These great texts for grades 3–5 teach students important lessons about family.
Family looks different for each of our students. Their home languages, traditions, and experiences make our classrooms special. As teachers, we want to foster a sense of community in the classroom where all of our students’ families are acknowledged and welcomed.
Here is a great selection of texts from CommonLit for grades 3–5 that focus on the theme of family. These stories explore diverse family dynamics and give students the opportunity to make connections to their own lives and families.
“Pumpkin Planting” by Krista Curran (3rd Grade)
In this charming story, Emmy is excited to plant a garden with her moms. She is the first person in her family to plant tiny pumpkins, and she can’t wait to see how they grow! Together, Emmy, Mama, and Mom dig the dirt to make beds for the seeds, measure where the different plants should go, and start planting. Emmy is ready to wait patiently for her tiny pumpkins, and runs off to help Mom plant the purple beans next.
After reading the text, have students make text-to-self connections to strengthen their comprehension. Students could draw or write about something fun they do with their family, then they could explain their activity to the class. As a STEM connection, students could plan for their own dream garden, finding the area of the garden and making space for everything they would plant!
“The Very, Very, Very Long Hike” by Debbie Urbanski (3rd Grade)
In this heartwarming story, Edun is reluctant to go on a long hike in the rain with her brother Will, Mama Sara, and Mama Jade. She is worried about getting tired and feels uncomfortable in her raincoat. Along the way, Mama Sara helps Edun find the magic on the trail, like a waterfall for gnomes and a forest for giants. When her family gets tired, Edun realizes it’s her turn to get them excited, so she leads them in a game of I Spy. That night, sleeping under the beautiful stars, Edun says she is glad she came on the hike with her family. As students read, have them follow the annotation task, which asks them to make note of the times when Edun is happy. Students can discuss how Edun’s family helps her enjoy the hike. Then, students could share a time when they tried something new or different with their family and how it made them feel.
“Athena and the Dandelions” by Leeann Zouras (3rd Grade)
In this short story, Athena is embarrassed that her Greek family picks dandelions to eat. She doesn’t want her new neighbor, Brigid, to think her family is weird when she comes over for a dinner party. Brigid eats the dandelions and enjoys them, so Athena decides she should be more open-minded and celebrate what makes her family unique.
This lesson is a great opportunity for students to consider what makes their families special. Use the second Discussion Question, “What is something your family does that you consider unique? Do you share this practice with others?” to start a conversation about what makes your students’ families special.
“Summer with Papaji” by Jyoti Singh Visvanath (4th Grade)
In this short memoir, Visvanath describes spending time with her grandparents in India during the summer. The author feels more connected to her grandmother, Bibiji, than her grandfather, Papaji, who she thinks barely tolerates her. Over the summer, Visvanath becomes entranced watching Papaji use his typewriter, so she spends the next year writing poems and stories of her own. The next summer, she is surprised when Papaji sends her the typewriter and learns her grandfather is more affectionate than she thought.
This text could be paired with “Blue Sky Home” by Lisa Papademetriou. The text is about another young girl, Phoebe, who travels to visit her grandfather in Greece. Just like in “Summer with Papaji,” Phoebe realizes her grandfather shows his love differently than she expects. After reading both texts, students could compare and contrast Visvanath and Phoebe’s experiences with their grandfathers.
“My Great-Grandma” by Nancy Machlis (3rd Grade)
In this short story, the narrator and her brother Zach visit their great-grandma in a nursing home. Great-Grandma struggles with memory loss, and Zach is upset when she doesn’t remember him. The narrator comforts her brother by reminding him of Great-Grandma’s words: “Love is a light in your heart that lives forever.” When it is time to leave and Great-Grandma smiles at her, the narrator is reminded that even as her great-grandmother’s memory fades, the love in their hearts still ties them together.
This text could be paired with “My Favorite Things” by Joy Cowley. In this sweet story, the narrator and her grandmother share lists of their favorite things. Together, the two texts could be used to start a discussion about the ways students bond with family members outside of their immediate family, like grandparents or cousins. Have students share what makes those relationships special to them.
“The Icicle Symphony” by Julia Gousseva (3rd Grade)
It is winter in Moscow, and Marina wants to curl up in her warm bed with a book. Instead, her Uncle Gena has plans to take her on a trip to see the fresh snow and hear the symphony of jingling icicles in the wind. Marina is enchanted and grateful that her uncle teaches her to appreciate the beauty around her. She learns that our family members can introduce us to different experiences and perspectives.
Bring some music into the classroom by playing the video “Kennedy Russell — Dance of the Icicles” under the Related Media tab. Ask students to describe how they feel as they listen to the song. Then, ask them to discuss how the song compares to Marina’s description of the icicle symphony in the text.
“Shells” by Cynthia Rylant (4th Grade)
In this short story, Michael is deeply lonely after his parents die and he is taken in by his Aunt Esther. Michael feels like he hates Esther because she is so different from his parents, and Esther struggles to understand why Michael punishes her. One day, Michael brings home a hermit crab. After observing the crab, Esther decides it needs friends. Together, they bring home twenty more hermit crabs, and Michael realizes that Esther is trying to make him feel at home.
This moving story provides an opportunity for students to discuss how Michael and Esther may not be a traditional family, but they come together to support each other. Use the second Discussion Question, “What makes a family? Do you think Michael and Aunt Esther can become a family?” to start a conversation about what ties people together.
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