CommonLit Secondary Classrooms 7 Literary Texts by Powerful Women Authors

Check out these amazing short stories and poems on CommonLit from authors like Amy Tan and Sandra Cisneros.

CommonLit’s award-winning, research-based digital literacy program has hundreds of poems, short stories, and memoirs written by powerful women authors.

To support your lesson planning, we’ve highlighted seven literary texts from powerful authors. They each tell relatable stories about adversity, family, and coming-of-age. These texts are certain to engage your students while also building key reading comprehension skills.

"Fish Cheeks" by Amy Tan (6th Grade)

Recognized for her novel The Joy Luck Club, Chinese-American author Amy Tan draws on themes of family, immigration, and identity. In the short story “Fish Cheeks,” Tan recollects the discomfort she felt when her parents served a Chinese dinner to her American crush, Robert, and his parents.

Through actions and dialogue, your students will uncover the cultural and generational gaps the author experienced. If you’re reading The Joy Luck Club with your students, check out our Book Pairings for the novel. We include several literary texts, informational texts, and instructional tips to support your lesson planning.

"Hanging Fire" by Audre Lorde (7th Grade)

Civil rights activist and writer Audre Lorde explored racial and gender identity through several literary genres, including poetry. This coming-of-age poem, “Hanging Fire,” peeks into the mind of a fourteen-year-old girl who feels anxious about growing up and facing experiences without her mother beside her to guide her.

Lorde incorporates repetition throughout the poem, helping young readers build empathy as they reckon with the narrator’s sense of solitude. To ensure that students read closely, turn on CommonLit’s Guided Reading Mode, which scaffolds the text with comprehension questions, such as, “How does Audre Lorde use repetition to develop the theme in ‘Hanging Fire’?” You can also use the assessment questions to measure student reading comprehension.

A screenshot of a student assignment preview on CommonLit's website.

"Abuelito Who" by Sandra Cineros (8th Grade)

Mexican-American writer Sandra Cineros draws on her personal experiences to tell stories about family, migration, and identity in her poem “Abuelito Who” from her renowned novel The House on Mango Street. In the poem, the narrator notes how her grandfather changes while he ages; he is no longer the playful presence he once was in her life.

Through repetition, Cineros shows how aging is affecting her grandfather as he asks “who loves him” several times in the poem. If you’re interested in introducing Sandra Cineros to your class, you can supplement “Abuelito Who” with other excerpts from The House on Mango Street in our digital library.

"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid (9th Grade)

Jamaica Kincaid delves into adolescence, gender, and many other themes of identity in her work, including her prose poem “Girl.” From cooking to dressing to talking to men and boys, a mother instructs her daughter on what to do to meet society’s expectations of respectable women.

As a 685-word sentence, “Girl” neither follows the rhyme or structure rules of poetry and prose, offering students a unique writing style to emulate in their own work. You can find additional poems about adolescence, gender, and identity for your class in CommonLit’s digital library.

Excerpt from Frankenstein: “The Creature’s Request” by Mary Shelley (10th Grade)

Believed to have founded the science-fiction genre, Mary Shelley challenged society’s limiting expectations of women with her writing and publication of the classic novel Frankenstein. In this excerpt from the novel, the Creature confronts its creator, Victor Frankenstein, demanding that he listen to its tale and acknowledge the cruel life that he forced upon it.

This reading lesson will encourage your students to evaluate the Creature’s relationship with Frankenstein. CommonLit’s Guided Reading Mode will help your students build an interpretation with guiding questions, like, “How does Frankenstein feel about his creation?” With word definitions and footnotes provided, students will be able to dissect this complex 1800s text.

"Testimony Before the Senate Hearings on the Equal Rights Amendment" by Gloria Steinem (11th Grade)

Recognized for co-founding the National Women’s Political Caucus, Gloria Steinmen has dedicated her life to defending women’s rights through journalism and social political activism. Delivered before Congress on May 6, 1970, Steinmen’s speech dispels the common myths about women’s inferiority to men.

For this text, students will identify the main idea by answering the following question: “What are the myths about women, and how are these myths harmful?” They will examine the gender-based stereotypes Steinmen addresses in her speech. Discover other speeches by first ladies, women authors, and other women’s rights activists in our digital library to supplement this lesson.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (12th Grade)

Writer and social reform advocate Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s personal life inspired her literary work, including “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In this semi-autobiographical short story, a woman’s extravagant imagination prompts her husband to take her to a summer country estate, where she is restricted to a room until she recovers from her “illness.” During her stay, the woman is entertained by a yellow wallpaper.

Point of view and symbolism are key literary devices that your class can analyze to understand the narrator and her world. For class discussions, you can refer to CommonLit’s discussion questions, including, “What did it mean to be a woman in 19th century America?” Through these thought-provoking questions, you can engage your students in a meaningful conversation.

Next Steps

Looking for more great texts by women authors? Browse the CommonLit Library!

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