CommonLit Secondary Classrooms 6 Native American Stories and Poems for Middle and High School Students

Honor National Native American Heritage Month in your classroom with authentic short stories and poems from CommonLit’s online reading program! Our extensive library collection includes plenty of Native American memoirs, stories, and poems by renowned Indigenous authors.

Teachers can assign these Native American short stories individually, or ask students to compare and contrast the stories in a mini-unit on Native American Literature. Students will love discussing these rich stories while improving their reading comprehension skills and understanding of diverse texts.

Read on to learn more about some of the authentic texts by Indigenous authors that live in our CommonLit Library, including ones written by American Indian Youth Literature Award winning authors, like Joseph Bruchac, Louise Erdrich, and Cynthia Leitich Smith.

I Am Offering This Poem” by Jimmy Santiago Baca (6th Grade)

Jimmy Santiago Baca is an award-winning American poet and writer of Apache and Chicano descent. Baca lived through a difficult childhood followed by spending five years in prison as a young man. Baca’s past inspired this poem about love, in which the speaker offers a poem as a gift to show their support and love, despite having nothing else they can offer to help the recipient.

Teachers can show the video “‘Blood In, Blood Out’ Creator on Island” from the Related Media Tab, which features an interview with Baca. Students will learn about the poet’s complex past and how it influences his writing. Ask students to discuss how the interview with Baca helps them better understand his poem.

Related media tab for a Native American poem called “I Am Offering This Poem.”

The Save” by Joseph Bruchac (7th Grade)

Joseph Bruchac is an American poet and author and a member of the Abenaki nation. This story follows Oren, a teenage member of the Iroquois tribe. Oren questions his abilities in lacrosse, a sport that evolved from games played by various Indigenous peoples, and expresses doubts to his Grandfather even after making a lucky play.

Students will love reading about the connections between Native American history and current sports and games. Show the video “Roots: Exploring the History of Lacrosse | Premier Lacrosse League” from the Related Media Tab and ask students to “consider the figurative language that compares lacrosse players to different animals in ‘The Save.’ What similarities exist between Bruchac’s writing and the lacrosse creation story?”

The Medicine Bag” by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (7th Grade)

Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. In this short story, a boy’s Sioux grandpa visits to bring the boy a medicine bag as a gift. At first, the boy is ashamed of his grandpa and the way he expresses his Native culture, but later he learns to respect his grandpa and feel pride for his culture and its traditions.

Elevate students’ reading comprehension by leading a class discussion using Discussion Question 2, “In the context of the text, how does Martin's connection to his culture and its traditions compare to his grandpa's? How important do you think their culture and traditions are to both their identities? How do you relate to your culture and traditions in comparison to older family members?”

This is a Native American short story that teaches a lesson for 7th grade students.

Remember” by Joy Harjo (8th Grade)

Joy Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Nation (Este Mvskokvlke), and the first Native American US Poet Laureate. The Muscogee Nation values strong family ties, respect for the wisdom of elders, and a reverence for nature. In this poem, the speaker discusses what is important to remember in life.

Teachers can show the video “Muscogee (Creek) Culture, Traditions, and Language (2020)” from the Related Media tab and guide students through a class discussion of the following questions, “Why do students think the speaker wants the reader to remember the importance of the sun, earth, plants and animals, as well as the wind?… How do students think the lack of elders in the Muscogee Nation impacts its people?”

The Leap” by Louise Erdrich (8th Grade)

Louise Erdrich is an Indigenous American author who writes novels, poetry, and children's books often featuring Native American characters. She is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. In this short story for middle school students, the narrator describes their mother, a retired trapeze performer who has gone blind.

To help students practice for rigorous grade-level reading assessments, assign Assessment Question 3 “How are the details of the narrator’s mother’s life important to the theme of the text?”

Song for the Turtles in the Gulf” by Linda Hogan (9th Grade)

Linda Hogan is a world-renowned poet and finalist for the International Impact Award, and a member of the Chickasaw Nation. Her writing is best known for its focus on environmental activism and Indigenous advocacy. In this Native American poem, the speaker addresses concerns about the environment by describing their encounter with a sea turtle.

Lead a discussion about how we can learn to value nature with Discussion Question 2 “In the poem, the speaker says the turtle has "the eyes of another intelligence / than ours, maybe greater" (Lines 23-24). What can we, as humans, learn from animals? What do we stand to lose when a species goes extinct?”

Next Steps

Looking for more Native American short stories and poems for your secondary classroom? Check out our Native American History and Authors Text Set for more powerful stories and informational texts, or come to one of our webinars!

If you are an administrator looking to leverage CommonLit in your school or district, our partnerships team can help. We offer benchmark assessments, professional learning, and more!