CommonLit Elementary Classrooms Teach Your Elementary Class about Black Women who Shattered Glass Ceilings

Dive into 8 informational texts about powerful women who made history.

Explore our digital literacy platform and find amazing informational texts about inspiring Black women. Learning about these empowering leaders will spark reading engagement for elementary students and bolster reading comprehension with guided reading questions and annotation tools.

What a Pro Knows: Playing to Win” by Christine Louise Hohlbaum (3rd Grade)

In this informational text, Christine Louise Hohlbaum discusses Tamika Catchings, a pro baller, and her life’s accomplishments. Catchings is retired now, but she spent her entire 15-year career with the Indiana Fever, a women's American basketball team.

For an engaging lesson about sports, watch “Spotlight: Tamika Catchings” from the Related Media tab of Catchings playing basketball. How would students describe her as a player? How does this compare to how the author describes Catchings in the article?

Claudette Colvin” by Britannica Kids (3rd Grade)

Students have likely heard of Rosa Parks, but do they know Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on the bus before Parks? They may not, and that is because the NAACP did not want to make her the face of the desegregation movement because she was too young. Regardless, Colvin still challenged segregation laws in court and remained an activist for the rest of her life.

Use this text to start a conversation about peaceful protests. Pair “Claudette Colvin” with the historical fiction story "We Will Walk" from our Paired Text tab about a girl and her family who participate in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. What is the peaceful protest described in each text? How did Claudette and Rosa’s actions lead to the actions taken by Sadie in “We Will Walk”?

Dancing Towards Dreams” by Sara Matson (4th Grade)

In this informational text, Matson discusses ballerina Misty Copeland's journey to success. In 2015, Copeland became the first African American woman to hold the highest-ranking ballet position for the American Ballet Theater.

This is an excellent text for discussing the theme of perseverance with your students. Ask the class to highlight examples of Copeland persisting in this text. What lessons can students learn from Copeland’s life and career?

A screenshot of the lesson "Dancing Toward Dreams"

A Way with Words” by Michelle Obama (4th Grade)

In this interview, former First Lady Michelle Obama asks 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman about her poetry. Gorman was America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate, and read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration.

Pair this interview with the video from the Related Media tab of Amanda Gorman reading her poem at the inauguration. Then, have students discuss why this poem was so moving to many people, including Michelle Obama. What about the poem stands out to them and how does it help them better understand how poetry is an important way to understand the history and future as Amanda Gorman references in the interview?  

Alice Coachman Jumps for the Sky” by Barbara Kramer (5th Grade)

In this informational text, Kramer outlines Alice Coachman's life and accomplishments. Coachman was an African American track and field athlete who specialized in the high jump. Alice's parents wanted her to "act like a lady," but she persevered and kept practicing her sport. In 1948, Alice became the first African American to win an Olympic gold medal.

This text could be paired with “Should Girls Be Allowed To Play High School Football?” which describes the debate over whether or not girls should be permitted to play football in an Alabama town. After reading both texts, students should discuss how women are treated in sports. Why was Coachman encouraged to “act like a lady” rather than play with the boys? How does this compare to the controversy around girls playing football?

Marian’s Revolution” by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen (5th Grade)

Marian Anderson was a famous African American singer in the 20th century. Despite her talent, racism constantly hindered Marian’s career. However, she was determined to sing. Anderson advocated for equality in the United States, paving the way for other Black girls and women to follow their dreams.

After students read this text, show the class the video of Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial from our Related Media tab. Ask students about  the significance of Anderson singing at the Lincoln memorial? How does hearing Anderson sing change how students think about this text?

African American Suffragists” by Margaret Gushue (5th Grade)

In the United States, women did not have the right to vote until 1920. Black women faced a unique challenge. Until the 19th Amendment was passed, suffragists fought tirelessly for the right to vote, especially African American women who were often left out of movements. In this text, Gushue discusses inspirational African American suffragists like Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Mary Church Terrel, and their immeasurable impact.

After reading, ask students the Assessment Question: “How did race impact African American women's experience during the women's suffrage movement?”

Ruby Bridges” by Kio Herrera (5th Grade)

Ruby Bridges was only six years old when she became the first Black student in New Orleans to attend an all white school. This informational text discusses Bridges impact on the Civil Rights Movement.

Use the third discussion question of this lesson to prompt a conversation on being treated unfairly. Ask students if there is an injustice, or something that they have found to be unfair or not right, that they have noticed in the present-day?

Next Steps

Looking for more texts to celebrate the achievements of amazing women? Check out this blog about Target Lessons About Courageous Women!

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