These compelling short stories are sure to engage your students and build reading comprehension!
When it’s time to plan a new unit that adheres to ELA standards, it can be daunting to find high-quality, relatable short stories your students will enjoy. That’s why we’ve put together this roundup of engaging, thematically rich stories that elementary school teachers love.
Whether you’re new to CommonLit or a longtime CommonLit fan looking to refresh your lesson plans or supplement your ELA curriculum, you’re sure to find great literary texts for your students from this list!
"A Fish Named Dog" by Christyne Morrell (3rd Grade)
In this short story for 3rd graders, the narrator receives a goldfish instead of the dog she asked from her parents. In protest, she names the goldfish “Dog.” As the narrator complains to her friend about not getting a dog like everyone else, she realizes that Dog might be more special than she originally thought when Dog swims in her direction every time she says its name.
After students finish reading the text, they can complete CommonLit’s assessment questions, such as Assessment Question 4, “What lesson does the narrator learn from the fish named Dog?” This question will help students understand how the narrator came to appreciate the goldfish she originally underestimated.
"Impossible to Train" by David Hill (3rd Grade)
In this short story for 3rd graders, Bea, Jesse, and Sammy describe how difficult it is to train their pets, but also what they love about them. At the end, it is revealed that Bea, Jesse, and Sammy are actually pets talking about their human owners.
This funny short story would make a great choice for teaching about animals. Students would enjoy the humor throughout the text, especially the twist ending, as they explore the relationship between humans and animals. You can find more texts about pets for elementary students in CommonLit’s free digital library.
"MVP" by Clare Mishica (3rd Grade)
In this short story for 3rd graders, Derek is determined to outscore his teammate Cole and become his basketball’s team MVP, or most valuable player. After Cole sprains his ankle and sits out of the game, Derek realizes that his teammate was helping him be a better player. With only a few minutes left on the clock, Derek focuses on helping his team win the championship game and relies on his teammates for support.
If you’re looking for literary texts that support personal development, “MVP” will make a great addition to your ELA curriculum. This short story will show students the importance of teamwork and how much they can accomplish collaborating with a team, as opposed to working alone. You can moderate an engaging classroom discussion about the power of teamwork with CommonLit’s discussion questions, including Discussion Question 1, “How does working together help the narrator's basketball team win? Describe a time when you worked with others and how it helped you accomplish a goal.”
"An Honest Mistake" by Karen Meissner (4th Grade)
In this short story for 4th graders, Karie receives a prize for getting a perfect score on her spelling test. After she shares the exciting news with her mom, Karie realizes that she misspelled the word “honestly.” Conflicted, Karie doesn’t know if she should tell her teacher that she made a mistake on her test and return her prize.
“An Honest Mistake” would be a perfect read if you’re planning a character development unit for your class. Ask students to think about Assessment Question 5: “What do Karie’s thoughts and actions show what kind of person she is?” This assessment question will challenge students to explore the moral of the story and encourage them to always be truthful.
"Stray" by Cynthia Rylan (4th Grade)
In this short story for 4th graders, Doris discovers a stray puppy in front of her house during a snowstorm. Doris’ parents allow her to keep the puppy in the basement until the snow clears. As the snowstorm persists, Doris tries to convince her parents to let her keep the puppy, but they tell her that they cannot afford to care for it. After nine days of snow, Doris’ father takes the dog to the pound. Upset, Doris locks herself in her room, until dinner when she learns of a surprise.
As students read the text, they can take notes on Doris and her parents’ point of views. Assessment Question 5 will challenge them to analyze the father’s character development in the story: “How does the change in the father reveal the theme in the story?” This particular question will help students understand how pets bring out the best in people.
"Tamitha and the Dragon" by Elizabeth C. Desimone (4th Grade)
In this short story for 4th graders, a dragon snatches Tamitha and confines her to his castle, where she must clean his mess or face his wrath. In the castle, she discovers other creatures with problems of their own. After several escape attempts, the dragon manages to find and imprison Tamitha each time. With the help of the creatures, Tamitha finds a way to trick the dragon into cleaning his own castle.
Tamitha, a young girl full of grit, is a great character to inspire perseverance in students during difficult times. Ask students Discussion Question 1: “Have you ever tricked someone for their own good? If you have not tricked someone before, do you think it is ever okay to trick someone like Tamitha did?” This question will help students understand why Tamitha’s character traits help her overcome difficulties.
"Her Hands That Held the Stars" by Rebecca Birch (5th Grade)
In this science-fiction short story for 5th graders, set in a polluted future where the sky is covered by eversmog, Akeisha is determined to see the stars. Akeisha bravely sneaks up to the rooftop, and her Nana points out the stars glimmering in her hands. Nana tells Akeisha that the stars are calling her, and Akeisha decides she wants to figure out how to share the sky she sees with everyone.
Have students make connections between science-fiction and real life. Start a classroom discussion with Discussion Question 2: “Science fiction writers often write stories because they want us to think about our own world and what we value. Could we one day be living in a world that is similar to the setting of this story? Why or why not?” Encourage students to draw from the text and their own experiences to support their thinking.
"Sometimes a Dream Needs a Push" by Walter Dean Myers (5th Grade)
In this short story for 5th graders, Chris joins a wheelchair basketball team after a car accident has left him unable to walk. Chris’s dad, who blames himself for the accident, helps the team by showing them how to shoot better. Even though the team loses a big game, Chris is proud of their hard work and glad to have his dad’s support.
The complex relationship between Chris and his dad provides a great opportunity for analyzing character development and making connections. Ask students Discussion Question 3: “In the context of the text, what makes a family? What are some of the experiences you have had where the support of family and friends made a significant difference?” Encourage students to use examples from the text and their own lives to build reading comprehension.
"Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros (5th Grade)
In this short story for 5th graders, the eleven-year-old narrator, Rachel, struggles to speak up for herself when her teacher, Mrs. Price, forces her to wear a red sweater from the lost and found, convinced that it belongs to Rachel. Thinking to herself, Rachel wishes she was older, so that she didn’t feel so powerless with Mrs. Price, an adult whose word holds more authority over Rachel’s. The narrator's internal monologue artfully captures her emotions and what it’s like to be eleven years old.
As students read, have them follow the annotation task, which asks them to take notes on how the narrator reacts to the red sweater. Students can use the annotation tool to provide evidence in their short answers for the reading assessment. After they finish reading, you can lead a classroom discussion and have students make text-to-self connections by asking if they have ever been in a situation where they felt powerless because of their age.
"Marble Champ" by Gary Soto (5th Grade)
In this short story for 5th graders, shy Lupe knows she is a great student, but she is determined to also be good at a sport, so she decides to become a competitive marbles player. She practices hard to improve her thumb and wrist strength, and in the end, her dedication pays off and she wins the championship!
Looking for a way to support your students who speak Spanish at home? This short story is also available in Spanish as “Campeona de canicas.” CommonLit Español offers hundreds of Spanish texts to support learning differentiation. Using CommonLit’s guided reading feature, which includes a translation tool, word definitions, and footnotes, you can have students read the two versions to practice key skills and build vocabulary in both English and Spanish!
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