Reading Closely: Learning about Habits of Character | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA G1:M1:U2

Reading Closely: Learning about Habits of Character

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In Unit 2, students build on their understanding of tools and work by considering how habits of character also help us do work. This unit introduces three habits of character that help students be effective learners: initiative, collaboration, and perseverance. Students study these habits through literature and experience. They engage in a series of active close read-alouds of The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, studying the main character's behavior and actions as she initiates a project, collaborates with her pet, and perseveres through multiple iterations of her magnificent thing until she gets it just right. Each day as they read this text, students take on their own "challenges" as a way to apply and practice the habits of character. In the culminating task for the close read-aloud series of lessons, students to respond in writing to the question, "How was the girl able to make such a magnificent thing?" This gives them an opportunity to show what they know about habits of character and how these habits help to do work.

In the second half of the unit, students build upon their literary and character analysis as they engage in focused read-alouds of The Little Red Pen by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel. During this series of lessons, students continue to analyze how the characters' actions and words reveal habits of character and how those habits help the characters accomplish the ultimate goal of the story. The final, less-scaffolded, focused read-aloud of the unit serves as the Unit 2 Assessment: Students continue to engage in asking and answering questions specific to the characters' words and actions, vocabulary from the text, and the connection between the illustrations and the text. Students write in response to the final focusing questions: "How are the characters showing collaboration in this part of the text? What work does this help them do? Use evidence to support your answer" (RL.1.1, RL.1.3, RL.1.4, RL.1.7).

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

How do habits of character help us do work?

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

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Habits of Character 
  • Task: Focused Read-aloud Session 4 and Writing about Habits of Character
  • Targets (standards explicitly taught and assessed): RL.1.1, RL.1.3, RL.1.4, RL.1.7
  • Texts: The Most Magnificent Thing and The Little Red Pen


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 2, students study initiative, collaboration, and perseverance both through literature and carefully planned challenges, which offer practice and experience with each of these three habits.


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, Labs, and the Reading Foundations Skills Block (see Module Overview).

For Unit 2, during the independent reading in the Skills Block, reinforce the comprehension skills and standards that students are practicing during the Integrated Literacy block:

  • RL.1.1 Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
    • Invite the students to read aloud a portion of a literature text and ask comprehension questions.
    • After a student reads aloud the first few pages of an informational text ask: 

"Who is in the story? What has happened so far?"

  • RL.1.3 Describe characters, settings, or major events in a story, using key details.  
    • Invite students to draw about the book they've read in two boxes: problem and character response.
    • Ask:

      "What big event or change happened in the story? What did the character do, say, or think when that happened?"

  • RL.1.4 Identify words and phrases in stories or poems that suggest feelings or appeal to the senses.
    • Show students how to mark words or phrases with an emoticon while reading their own story.
    • Ask:

      "What words or phrases showed you how a character was feeling?"

  • RL.1.7 Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its characters, settings, or events.  
    • When conferencing with students, have them explain how the illustration or details in the text match a portion of the story.
    • Ask:

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

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 7-9 on identifying characters' feelings by examining illustrations. This will provide students more time to prepare for the assessment. In addition, be sure to complete the Language Dives in Lessons 4, 5, and 6. If necessary, place less focus and condense instruction on independent writing sessions. While developing this skill is critical, students' ability to write for extended periods of time will be restricted if they have not spent sufficient time working to comprehend the content knowledge and language required for the task.
  • Language Dives: All students participate in their first Language Dive in Lesson 6. ELLs can participate in two optional, connected Language Dives in Lessons 4 and 5. Most lessons also offer 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. All 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. To maximize language practice and accommodate time, consider dividing or reviewing each Language Dive over multiple lessons. 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 the Language Dive Guide to lecture about grammar; the Guide is designed to prompt students as they grapple with the meaning and purpose of the chunks and the sentence. Consider providing students with a Language Dive log inside a folder to track Language Dive sentences and structures and collate Language Dive note-catchers. Assure students that this log will not be graded; however, consider inviting students to use their log and note-catchers to gauge the progress of their speaking and writing skills. For more information on Language Dives, refer to the Supporting English Language Learners Guidance on the Tools page
  • Goal 1 Conversation Cues: Continue to 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 Unit 1, 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 informational texts taking place across different cultures and countries. The anchor text, The Most Magnificent Thing, celebrates creativity and ingenuity. However, many students may come from cultures or households in which children are not expected or encouraged to demonstrate these qualities. Be aware that the main character of the story may seem like an anomaly to some students. Provide sufficient background knowledge so that students can more easily relate to the themes of the story. 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.  
  • Close Read-aloud and Habits of Character: Students will participate in a series close read-aloud sessions during which they will hone their comprehension and interpretive skills by determining the feelings of the characters in the text. Use illustrations and visual information as much as possible to support student comprehension. Provide students opportunities to act and to move. At the same time, students will analyze the main character's process in creating a "magnificent thing," by emphasizing the habits of character she demonstrates throughout the story. The vocabulary related to habits of character may prove challenging to some students. Review the Working to Become Effective Learners anchor chart often, providing illustrative examples. Check for comprehension frequently.
  • 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
The Little Red Pen
by Janet Stevens and Susan Crummel
Six per classroom
ISBN: 9780152064327
The Most Magnificent Thing
by Ashley Spires
Six per classroom
ISBN: 9781554537044

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 #3, cups (four per student), 15 sticky notes, and sentence starter strips
  • Lesson 2: Close Read-aloud Guide: The Most Magnificent Thing and Picture sort cards
  • Lesson 3: Review Close Read-aloud Guide: The Most Magnificent Thing, Jump Rope Challenge note, jump rope (one per group), and shape cards (one per group); Word Wall words: collaboration, initiative
  • Lesson 4: Review Close Read-aloud Guide: The Most Magnificent Thing, Language Dive Guide (optional), Name Juggle Challenge note, a ball, and a timer; Word Wall word: perseverance
  • Lesson 5: Review Close Read-aloud Guide: The Most Magnificent Thing and Language Dive Guide: Part II (optional)
  • Lesson 6: Review Close Read-aloud Guide: The Most Magnificent Thing
  • Lesson 7: Legal-size envelope for Mission Letter #4 

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 Reading - Additional 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. 

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