Famous stories, poems, and articles your students will love
One of the most important but time-consuming tasks for teachers is finding engaging reading passages for students. CommonLit saves teachers time by curating and publishing high-quality texts along with lessons, book pairing recommendations, and discussion questions to go along with each text!
We can’t possibly fit the 100+ new texts we’ve added to our library into one post, so instead we decided to share our CommonLit staff’s favorite texts. Read on to see ten texts we’ve added this summer and why we love them.
When Michelle founded CommonLit, “The Lottery” was one of the texts she dreamed about adding to the site. This classic short story has everything middle school teachers and students love: mystery, suspense, and an unexpected twist ending. The story depicts a small New England town holding its annual lottery — a mysterious tradition with a sinister truth that’s not revealed until the story’s very end. Michelle says, “I would use this story to teach foreshadowing or to discuss the themes of inhumanity and blindly following traditions.”
It’s no small secret that we are big Harry Potter fans at CommonLit. Sarah hopes adding this excerpt from the famous series about a boy wizard will inspire students to fall in love with the series too. As the introductory chapter in the second Harry Potter book, “The Worst Birthday” offers a great recap of the first book to hook and draw students in, as well as insight into Harry’s feelings of loneliness and frustration. Sarah would ask students to focus on these emotions while leading a thematic discussion on the excerpt. She hopes that doing so would spark student interest in the series as a whole. She says, “We grew up learning from Harry and his friends about the powers of friendship, acceptance, and bravery, and it’s exciting to pass along those messages on to a new generation of kids who may be unfamiliar with Harry’s story.”
This famous short story follows a group of children on the rainy Venus as they act cruelly towards Margot, who alone among them can remember seeing the sun. While the story feels effortlessly written, it is incredibly rich, and there are countless ways to teach it. Anna has a couple of suggestions:
- Have students examine the differing perspectives of Margot and her peers throughout the story.
- Ask students to discuss what drives the prejudice and cruelty of the children towards Margot. Guide them towards understanding the childrens’ feelings of inferiority towards Margot due to the fact that she has seen the sun and they haven’t.
- Use the story as a central text in a lesson on figurative language.
“What’s amazing about this story,” Anna says, “is how the author combines beautiful prose with a spectrum of simple human emotions that my teenage students could really identify with.”
Beth saw CommonLit add a lot of informational texts this summer but was particularly excited by how many featured women in history. She picked “Frida Kahlo” as her favorite because “it’s great to see biographies of powerful women of color.” The article discusses the famous Mexican painter’s life and career. It also includes information about her heritage, her passion for art, and how her tumultuous health impacted her work. Beth says she would teach this text to her 5th graders by pairing it with other texts from CommonLit’s identity theme in order to lead a class investigation on the essential question “What makes you who you are?”
Few stories pack as many nuanced layers into such a small package as Zora Neale Hurston’s famous piece, “Spunk.” The story follows the tragic arc of the eponymous “Spunk” as he faces the consequences of stealing another man’s wife. Leigh thinks the piece is an excellent introduction to the Harlem Renaissance writer, Hurston, who set many of her short stories in the same Florida setting and utilized its distinct dialect. Leigh says the text makes for an engaging discussion on superstition and the supernatural, and she would teach it by using the Socratic method to explore themes like bravery, masculinity, and the role of community on individual tragedies.
This short story by the prolific author Joyce Carol Oates is excellent for challenging high school students through the lens of a familiar scenario. The story follows a mother and teenage daughter shopping together, an activity that places further strain on their relationship. Koyé would use this text to teach his students about characterization and internal conflict. He says, “It’s also a great text for students to think about thematically in regards to family and through the context of their own relationships with their parents.”
While CommonLit added four new Shel Silverstein poems to our collection this summer, Matt said “The Clock Man” is his favorite because of “its simple power to convey a deep and meaningful message about growing up.”
The poem follows a “clock man” asking someone how much he’d pay for an extra day as a child, an adult, and finally as an old man. Matt would use this poem to teach young students about structure, particularly through the poem’s use of juxtaposition. As a bonus, Matt says he would ask his students to answer the essential question, “According to Shel Silverstein, how should we live our lives?”
This was actually one of the first stories Mia suggested adding to the site when she started at CommonLit as an intern. “It’s cool to see the story in our library nearly two years later,” she says. This short story by acclaimed author Alice Walker depicts a daughter newly caught up in her family’s heritage coming home to visit her mother and sister. Mia thinks teachers will love it because “it’s an engaging, complex tale that’s sure to spark debate among students about identity, family, and how we should appreciate and understand our heritages.”
Pamela’s Pick (That’s me!)
After three years of high school Spanish classes, I could conjugate with ease but I felt hopeless about unlocking the language’s beauty — that is, until my teacher asked us to translate a poem by Pablo Neruda from Spanish to English. Ever since that memorable lesson, Neruda has remained one of my favorite poets. The classic Chilean poet is a master at capturing the complexities of love through simple poetry, which is why I am thrilled to see CommonLit add a poem from Neruda’s Cien Sonetos de Amor: One Hundred Love Sonnets. The poem, where the speaker claims to “love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul,” is perfect for sparking explorations of figurative and evocative language, as well as discussions on love.
“What Is a Black Hole?” by NASA
“It’s really exciting to see us add more STEM texts to the site,” Rob says about our new black hole article from NASA. As director of school partnerships, Rob often hears about teachers looking for cross-curricular content. He’s happy to see CommonLit frequently publish nonfiction pieces on social studies and science to meet teachers’ needs. In this article, NASA explores how dying stars create black holes. He would teach the article in a research unit around the inquiry question “How do we understand the universe around us?”
Be sure to check our library for all our new additions! You’ll also find other fun collections we’ve curated for you. For more information on how to incorporate CommonLit texts and lessons into your classroom, join us at one of our upcoming webinars!