Teach students about holidays around the world by building diversity in the classroom with this selection of short stories for grades 6-8!
Students celebrate a variety of holidays for religious and cultural reasons. Use this list of 6 stories from CommonLit’s free digital library for middle school students to engage in conversations about international holidays and promote diversity in your classroom.
“Celebrating Cinco de Mayo” by Sanjana Chetia (6th Grade)
In this informational text, Sanjana Chetia explores the history of Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday that commemorates a victorious battle over France in 1862. Today, in the US and Mexico, festivities are filled with speeches, mariachi bands, and colorful garments to honor Mexican heritage.
Strengthen your students’ reading comprehension by using Discussion Question 2, “How does a holiday like Cinco de Mayo impact a community? How are community celebrations like Cinco de Mayo important?” Lead a class conversation about ways cultures can be celebrated and have students share their own experiences.
“Queen Esther and Me” by Amalia Hoffman (6th Grade)
In this short personal essay, Amalia Hoffman discusses her family traditions during Purim, a Jewish holiday that commemorates the biblical story of Queen Esther who saves the Jewish people. Customs include dressing up in costumes, baking sweet treats, watching performances, and most importantly, donating food to the poor.
Have students share their personal experiences with giving back to the community on holidays by using Discussion Question 2: “Do you celebrate a holiday that encourages you to be kind to others? If so, describe the holiday and how you are kind to others.”
“The Plymouth Thanksgiving Story” by Chuck Larsen (6th Grade)
In this informative text, a Native American historian highlights the ways the Wampanoag tribe helped the Pilgrims survive. While Thanksgiving marks a celebration of gratitude, it also marks the beginning of a complicated relationship between the Native Americans and the settlers.
Supplement this text with “Chief Powhatan’s Address to Captain John Smith” by Chief Powhatan by using the Paired Texts tab. After reading both essays, have students reflect on how the relationship between settlers and Indigenous communities have changed over time.
“Celebrating the Lunar New Year” by Jessica McBirney (7th Grade)
People around the globe have various cultural traditions to welcome the Lunar Year which is marked by the phases of the moon. The future is welcomed with red decorations and fireworks in China, silence and reflection in Indonesia, and mango leaves and dancing in India!
Dive into meaningful conversations where students can share personal stories with Discussion Question 1: “Why is it important to learn about other cultures and traditions? How does learning about other cultures help us to better understand our community and the world around us?”
“The Origins of Memorial Day” by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (7th Grade)
In this short text, readers can learn about the history behind Memorial Day. Originally meant to honor the fallen soldiers from the Civil War, Memorial Day now remembers the heroes lost during all American wars with the decoration of gravestones using flowers and American flags.
Supplement student reading by exploring other countries’ customs that honor their war heroes. Watch “What is Remembrance Day and Why is the Poppy its Symbol?” under the Related Media tab to discover Canada’s similar national holiday. Then have a discussion where students compare Memorial Day to Remembrance Day.
“Dia De Los Muertos Comes to Life Across the Mexican Diaspora” by Isabel Dobrin (8th Grade)
In this descriptive text, Isabel Dobrin reports on the ways Dia De Los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is celebrated on November 1 and 2 to remember those who have passed and to show cultural pride. People of Mexican heritage honor their loved ones with special offerings, gifts, and food on altars.
After students complete their reading assessments, reflect on the reasons why some holidays are more popular or known by others with Assessment Question 5: “How has the presence of Dia de los Muertos in mainstream media impacted the acceptance and celebration of the holiday?” Use this opportunity to explore other cultural traditions that are not often talked about in school or media.
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