CommonLit 360 “Following the Crowd:” A Short Story Unit from CommonLit 360’s ELA Curriculum That Will Peak Students’ Interest

The unit guide for 9th Grade Unit 1 is shown on a computer screen underneath the CommonLit 360 Curriculum logo.

This ELA Short Story Unit will get students excited about reading and spark incredible classroom discussions.

What Is CommonLit 360?

CommonLit 360 is a free English Language Arts curriculum for grades 6-12 that includes content-rich units and compelling texts. Each fully-built out unit integrates reading, writing, listening, and speaking lessons. It is easy for teachers to use, with clear facilitation tips, actionable assessments, and ready-made tools to support differentiation.  

Why Unit 1 Is Perfect for 9th Grade

The first unit in 9th grade consists of suspenseful short stories that explore how being in a group affects a person’s behavior and choices. This unit challenges students to question the instinct of following the crowd and explore what conformity looks like in the world. Students also debate who is at fault when “following the crowd” goes wrong. Ninth graders are often faced with situations where they must decide between doing what they know is right or following the crowd. Adolescents around this age are anxious about fitting in and being accepted and will relate to the short stories’ theme of group behavior.

Students will hone key reading comprehension skills, learning about how authors develop themes, complex characters, character interactions, and plot in a story and how these choices impact the story. In writing, students will practice both argumentative and expository writing, with lessons on writing strong arguments, planning essays, and writing strong introductions and conclusions.

The Core Texts in This Unit

This unit features four compelling short stories by famous authors like Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson. These engaging stories will spark heated discussion and debate in your classroom.

  • Cheboygan Day by Brittany Allen: a short story about two twins who move to a new town and are the subject of multiple rumors. The twins struggle with speaking out to correct lies and going along with the crowd to be accepted.
  • All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury: this famous short story is about a group of young people living on planet Venus who experience sunlight for the first time in seven years, and explores how fear influences behavior and how conforming to the norm can prove dangerous
  • The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson: a shocking short story about a town that takes place in a brutal ritual called “the lottery” which results in one townsperson’s murder and how blindly following traditions and the crowd can be dangerous
  • The Man in the Well by Ira Sher: a short story about a group of young people who find a man trapped in a well and cruelly trick him into thinking they will help him but instead leave him to die in an unfortunate case of groupthink

This unit also includes three informational texts. The first text explores how people change to fit in with a group. Another text focuses on the dangers of tradition, and people’s tendency to believe in the importance of tradition without questioning its origins. The final text is about the idea that people act differently when they are part of a crowd.

This unit also includes six supplemental informational texts that discuss topics like how social media “likes” affect teen behavior and why popular kids are more likely to bully others.

How Unit 1 Drives Student Success

The Essential Question of this unit is: “How does being in a group affect how we behave?” In this unit, students will practice reading skills including understanding themes, analyzing complex characters, and identifying ideas. Writing in this first high school unit gives students direct instruction on foundational writing skills they will use in all following units. Students will take a baseline writing assessment, review parts of an exemplar paragraph, and receive explicit instruction on writing strong arguments as well as introduction and conclusion paragraphs. To show mastery of these skills, students will write an essay responding to a cross-textual literary analysis prompt.

By the end of the unit, students will have all the skills to answer the question: “Write an essay that analyzes how the unit short stories illustrate one or more of the terms from the article “It’s No One’s Fault When It’s Everyone’s Fault” – deindividuation, anonymity, or diffused responsibility.” This question asks students to synthesize fiction and nonfiction texts to summarize their learning.

Students will love the Related Media Exploration, where they will analyze different types of conformity and watch three videos as they consider who is the most influential part of a group: the leader, the first follower, or the crowd. Additionally, the Discussion Lesson asks students to debate the following question: “Should people be held accountable for what they do under the influence of a group?” Students will refer to evidence from texts to support their ideas.

Students will also be energized by the Discussion Lesson, where they will refer to evidence from texts to support their claims. They will debate the question: “Should people be held accountable for what they do under the influence of a group?” Students will have many different viewpoints on this question, leading to a lively class discussion that will help students practice vital conversation skills needed to excel in high school.

How Unit 1 Drives Teacher Success

CommonLit 360 provides a wealth of tools that will make the beginning of the year a breeze. Each comprehensive unit is set up for teachers and includes everything from fully-fleshed out lesson plans to vocabulary quizzes to discussion prompts and more. If your school purchases our School Essentials PRO package, you can access our Professional Development Portal. These self-paced tutorials are specifically designed to help teachers utilize all CommonLit 360 has to offer in their classroom.

Additionally, digital grading and feedback tools, interactive reading and writing lessons, and data tracking can save you hours previously spent on planning and grading. Working within contract hours will no longer be an unattainable pipe dream, and you can use the extra time to continue to focus on relationship building in your classroom.

Next Steps

Sign up for a CommonLit 360 webinar to get a comprehensive overview of how the curriculum works and how to use the digital platform.

Interested in gaining access to live and on-demand professional development that will help your team take full advantage of CommonLit 360? Reach out to partnerships@commonlit.org. You can also request a quote for School Essentials PRO via this link.

This graphic demonstrates the differences between CommonLit’s paid packages.
This graphic demonstrates the differences between CommonLit’s paid packages.





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