Building Our Background Knowledge: Schools and Their Importance | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA G2:M1:U1

Building Our Background Knowledge: Schools and Their Importance

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In Unit 1, students launch their learning about schools by focusing on the guiding question: "What is school, and why are schools important?" The unit begins by asking students to reflect on this question using a context they already know: their own school. Participating in a series of focused read-alouds of What Does School Mean to You? written by EL Education and The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds helps them develop a deeper definition of what school is and why schools are important. As students work through the first half of the unit, they capture their learning in the What Is School? notebook.

During the second half of the unit, students engage in a series of close read-alouds of The Invisible Boy, a narrative by Trudy Ludwig. Through the reading of this narrative, students deepen and extend their understanding of schools and why they are important. For the Unit 1 Assessment, students participate in a less scaffolded close read-aloud of The Invisible Boy, during which they demonstrate their understanding of the text by listening and answering questions about a particular section of the text. (RL.2.1, RL.2.3, and RL.2.7)

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • What is school, and why are schools important?
  • A school is a place designed for students to build knowledge and skills, foster character and relationships, and create high-quality work.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: How characters respond to major events in stories
  • Task: Writing in response to The Invisible Boy
  • Targets (CCSS explicitly taught and assessed): RL.2.1, RL.2.3, RL.2.7
  • Texts: The Invisible Boy


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 second 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.)

C3 Framework for Social Studies:

  • D2.Geo.4.K-2. Explain how weather, climate, and other environmental characteristics affect people's lives in a place or region.
  • D2.Civ.6.K-2. Describe how communities work to accomplish common tasks, establish responsibilities, and fulfill roles of authority.
  • D2.Civ.9.K-2. Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions while responding attentively to others when addressing ideas and making decisions as a group.

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 unit, students work to become effective learners: develop the mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life. Throughout Unit 1, students engage with two habits of character: respect and compassion. They do this mainly through engaging in the text The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, identifying key moments in the text where characters show respect or compassion.

The following student learning targets are a focus for this unit. Please refer to Teaching Notes in the lessons:

  • I work to become an ethical person.
  • I show respect.
  • I show compassion.


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

  • RL.2.1: Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of 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 a literary text, ask:

"What questions do you have? What are you wondering?"

  • RL.2.3: Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.
    • Invite students to place sticky notes in the text itself or take notes in a journal about clues in the text that demonstrate aspects of a character.
    • Invite students to keep track of individual characters on a graphic organizer with columns for "What happened" and "How the character responded."
  • RL.2.7: Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.
    • When conferencing with a student, have he or she explain how the illustration connects with a portion of the text.
    • Ask:

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

Supporting English Language Learners

Whereas the Meeting Students' Needs column in each lesson contains support for both ELLs and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), 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 identified for ELLs in the Meeting Students' Needs column.

  • Prioritize lessons for classrooms with many ELLs: Consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lessons 6-11 to support comprehension of the anchor text, The Invisible Boy, and in preparation for the assessment, which occurs at the end of this series of close read-alouds. Students may benefit from additional time with this text, as their comprehension of its message and content is critical to the unit's learning targets. In addition, be sure to complete the optional Language Dive for ELLs in Lesson 4. Consider placing less focus on and condensing instruction in Lessons 4-5.
  • Language Dives: All students participate in their first Language Dive in Lesson 10. ELLs can participate in an optional Language Dive in Lesson 4. 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: 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 informational texts taking place across different cultures and countries. The anchor text, The Invisible Boy, explores feelings of loneliness and isolation that may be familiar to ELLs, especially if they are newcomers. Prepare students for this theme and encourage them to share any feelings the text may elicit. Create a safe space for students to express themselves without putting them on the spot if they choose not to. The unit also establishes background knowledge and new explorations of school. Be aware that some students may have a very different experience with school than others. 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, seriously consider 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.
  • Writing and collaboration: Students will have several opportunities to synthesize their learning and share their thinking with a partner before writing reading responses. This social interaction is beneficial for ELLs because it will allow them time to verbalize their ideas with a peer before writing. It may also pose a challenge for some students who have trouble verbalizing their thoughts. It may also be difficult for students to write independently after working closely with a partner. 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 phrases they can use to interact and directing them to environmental resources in the room.
  • Close read-aloud and identifying supporting details: Students will participate in a series of 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. Give students opportunities to act and to move. At the same time, students will use detail to support their thinking about how the main characters either changed or did not change. Identifying supporting details may be challenging for ELLs, as it may be a challenge to interpret the text itself. Check for comprehension frequently and ask probing questions to elicit details from the text. Use Conversation Cues to foster discussion among students.
  • 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 Dot
by Peter H. Reynolds
6 per classroom
ISBN: 9780763619619
The Invisible Boy
by Trudy Ludwig
6 per classroom
ISBN: 9781582464503

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: Prepare What Is School? notebooks.
  • Lesson 2: Find instrumental version of "Sing a Song of Sixpence."
  • Lesson 6-11: Closely review sections of the Close Read-aloud Guide: The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig.
  • Lesson 8: Prepare Brian's Change anchor chart and Brian's Change picture set.
  • Lesson 12: Determine groups of four to six students and designate areas for each group to participate in the structured discussion.

Technology and Multimedia

  • Google DocsComplete notebooks: Students complete their notebooks in Google Docs.
  • Speech to Text (many newer devices already have this capability.) - To create writing by speaking: Students complete their notebooks by speaking rather than writing or typing.
  • Seesaw - Create student learning portfolios to share with other students, families: Video/audio record student discussions and performances to share with families and other students.
  • Schools around the world - in pictures - Additional research: Students look at pictures of schools and classrooms around the world for additional research whole group, small group or independently.
    • "Schools around the world - in pictures". The Guardian. Web. Jun 8, 2016.
  • How classrooms look around the world -- in 15 amazing photographs - Additional research: Students look at pictures of schools and classrooms around the world for additional research whole group, small group or independently.
    • Strauss, V. "How classrooms look around the world -- in 15 amazing photographs." The Washington Post. Web. Nov 13, 2015 


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


  • Invite family members to come speak to the class about their experiences in school.
  • Invite students to write invitations to a kindergartener from a class at your school to the Celebration of Learning.
  • Invite other faculty members and families to the Celebration of Learning.


  • Invite staff who have taught outside of the state or country to share their experiences about going to school. Encourage them to bring pictures and share personal stories about their time in school.
  • See if professors from local universities can come speak to the class about how organizations like UNICEF and Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) help communities around the world.
  • Invite the art teacher to come to your room as an art expert and show students how to create strong drawings for their "The Most Important Thing about Schools" books.
  • Invite fourth- or fifth-graders to be editing experts and support students in editing "The Most Important Thing about Schools" books.


Contact your librarian and visit the local library to do more research on boat schools, tent schools, and schools on wheels.


  • Create a class book from the informational paragraphs students produce and sell them to local bookstores. Donate these profits to one of the community organizations from Off to Class.
  • Take a trip to your local library and have students donate their "The Most Important Thing about Schools" books to the library.


  • Read other sections from the text Off to Class. Document the problem community members faced in sending their students to school and how they solved this problem so students could go to school.
  • Learn more about specific organizations affiliated with the schools students learned about, such as the Solar Electric Light Fund, UNICEF, etc. See page 62 of the text Off to Class for more information.
  • Have students do research to learn more about other schools in other parts of the world.
  • Research the countries of origin of students and help all students make connections between their country of origin and the topic or text. Research and share different kinds of schools in the students' countries and communities of origin. Privately discuss what you found with students before the lesson. During the lesson, tell students: "I searched online and found out that _____ (country), where _____ (name of student) is from, has a very interesting type of school." Share the information you found on the topic or text and invite the student to share his or her experience with the class. Record patterns in student responses on a Schools around the World anchor chart.
  • Invite students to discuss schools with their family and friends at home, and then share what they learn with the class. Students can bring objects from home to enhance the sharing. Ask students to record patterns on a School Experiences Poster.
  • Invite students to create another "The Most Important Thing about Schools" book using another school from Off to Class.

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