A balancing act of new friends, first crushes, heartbreaks, tears, damaged friendships, social media, lots of pre-teen drama, and an abundance of challenging schoolwork — that pretty much encapsulates what I witnessed during my four years teaching middle schoolers.
Jokes aside, throughout my time as a teacher, I saw many students display tremendous kindness towards others, sometimes in really unexpected ways. Still, as my students were rapidly trying to define their identities and figure out who they were as people, they often hadn’t yet developed all of the social skills or empathy needed to mitigate or avoid conflict.
Part of my role as a middle school literacy teacher was to use great literature — like some of the texts we’re recommending in this blog post — to help guide students towards being more kindhearted and compassionate.
Here are 10 great texts from various grade levels that focus on the importance of friendship and kindness, while also identifying the hardships of bullying and ways to prevent it:
“Jasmine Girl” by Jey Manokaran
In this short story, a girl works hard to make enough money to buy a doll. After reaching her goal, she is forced to choose between buying the doll or helping out her friend, who needs the money for her sick brother. She chooses the latter and is later rewarded for her decision.
While reading the text, ask your students to take notes on the girls’ friendship. Have your students describe a time when they did something nice for their best friend.
“Jared to the Rescue” by Carole Duncan Buckman
This short story describes how a boy, Jared, helps a classmate, Jessica, on the first day of second grade. Jared and Jessica’s dislike for each other disappears after Jared rescues Jessica’s kittens.
While teaching this text, show your students the video, “Kids Explain How They Became Best Friends” and ask them to identify the friendship most like Jared and Jessica’s.
“Funeral” by Ralph Fletcher
Ralph Fletcher is an American writer known for his children’s picture books, adult fiction, and poetry. In this excerpt from his memoir, the author’s friends stage his “funeral” before he moves to a new town.
After reading, share Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” with your students. Discuss if the definition of friendship in this song relates to the kind of friendship the boys share in the story.
“Tuesday of the Other June” by Norma Fox Mazer
In this short story, a young girl name June is confronted by a bully with the same name. As their lives become more intertwined, she is forced to take action to stop the harassment.
“All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury’s short story centers around children on the planet Venus who are told that the sun will come out after seven years of rain. Only one child, Margot, who moved from Earth five years ago, remembers how the sun looks and feels. However, none of her peers believe her.
After reading, ask your students to identify a time when they expressed an opinion that their friends did not agree with. How did they respond to the unique way of thinking?
“Amigo Brothers” by Piri Thomas
In this short story, two best friends become competitors when they must fight each other in a boxing match. While reading, ask your students to take notes on what the two friends feel after they find out they will be fighting each other.
“An Uncomfortable Bed” by Guy de Maupassant
In the short story, the speaker is a wealthy yet suspicious man invited by his friends, who often play tricks on him, to stay at their lavish mansion.
Play the audio recording of the story and have students follow along, taking notes as they read. When finished, discuss the positive and negative effects of the speaker’s playful relationship with his friends.
“Yul Kwon, From Bullying Target to Reality TV Star” by NPR Staff
Yul Kwon’s early life was mired with a host of challenges, including bullying. As an adult, he realized that while he was growing up, there were very few Asian-Americans in popular culture that he could look to as strong models. In 2006, he decided to help change this dynamic by joining the cast of Survivor.
After reading, ask your students how Yul Kwon overcame adversity, specifically his experiences with bullying.
“Bullying in Early Adolescence” by Dorothy L. Espelage
This informational text explores various research studies about adolescents bullying their peers, with a focus on how peer groups play a role.
After reading, expand upon the ideas introduced in the text by using Hank Green’s “Social Influence: Crash Course in Psychology #38.”
“‘Three Types of Friendship’ — Excerpt from the Nicomachean Ethics” by Aristotle
Aristotle (385 BCE — 322 BCE) was an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist. Some of Aristotle’s best-known works on ethics can be found in his book Nicomachean Ethics, which was published in approximately 340 BCE. In this excerpt from his book, Aristotle defines three types of friendship.
Ask your students to define what a “friend” is, in the context of the text. Follow this question by asking your students if they agree with how Aristotle defines a perfect friendship and if it’s acceptable to have friendships of varying quality.
Looking for more great texts to share with your students? Check out our CommonLit library!
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