CommonLit Elementary Classrooms 9 Engaging Elementary Texts by Famous Authors

CommonLit’s digital library includes texts by hundreds of well-known and award-winning authors.The following poems and short stories are written by famous authors from all walks of life. Assign these texts and lessons to engage students in a rigorous reading curriculum and prepare them for upcoming reading assessments.

The Circle of Thanks” by Joseph Bruchac (3rd grade)

In this poem by famous Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac, the speaker plays their drum, an instrument that is important to the music and tradition of many Native American groups. As they play, the speaker describes the beauty of the trees, the sun, the moon, the stars, and their people.

Teachers can assign assessment questions included within each digital reading lesson. These questions are carefully crafted to match the rigor and standards covered on high-stakes reading assessments. Finding the central message or main idea of a text is a critical reading comprehension skill for 3rd graders. Help students practice this skill with Assessment Question 1, "What is the central message of the poem?"

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” by Maya Angelou (3rd grade)

Maya Angelou was an American poet, author, and Civil Rights leader. In this poem, the speaker discusses different things that often frighten others, but don’t frighten her at all. At the end of the poem, the speaker reveals that she has a magic charm that keeps her from being afraid.

To provide meaningful background knowledge, show the video “Maya Angelou on Courage” from the Related Media tab, which features an interview with the famous author. Then ask students, “Why is courage an important trait for leaders to demonstrate?”

The Tummy Beast” by Roald Dahl (3rd grade)

Roald Dahl was a famous British writer best known for his many whimsical books and short stories for kids. In this poem, a child tries to tell his mom that he has a little beast in his stomach who demands treats. The boy’s mom believes he is just making excuses for his bad behavior, until the little beast in his child speaks up.

Ask students to think critically about this poem by answering Discussion Question 1, “Do you think that the speaker of the poem is making up the tummy beast or is it real? What else could the tummy beast be? Do you ever have a tummy beast?”

Four Skinny Trees” by Sandra Cisneros (4th grade)

This short story is an excerpt from Sandra Cisneros’ well-known book, The House on Mango Street. In this story, Esperanza Cordero, a 12-year old Chicana girl growing up in Chicago, compares herself to the trees outside her house.

Pair this text with “Eleven,” another excerpt from the same book, in the Paired Texts tab. Ask students, “What traits would you use to describe the narrator from ‘Eleven’ and the narrator from ‘Four Skinny Trees’? Why are the narrators emotional?”

Joint Custody” by Ada Limón (5th grade)

Ada Limón was named the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States in July 2022. In this poem, the speaker reflects on their experience as a child of divorced parents who shared custody of them. Now that they are older, they see that though it was not easy, they were very loved and their experience gave them the ability to feel at home in two places.

Inspire young writers to write poems in the style of Ada Limón with Discussion Question 3, “How do our families shape the way we grow up? As a creative extension, write a poem about your family that starts with a question, like Ada Limón's poem.”

The Chicken That Crossed the Road” by Gary Soto (5th grade)

Gary Soto is an author born to Mexican American parents who has written many famous short stories for kids. This story is about a young boy who learns a valuable lesson after finding a stray chicken in an alley after school.

Prepare students to write rigorous open-ended responses on future benchmark assessments by assigning Assessment Question 5, “How does Miguel’s experience change his idea of courage as the story develops?”

Cold War” by Margarita Engle (5th grade)

Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet and author, who shares her thoughts about Cuba in this poem. The speaker describes how, to them, Cuba is not “cold” but rather a place of warmth and togetherness. This contrasts to how it was portrayed by the news media in the United States during the Cold War.

Engage students in key background knowledge to support comprehension of this text by presenting the video “How Did the Cold War Happen?” from the Related Media Tab. This video explains how the Cold War began, as well as Cuba’s involvement. After viewing, ask students, “Why did the Cold War start and who was involved? What did each side hope to gain as a result of the conflict? What finally caused the Cold War to end?”

Masks” by Shel Silverstein (5th grade)

Shel Silverstein was an American author and cartoonist, best known for his famous poems for kids. This poem describes two people who wear masks to hide their blue skin. Their whole lives, they search for others with skin like theirs, but pass right by each other because of the masks they wear.

Engage students through thematic connections by pairing this poem with “Underface,” also by Shel Silverstein, from the Paired Texts tab. Ask students to describe “how Shel Silverstein explores identity in the two poems. What are the disadvantages to hiding who you are, as explored in the two poems? How are the two poems similar in style and tone?”

Amazing Auntie Anne” by Cynthia Leitich Smith (5th grade)

Cynthia Leitich Smith is an award-winning children’s author and member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. In this poem, a young speaker learns that their legendary Great Auntie Anne is coming to visit and shares some tales about her amazing accomplishments. When they finally meet, the speaker is shocked that Auntie Anne wants to learn more about them as well.

Guide students to make text-to-self connections by engaging with Discussion Question 1, “Think about members of your community who you consider legendary. What are some of the legends that surround them? If, or when, you have a chance to meet this person, how will you feel? As a creative extension, write about a legendary person from your community, using the poem as inspiration.”

Next Steps

Looking for more elementary texts to drive learning and develop reading comprehension? Check out our Elementary Text Sets for collections of meaningful and rigorous stories, poems and nonfiction texts.

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