Texts for Elementary Students about Overcoming Obstacles

Several students sitting at a table in front of their laptops. One student is raising his hand.

These engaging texts for grades 3–5 teach important lessons about perseverance!

A new sibling, a big move, starting at a new school — our students face various challenges, big and small, as they go through their daily life. As teachers, we know that resilience is one of the most important skills our students can develop. We can help students develop resilience by providing support as they tackle obstacles both in and out of the classroom. Reading about others who persevered shows students that they can overcome obstacles too.

Here’s a great selection of texts for grades 3–5 from CommonLit that focus on the theme of perseverance. This multi-genre set includes poems, short stories, and informational texts.

“The Rose that Grew from Concrete” by Tupac Shakur

In this poem, by influential rapper Tupac Shakur, the speaker talks about a rose that grew strong even as it sprouted from less-than-ideal conditions. The figurative language in this poem beautifully describes how people can overcome challenges and succeed.

This lesson is a great option to introduce older elementary students to the theme of perseverance. The Discussion Questions that accompany this lesson ask students to consider challenges they have faced and how individuals can rise above hardships. This conversation would be a great way for students to make text-to-self connections by thinking about the ways they have been resilient in their own lives.

The CommonLit lesson "The Rose That Grew From Concrete."
CommonLit recommends using discussion questions to foster meaningful conversation.

The Impossibles” by J. Patrick Lewis

In this poem by children’s writer J. Patrick Lewis, the speaker uses different metaphors, like climbing a rainbow or living in a castle in the air, to describe how you can use your imagination to achieve the impossible. The strong imagery in this poem, like “You cannot seed a garden/With wheelbarrows of dreams/Until you first plant wishes,” helps students conceptualize the big ideas the speaker communicates.

We want to ensure our students know they can pursue their dreams if they set their minds to it. Use the second Discussion Question that comes with the text, “What steps does the speaker suggest readers take to accomplish impossible things?” to start a conversation with your students about the ways they have persevered and overcome obstacles as well as the challenges they want to take on next.

Fly High, Bessie Coleman” by Jane Sutcliffe

In 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first African American woman to receive her pilot’s license. This informational text first discusses the obstacles Coleman faced as a child in a segregated school. Then, as an adult, she was told African American women could not fly. Coleman worked hard and sought help from her community to learn to fly and eventually earn her pilot’s license. Though she died tragically in a plane crash at the age of 34, Coleman’s passion and determination inspired many other African Americans who dreamed of flying themselves.

The video “The First Female African American Pilot” under the “Related Media” tab provides more context for Bessie Coleman’s life and achievements. After reading the article, have students watch the video and discuss the attached question, “Why do you think Coleman’s accomplishments were important to African Americans during her time?”

The Related Media tab for the CommonLit lesson "Fly High, Bessie Coleman."
The Related Media links with each CommonLit lesson are a great way to build background knowledge or extend students’ learning.

The Girl Who Listened with Her Feet” by Eve Nadel Catarevas

In this short biography, students learn about the life and accomplishments of Laura Bridgman. When Bridgman recovered from a bout of scarlet fever as a toddler, she was no longer able to see or hear. She learned how to use her fingers and hands to see and speak, and how to use her feet to feel vibrations of footsteps through the floor so she knew which family member was near. Communicating with her family became more challenging as she got older, so Bridgman began attending the Perkins School for the Blind. She went on to become the first deaf-blind person to read and write. Laura’s story will inspire your students and show them an incredible example of a woman who overcame huge obstacles.

This text could be paired with “What a Pro Knows: Playing to Win” by Christine Louise Hohlbaum. The text is about Tamika Catchings, a retired professional basketball player who is hard of hearing. After reading both texts, students could compare and contrast Catchings and Bridgman’s experiences growing up with disabilities and how they overcame obstacles in their lives.

Little Yin and the Moon” by Jeremy Yoder

In this East Asian folktale, Little Yin is scared and worried when she finds her mother crying because their cow has stopped giving milk. She embarks on a journey to find the source of her family’s hunger, climbing a mountain to reach a lake, Sun, and finally Moon. Yin learns that her family is going hungry because Moon is cold. Even though she is hungry and cold herself throughout the folktale, Yin gives her only blanket to Moon. In the end, Yin’s determination and generosity brings food back to her family, and she is pleased to know the moon will always stay warm.

The annotation task with this lesson, which asks students to take notes on Yin’s thoughts and actions as she tries to solve the problem, provides students with insight into why Yin is able to overcome the obstacles she faces. Students could use their notes to discuss Yin’s determination and connect to a time when they may have faced a multi-layered challenge and had to persevere.

Left Behind” by Susan Hall

In this historical fiction text, Erik, a young Viking boy, is frustrated when he is not allowed to go on a raid with the other men in his village because of his disability. The next day, a village elder begins to teach Erik how to use his senses to observe the world around him. When raiders come to storm their village, Erik is forced to abandon the lesson and run to rescue the women and children. After the raiders leave, Erik uses what he can hear and smell while navigating the sea to guide his village back home and learns the value of overcoming challenges by using the skills he has.

Consider using CommonLit’s Guided Reading Mode as students read this text. Though the Vikings and the Middle Ages may be unfamiliar to them, the theme of perseverance is universal, and the guiding questions will help students monitor their comprehension to ensure they understand the message of the story.

The Student Preview for the lesson "Left Behind," which shows the first Guided Reading Mode question on the right.
Guided Reading Mode is a great way to ensure students understand what they read.

Marble Champ” by Gary Soto

Lupe knows she is a great student, but she is determined to also be good at a sport in this short story. She decides to become a competitive marbles player. She practices hard to improve her thumb and wrist strength, and in the end, her dedication pays off and she wins the championship!

The annotation task provided with this lesson, which asks students to take notes on how Lupe reacts and responds to the challenges she faces, is a great way for students to track cause and effect within the story. After reading, students could discuss how Lupe persevered by sharing the steps she took to win the championship and if they have had similar experiences in their lives.

Next Steps

Looking for more elementary texts or text sets on CommonLit? Browse the CommonLit Library!

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