Elementary Strengthen Student Reading Curriculum with New Short Stories from the CommonLit Library

Students are smiling while they are looking at their computers and doing a lesson.

Lead engaging classroom discussions and support student reading comprehension with these new short stories for grades 4-8!

We are excited to share new short stories that you can incorporate into your reading curriculum this school year. These literary texts will not only boost your students’ reading growth, but they will also engage them in class discussions and inspire their personal development with themes about identity and humanity. We will share some tips on how you can assess and support your students’ reading comprehension with CommonLit’s guided reading feature, which includes assessment, discussion, and guiding questions.

Hodja and The Hungry Coat: A Turkish Tale” by Gale Sypher Jacob (4th grade)

In this short story, Hodja, a famous character from Turkey, rushes to attend a party at the Emir’s mansion, but doesn’t change his clothes after laboring in the vineyards. Unrecognized by the Emir and dismissed for his appearance, Hodjia devises a plan to return to the mansion and teach the Emir a lesson.

Students can use CommonLit’s accessibility tools, which include footnotes and word definitions, to learn more about Turkish culture and language as they read this short story. You can start a classroom discussion about other clever characters from traditional stories by asking students the following question from CommonLit’s discussion questions: “Many cultures tell stories that have tricky, or clever, characters that teach important lessons. Who are some other tricksters you can think of? How do the tricksters teach important lessons, like Hodja does in this story?”

Smog City” by Chris Butler (5th grade)

Set in a polluted, dystopian future in Vancouver, “Smog City” follows a metal machine that thrives under toxic waste. As part of his job, he searches for a missing girl, Emily, in a poisonous smog that humans cannot get past without endangering their lives. When he finds Emily, she treats him with respect as if he were a human.

As students read the text, they can take notes on how the characters feel about the setting. You can gauge student reading comprehension with CommonLit’s built-in reading assessment that includes questions like, “What does the narrator most likely mean when he says, ‘I liked the way she called me ‘mister.’ Like I was one of them, a real person.’ (Paragraph 16)?” This particular question will help students recognize the metal machine’s desire for human connection.

In Search Of…” by Joan Lennon (5th Grade)

A four-part science-fiction short story, “In Search Of…” follows eighteen-year-old Tay, whose ancestors survived a disaster in space and adapted to an underwater world, Planet Rannoch. On this planet, Tay and her family live in a pod that has oxygen for only three people. When Tay’s parents announce that they will have a baby, she realizes that she must find a new home.

You can find parts two, three, and four of Joan Lennon’s “In Search Of..” in CommonLit’s free digital library, and lead a weeklong class discussion about the text. For part one, you can ask your students the following question from CommonLit’s discussion questions: “The author leaves us with a cliffhanger, or a suspenseful ending where we do not know what will happen next. What are your predictions for what will happen in Part 2?” This question will help build your students’ critical thinking skills as they predict what might happen in the next part of the story.

Where I’m From” by Misa Sugiura (8th Grade)

At the start of college, Eriko meets her roommate’s parents who ask her where her parents are “really from,” propelling her to reflect on her identity as a Japanese-American from Minnesota. She remembers personal experiences where she dismisses her Japanese identity and emphasizes her American identity.

Students can examine the events in Eriko’s life that cause her to question how she feels about her identity. To understand Eriko’s point of view, they can refer to CommonLit's guiding questions, such as, “Why doesn't Eriko want to help Miho?” Exploring this question will help students understand why Eriko doesn’t feel comfortable when her peers only recognize her for her Japanese identity.

Screenshot of CommonLit's text "One of these Days"

One of these Days” by Gabriel García Márquez (8th Grade)

Authored by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, “One of these Days” tells the story of a scrupulous dentist who finally accepts the town’s Mayor as a patient after refusing to provide care for him. During the appointment, tensions arise between the dentist and the Mayor that are beyond matters of the teeth.

This short story features themes of social class, corruption, and revenge, which your students can explore as they examine the dentist’s behavior towards the Mayor. With this engaging text, you can moderate a classroom discussion using CommonLit’s discussion questions, including, “In what ways does the Mayor abuse his power? The dentist? Throughout history, what are examples of people abusing power? How does power corrupt?”

Crowd” by Dax Everitt (8th Grade)

Alex describes their experience traveling to work on a motor-powered wheelchair. Throughout their trip, Alex notes how people respond to them and the effort it takes for them to get to work on time. Independent and self-reliant, Alex grows annoyed when a passenger questions their ability to travel on a crowded train with their motor-powered wheelchair.

While your students read this literary text, they can take notes on Alex’s responses to the obstacles they face while traveling to work. You can find other short stories about disability for elementary and middle school students in CommonLit’s digital library.

Next Steps

Looking for more great short stories for elementary and middle school students? Check out our CommonLit library!

If you’re interested in learning all about CommonLit’s free digital literacy program, join one of our upcoming webinars!

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