support. According to federal guidelines, ELLs must be given access to the curriculum with appropriate supports, such as those that are specifically identified as "For ELLs" in the Meeting Students' Needs column.

  • Prioritizing lessons for classrooms with many ELLs: Consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lessons 1-3 on teaching and practicing the Think-Pair-Share protocol. Also consider expanding practice asking questions in Lesson 5. Students will benefit from more practice with using oral language to interact and collaborate with one another. If necessary, place less focus and condense instruction on the informational text read-alouds in Lessons 2-4. Students will have rich opportunities to ask and answer text-based questions as they read Tools further in the unit.
  • Language Dives: All first graders participate in their first full Language Dives in Unit 2. To gradually immerse ELLs in the Language Dive routine, Unit 1 offers optional Mini Language Dives for ELLs. Language Dives are guided conversations about the meaning of a sentence from the central texts, models, or learning targets. The conversation invites students to unpack complex syntax, or "academic phrases," as a necessary component of building both literacy and habits of mind. Students then apply their understanding of language structure as they work toward the assessments and performance task. Language Dives follow a Deconstruct-Reconstruct-Practice routine, in which students discuss and play with the meaning and purpose of the sentence and each chunk of the sentence; put the chunks back together into the original order and any possible variations; and practice using the chunks in their own speaking and writing. A consistent Language Dive routine is critical in helping all students learn how to decipher complex sentences and write their own. In addition, Language Dive conversations can hasten overall English language development for ELLs. Avoid using Language Dives to lecture about grammar; they are designed to prompt students as they grapple with the meaning and purpose of the chunks and the sentence. For more information on Language Dives, refer to the Supporting English Language Learners Guidance on the Tools page.
  • Goal 1 Conversation Cues: Encourage productive and equitable conversation with Conversation Cues, which are questions teachers can ask students to help achieve four goals: (Goal 1) encourage all students to talk and be understood; (Goal 2) listen carefully to one another and seek to understand; (Goal 3) deepen thinking; and (Goal 4) think with others to expand the conversation (adapted from Michaels, Sarah and O'Connor, Cathy. Talk Science Primer. Cambridge, MA: TERC, 2012. Based on Chapin, S., O'Connor, C., and Anderson, N. [2009]. Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn, Grades K-6. Second Edition. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions Publications). Refer to the Tools page for the complete set of cues. Goal 1 Conversation Cues are introduced in Lesson 3. Heightened language processing and development is a primary potential benefit for ELLs.
  • Diversity and inclusion: Investigate the routines, practices, rituals, beliefs, norms, and experiences that are important to ELLs and their families. Integrate this background into the classroom as students explore an informational text taking place across different cultures and countries. This is the first unit of the year. Students, especially newcomers, may be reticent to speak and participate. Allow students time to settle in to the new classroom environment and culture. Invite students to participate, but avoid putting them on the spot if it makes them feel bashful or self-conscious. Some students may find some of the protocols strange or inappropriate because they are not accustomed to interacting with peers of the opposite gender. Allow students to observe and ease into the experience. Consult with a guidance counselor, school social worker, or ESL teacher for further investigation of diversity and inclusion concerns.
  • Strategic grouping: As students are invited to pair up for various tasks and protocols, seriouslyconsider matching ELLs to a partner who has greater language proficiency. The conversations that happen as a result of such strategic grouping will greatly serve the language development of both partners.
  • Language processing time: Give ELLs sufficient time to think about what they want to say before they share with other students or write.
  • Tools and collaboration: Students will have time to explore and to categorize tools in their groups. This social interaction is beneficial for ELLs because it will allow them time to experiment and discover tools, as well as social skills, on their own terms. It may also pose a challenge for some students who have trouble verbalizing their thoughts. If there are students who speak the same home language, consider grouping them together and allowing them to discuss the activities in their home language. While circulating, facilitate ELLs' participation by suggesting activities they can do or phrases they can use to interact.
  • Focused reading: Students will participate in a series of focused read-aloud sessions during which they will hone their comprehension and interpretive skills by learning about different kinds of tools. Use illustrations and visual information as much as possible to support student comprehension.
  • Celebration: Celebrate the courage, enthusiasm, diversity, and bilingual skills that ELLs bring to the classroom. 

Texts to Buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please download the Trade Book List for procurement guidance.

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
A Chef's Tools
by Holden Strauss
One per classroom
ISBN: 9781499408348
by Ann Morris
Six per classroom
ISBN: 9780688161651
I Use Science Tools
by Kellie L. Hicks
One per classroom
ISBN: 9781617419317
My Math Toolbox
by Nancy Kelly Allen
One per classroom
ISBN: 9781617419607

Preparation and Materials

For basic lesson preparation, refer to the materials list and Teaching Notes in each lesson. The following are unusual materials that may take more time or effort to organize or prepare.

  • Lesson 1: Legal-size envelope for Mission Letter #1
  • Lesson 2: Tools Challenge 1: ladle, whisk, tongs, funnel, five vanilla-chocolate cookies or five two-colored math counters
  • Lesson 3: Tools Challenge 2: Cuisinaire rods of different lengths (two per small group), a measuring cup, a calculator, and 20 unifix cubes per group; Word Wall words: who, what, when, where, why, how
  • Lesson 4: Tools Challenge 3: eyedropper, magnifying glass, plastic tweezers, plastic beads, plastic cup, plastic tray, newspaper or table cloth (for easy cleanup)
  • Lesson 5: Legal-size envelope for Mission Letter #2
  • Lesson 6: Word Wall words: razor, help, farm, pound
  • Lesson 7: Word Wall words: cook, eat
  • Lesson 8: Word Wall words: work, easier 

Technology and Multimedia

  • Google Drawings - Students draw online: Students can draw their responses online rather than on paper to share on classroom blogs or websites with families. 
  • Seesaw - Create student learning portfolios to share with other students, families: Video/audio record students at work, and take photographs of work products to share with families and other students.
  • The Most Magnificent Thing: Science ReadingAdditional engineering projects: Students build other 'magnificent' things by following instructions (whole group, small group, independently).
    • Note: This site requires free sign-up and adult supervision and guidance is recommended. 


Labs are 1 hour of instruction per day. They are designed to promote student proficiency and growth.

There are 5 distinct Labs: Explore, Engineer, Create, Imagine, and Research. Each of the Labs unfolds across an entire module and takes place in four stages: Launch, Practice, Extend, and Choice and Challenge.

During their Lab time, students break up into smaller Lab groups and go to separate workstations (tables or other work spaces around the classroom). This structure creates a small collaborative atmosphere in which students will work throughout their Labs experience. It also supports the management of materials (since each workstation has its own materials).

Optional: Community, Experts, Fieldwork, Service, and Extensions


  • If you have a number of English Language Learners speaking the same native language, invite family members to come into the classroom to talk with ELLs (in their native language) about the tools students are researching. 
  • Invite community members or families in to explain how they use habits of character at their jobs or in their homes to get work done.
  • Invite family members or school members in during the days students are working to create their magnificent things.
  • Encourage family members to send in interesting materials to use for building the magnificent things.


  • Invite people from the various fields addressed in the missions (chef, cleaners, college students studying math or science, etc.) to share their experiences with tools of the trade.
  • Invite people from inside the school building to interview and see what tools they use: janitors, nurses, school chef, etc.
  • Invite family members to share the various tools they use at home or in the field.
  • Invite Ashley Spires (author of The Most Magnificent Thing) to talk to the class.
  • Interview teachers and staff in the school about how they use habits of character to make a learning community.
  • Visit a museum that display and explains a "magnificent thing" someone famous has built.


  • Visit a construction site and observe all the tools being used.
  • Visit a local hardware store to gather information about how tools are organized.
  • Check to see if a local home improvement store offers building workshops for schools.
  • Invite students to visit other classrooms to inventory the space for ideas for a magnificent thing.
  • Try using the magnificent things in other places in the building.


  • Create pamphlets or pins containing information about or encouraging the use of habits of character.
  • Video record the process of making a magnificent thing with students talking about the process and post it on the Internet.
  • Make an extra set of magnificent things and give them to other classrooms in the building. 


  • Seek out and label tools in the classroom.
  • Research unique tools or tools used for different jobs.
  • Interview family members about the tools they most frequently use and why.
  • Read a text from the Recommended Texts and Other Resources list about tools; study this tool in depth and share the learning with the class.
  • Create posters for each habit of character and write in characters' names that exemplify those habits of character while reading informational or literature texts.
  • Create a classroom signal for each habit of character to use when a teammate is showing a habit of character.
  • Save 5 minutes at the end of the day for students to shout out examples of habits of character they noticed being used that day.
  • Write thank-you letters to people in the building who have created something magnificent. Include knowledge of tools and habits of character they may have used.
  • Create a list of school tasks or projects that would require students to use each habit of character.
  • Read a text from the Recommended Texts and Other Resources list about an invention. Share the information with the class. 

Get updates about our new K-5 curriculum as new materials and tools debut.

Sign Up