CommonLit Elementary Classrooms 8 Texts Featuring Disabilities and Learning Differences to Build Classroom Empathy and Inclusion

The beginning of the year is a key time to form trusting, meaningful relationships in your classroom community. These texts feature historical figures or characters with disabilities and learning differences, including texts about members of the Deaf or Hard of Hearing and Blind or Visually Impaired communities, people with autism, and students with dyslexia and cerebral palsy.

These texts will engage students in social-emotional learning with stories about overcoming challenges and perseverance. Students will learn about embracing differences and build solid classroom relationships grounded in trust and acceptance.

Texts Featuring the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Community

No Shoes Aloud” by Stacey Lane Smith (3rd Grade)

In this short story, a young deaf boy boy brings his best friend to his dance class and is excited to show how the dancers don’t wear shoes to feel the vibrations of the sounds with their bare feet. This heartwarming story of friendship and understanding is a good choice for a lesson on inclusivity and different learning styles. Ask students to talk through Discussion Question 2: “In ‘No Shoes Aloud,’ Miss Isabel uses sign language and speaks out loud to make sure no kids feel left out. Have you ever felt left out because you were different in some way? What happened? What could adults or other kids have done to help you not feel left out?” Have students discuss why it is important that everyone feels included and supported in your classroom.

Courtney Craven: Gamer and Disability Activist” by Melissa Hart (5th Grade)

In this informational text, the author interviews Courtney Craven, a disability rights activist who works to make sure video games are accessible for Deaf and hard of hearing gamers. Start a conversation by asking Discussion Question 1: “In the text, Craven discusses how some video games are difficult for gamers to play if they are deaf or hard of hearing. Think of an activity you enjoy. How would you feel if you were unable to take part in that activity?”

Texts Featuring Characters with Dyslexia

The Biggest Little Artist in the World” by LeeAnn Blankenship (4th Grade)

Willard Wigan is a sculptor who turned to art after struggling at school due to his dyslexia. This text will teach students that success is achieved through perseverance. Show students the Related Media video “Overcoming Dyslexia, Finding Passion: Piper Otterbein at TEDXYOUTH@CEHS” and ask students to discuss how Willard and Piper are similar. What words would you use to describe both Willard and Piper? How did art help them both? What strengths do you have that build your confidence?

The Test” by Shelby Ostergaard (5th Grade)

Javon is upset when he finds out his friend, Tyler, gets extra time on tests because of his dyslexia. At first, Javon does not think this is fair, until his teacher, Mr. T, explains that fair is not always equal. Have students share their opinion on fairness. Ask students: Do you think Mr. T was correct? Why or why not? Why may some students in class follow different rules? How could these differences help our classroom?

This is a screenshot of the CommonLit lesson for the text "The Test" by Shelby Ostergaard. It includes the beginning of the text and the first Assessment Question.

Texts Featuring Blind or Deaf-Blind Historical Figures

Night Writing in Wartime” by Jesse Sullivan (4th Grade)

This informational text explains how Louis Braille devised a system of reading and writing for blind people after learning about a communication form used by soldiers to decode messages in the dark. Get students to think critically by asking them Discussion Question 3: “Can you think of ways that having Braille helps people who can see? How? How does helping people with disabilities make communities better for everyone in them?” How can helping out students in our classroom with disabilities help the classroom community as a whole?

Breaking Through” by Gina DeAngelis and Audrey DeAngelis (5th Grade)

This biography explains Helen Keller’s life and all of the obstacles she had to overcome as a result of her being deaf-blind. In the text, the authors discuss how Anne Sullivan, Helen’s teacher, helped Helen throughout her life. Ask students to think about someone who has helped them when they were struggling. Why is it important to help others? How can you use your strengths like Anne used hers to help others succeed and grow?

Short Story Featuring a Character with Cerebral Palsy

Hazel Grove” by Leslie Barnard Booth (3rd Grade)

Maya, a young girl with cerebral palsy, befriends Joan, an older woman who uses a wheelchair. Joan helps Maya feel comfortable talking about her brace with her classmates, and she learns that what makes her different also makes her special. Have students annotate how Maya’s feelings change throughout the story and use this evidence to answer Assessment Question 4: “How do Maya’s feelings about her leg brace change throughout the story?” Ask students to discuss why self-acceptance and self-confidence is important.

This is a screenshot of the Paired Text page for "Hazel Grove."

Short Story About Learning Differences

The Retake” by Chris Low (3rd Grade)

In this short story, a young boy named Andy studies very hard for a test but still fails. His teacher, Mr. Crane, helps Andy realize that he learns better by being active. When Andy retakes the test, he passes. This text can help show students about learning differences. Ask Discussion Question 2: “In the text, Mr. Crane helps Andy realize that he learns best while moving. Some people learn by moving, listening, reading, writing, or even singing. How do you learn best? How do you know that you learn that way?” Why is it important to understand that we all learn in different ways?

Next Steps

Looking for more texts featuring characters or topics related to disabilities or learning differences? Browse the CommonLit library!

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