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Illustration of a girl with curly red hair and a girl with long blonde hair reading a book together
Art by James Bernardin
The Good Deed

In this touching and relatable story, a girl sets out to earn a Girl Scout badge by doing a “good deed.” But then someone unexpected makes her rethink the meaning of kindness.

By Marion Dane Bauer

Learning Objective: Students will read a relatable story by Marion Dane Bauer and make inferences about characters based on their words and actions.

Lexile: 590L
Guided Reading Level: T
DRA Level: 50
Topic: Social Issues,
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Inference About Character

As you read this story, pay attention to what the characters say and do, and what that tells you about them.

Miss Benson was my good deed for the summer. Every girl in my scout troop was assigned someone. My friend Melody got Mr. Stengle, the oldest resident of the River Nursing Home. Anne got Mrs. Muhlenberg, who has four children and always seems overwhelmed.

I was assigned Miss Benson. Miss Benson is blind.

I’d never met a blind person before. The thought of talking to Miss Benson scared me. But I couldn’t let Melody and Anne get more badges than me.

“She’s a retired teacher,” our scout leader said. “I’ll bet she’d just love it if you’d read to her.”

So the next day I called Miss Benson, and then I set out to meet her.

As I stood in front of her apartment door, pausing before I knocked, this girl stuck her head out of the door across the hall.

“What do you want?” she said.

“I’m visiting Miss Benson,” I told her, which was perfectly obvious.

The girl had long reddish-brown hair. It was a tangled mess.

“Why are you visiting her?” she wanted to know.

It would have sounded dumb to say, “I’m a Girl Scout, and she’s my good deed for the summer.” So I said, “To read to her.”

Behind the girl, from inside her apartment, a whole lot of noise was going on. Two little boys ran behind her. Their hair wasn’t combed either, and their noses were snotty.

“I’ll come with you,” the girl said.

I didn’t know whether to be annoyed at her for being so pushy or relieved that I didn’t have to go in alone.

Did a good deed count if you had help?

A tall woman with curly, salt-and-pepper hair opened the door and said, “You must be Heather. Come in.”

The girl said, “Hi!” and followed me right into the apartment.

“Who’s your friend?” Miss Benson asked right away.

The girl answered, “Risa. My mom and me and my little brothers just moved in across the hall.”

“Welcome to you both,” Miss Benson replied. Her voice had a smile in it.

Miss Benson led the way to the kitchen. On the table sat a pitcher of lemonade and a big blue plate heaped with oatmeal-raisin cookies.

“Tell me about yourselves, girls,” Miss Benson said, pouring lemonade and pushing the plate of cookies toward us. Before I could open my mouth, Risa was off and running. She told about her three little brothers—there was a baby I hadn’t seen—and how her mom had moved here for a better job. Risa didn’t like her mom’s job because the boss wouldn’t let her take calls from her children.

I told Miss Benson how my parents and I had gone to Disney World over spring break. I could tell by how Risa looked at me that she’d never been near a place like Disney World and that she hated me for saying I’d been there.

I offered to read, so Miss Benson sent me to her bedroom to check out her bookshelf. I found a tall, frayed blue book called Stories That Never Grow Old.

When I came back with the book, Risa said under her breath, “That one’s for little kids.” I shrugged, but she was right. It was a lot of old-timey stories like “The Little Engine That Could.”

Miss Benson asked, “What book did you get?” When I told her, she clapped her hands and said, “Perfect!” So I shot Risa a look and started to read.

Risa leaned across the table and started silently shaping the words with her mouth as I read, like she was tasting each one. I figured she must not be a very good reader. I’d given up reading with my lips in first grade.

As soon as I’d finished, I knew I was right, because Miss Benson said, “Risa, why don’t you read the next one?”

“Oh no!” she said. “I have to get home to help my mom with dinner.” She hurried out like her feet were on fire.

“Well,” I said, standing up, “I’ll come again on Monday.” By myself, I wanted to add, but I said instead, “I’ll put your book away before I go.”

When I got to the bookshelf, I found myself wondering: What if Risa comes back on her own? Maybe she’ll read to Miss Benson, and she’ll want this book with easy words. I looked around for a place to hide it. The wastebasket was just the right size. I slipped the book inside.

I said a polite goodbye. My good deed was done for the day.

A few days later, I visited Miss Benson again. This time the blue plate on the table held sugar cookies, creamy white, just beginning to brown at the edges.

“I’ll get a book,” I said, after we each ate a cookie. I hurried off to the bedroom to get Stories That Never Grow Old.

Only the book wasn’t in the wastebasket or on the shelf.

My heart beat faster. But there was nothing to do, so I picked out a collection of poems.

While I read a few poems, a weight gathered in my stomach. The next thing I knew, Miss Benson was saying, “Risa tells me you have freckles, and hair the color of pulled taffy. Green eyes, a misty green like the sea.”

For a moment I sat there, dumbfounded. My hair, well, it is the color people like to call “dirty blond.” But if you were being really nice, you could say it’s the color of pulled taffy. And my eyes? Were they green like the sea? I could hardly believe that Risa, who read with her lips, came up with those words that sounded like a poem.

“Risa was here?” I said.

“She came Sunday afternoon. She’s a nice girl. I’m sure the two of you are going to be great friends.”

I ignored that, because an idea was rising in me. Risa had stolen the book!

“Sorry,” I said, standing suddenly. “I’ve got to go. But I’ll be back. Tomorrow.”

“Come back anytime, dear. I like having you here.”

Would she say that when she found out her book was missing? She might think I had taken it.

I stalked across the hall and knocked on Risa’s door. I could hear the TV, but no one answered. I knocked again, harder, then I turned the handle and peeked in. Two pairs of sky-blue eyes stared back at me from the couch. One of the little boys mumbled, “Who’re you?”

“Risa’s friend,” I lied. “She here?”

“She took Andrew and went,” said the one who had talked before. He gave me a warning look. “She told us not to let anybody in.”

Who was Andrew? The baby? And where was their mother? She must be working. Risa was supposed to be taking care of these boys. Well, so much for counting on her for anything. “She’s got something of mine,” I said. And that’s when I saw it: the tattered blue book on the couch. I snatched up the book. “Where did you get this book?”

“Miss Benson gave it to me.” I whirled around to see Risa at the door, holding a baby. He was asleep, his fat cheek pressed against her shoulder. Risa seemed small.

“Why did you hide it?” Risa asked me.

The question hung in the air. Why had I hidden the book? Something about not wanting Risa to horn in on my good deed?

I tried another attack. “How come you went off and left your brothers? Something terrible—”

She interrupted. “Andrew is sick. I couldn’t get ahold of my mom, so I took him to the doctor.” As she said it, she staggered like she couldn’t hold up that lump of a baby for another minute.

Suddenly, I could see how scared she’d been, scared for the baby, scared to leave her brothers, probably scared to walk into some doctor’s office alone.

“Here,” I said. “Let me take him.” I lifted the baby away from her. He felt very hot.

Risa rubbed her nose with the back of her hand. Had she been crying?

“The doctor gave him a shot. He called my mom. Her boss let the doctor talk to her. She’s coming home soon.”

I laid the sleeping baby on the couch, took a tissue out of my pocket, and wiped his nose.

Risa lifted her chin and said, “I found Miss Benson’s book in the wastebasket.”

She tossed her head. Her chestnut hair had been brushed that morning, and it flowed like a horse’s tail. “She said if I read aloud to my brothers, it would help me get better.” I knew she was telling the truth about Miss Benson giving her the book. “I’m going to read to her sometimes too,” she added.

“That’s—that’s really great,” I stammered. And I knew it was. “You’ll be helping her, and she’ll be helping you. Kind of a good deed both ways.”

“A good deed?” Risa laughed. “Is that what you call it?”

“Risa,” one of the boys blurted, “would you read to us some more?”

She looked sideways at me, and I knew that it was me—snotty me—who’d kept her from reading out loud before. “Why don’t we take turns reading to them?” I said. “That would be fun.”

Risa considered my offer.

“OK,” she said at last. “Just so it isn’t a good deed.”

“It isn’t,” I said. “I promise.

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More About the Story

Skills

Inference, vocabulary, key idea, character’s motivation, compare and contrast, tone, plot, theme, narrative writing

Complexity Factors

Levels of Meaning/Purpose

“The Good Deed” is about two girls who meet when one of them is assigned to read to a blind woman to earn a Girl Scout badge. It explores the unkind way one girl treats the other and what it means to do a good deed.

Structure

The story is told in the first person and is chronological.

Language

The language is mainly conversational and contains a good deal of dialogue. It contains some rhetorical questions and similes.

Knowledge Demands 

Readers will need to understand what a Girl Scout badge is.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features/Set a Purpose for Reading (3 minutes)  

  • Ask a volunteer to read aloud the Up Close box on page 11. 
  • Point out to students the bubbles in the margins of the story and the arrows that connect each one to a sentence in bold. Preview the questions in the bubbles with them.

Vocabulary (15 minutes)

  • Distribute our vocabulary activity to preview five words. Students will also be able to add other words from the story that are unfamiliar to them. 
  • Words in the activity are overwhelmed, frayed, dumbfounded, staggered, and stammered. 

2. Close Reading

First Read: Get to Know the Text (20 minutes)

  • Read the story aloud as a class, or play our audio version as students follow along in their magazines. 

Second Read: Unpack the Text (30 minutes)

  • Have small groups read the story again, pausing to discuss the close-reading questions in the margins. They can then respond on their own paper. Answers follow. 
  • Have groups discuss the critical-thinking question. Then come together as a class for groups to share their ideas.

Answers to Close-Reading Questions

  • Character’s Motivation (p. 11) Heather wants to read to Miss Benson so she can get a Girl Scout badge and keep up with her friends. She doesn’t truly care about helping a blind person. Some students may say she is not doing a good deed because she just wants something for herself. Others may say she is helping Miss Benson nevertheless. 
  • Inference (p. 11) Heather seems to think the boys are wild and not well cared for. She makes only negative comments—that they are messy and dirty. 
  • Compare and Contrast (p. 12) Risa’s family seems to be struggling to make ends meets. They moved so her mom could get a better job. Heather’s family can afford to vacation in Disney World.  
  • Inference (p. 12) Risa hurries out because she doesn’t read very well, and she doesn’t want to be embarrassed by reading aloud to Miss Benson. 
  • Character’s Motivation (p. 12) Heather hides the book because she wants to be the only one to read it to Miss Benson. She doesn’t want to share her “good deed” with Risa. 
  • Character’s Motivation (p. 13) This line shows that the good deed is simply a chore for Heather. It’s something she has to do to get her badge, not an act of kindness. 
  • Inference (p. 13) Heather is surprised because she assumes Risa is not very smart. Heather has concluded that Risa is not a good reader, so she doesn’t expect Risa to speak poetically.
  • Tone (p. 13) Heather’s tone is harsh and angry. She looks down on Risa, thinking Risa has stolen a book and neglected her brothers. 
  • Plot (p. 14) This is a turning point because Heather finally realizes how unkind and judgmental she has been toward Risa, and that Risa has been struggling to take care of her brothers. 
  • Compare and Contrast (p. 14) This description of Risa is positive and admiring; she has pretty and neat hair. The description in the beginning stresses her messy hair. The difference shows that Heather finally lets herself see Risa in a positive way. 
  • Theme (p. 14) Risa doesn’t want Heather to do a “good deed” for her because she doesn’t want to be pitied or used to make Heather feel good about herself. Risa wants to read together as friends.

Critical-Thinking Question

  • To have your heart in the right place means to act out of kindness toward others. Does Heather have her heart in the right place in this story? Does she change? Explain. (character) Through most of the story, she does not. She reads to Miss Benson not because she really wants to help, but because she wants to get a Girl Scout badge. She acts selfishly toward Risa, hiding the book to make sure she is the only one to do a good deed. She also makes Risa feel embarrassed about being a poor reader. By the end of the story, though, she realizes how unkindly she has acted toward Risa and wants to take turns reading to Risa’s little brothers. Her heart is finally in the right place. 

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Inference About Character

Have students complete the “inference about character” activity in pairs. They can continue working together to respond to the writing prompt on page 14, which asks them to write a conversation between Heather and Risa.

Perform a Scene 

After pairs write their conversation between Heather and Risa, have them practice acting it out. Call on pairs to perform their scene for the class.

Use an App 

If you use iPads in your classroom, have students produce their scene between the two girls using the Tellagami app. They will be able to create the characters, place them in a setting, and record the dialogue, using their own voices or ones they choose from the app! 

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers
Struggling readers might especially relate to this story because Risa has difficulty with reading. Use this as an opportunity to discuss whether they’ve ever felt like Risa. What advice, or strategies for reading, would they share with Risa?
For Advanced Readers
Teach students the word altruism (unselfishly doing things for others), then have them write an essay explaining what Heather learns about altruism in this story.
For ELL Students
Go over these expressions students will encounter in the story: COUNTING ON (p. 13): trusting someone to do something. TO HORN IN (p. 14): to get involved even though you’re not welcome. GET AHOLD OF (p. 14): to reach or make contact with someone.
For Book Clubs
Have students read this story in their book groups or in “social issues” book clubs. They can decide among themselves where to pause and discuss what they’ve read, and come up with their own questions or use the ones in the margins as prompts.