11 Elementary Short Stories for Social-Emotional Learning

Teacher holds papers while typing on laptop.

These meaningful texts for grades 3–5 teach important life lessons and social-emotional strategies.

Reading stories is a meaningful way to engage students in social-emotional learning. Great stories can guide students through common scenarios like making friends, building confidence, facing challenges, and more. Students can also learn important life lessons alongside approachable characters.

Here is a great set of texts for grades 3–5 to build social-emotional skills. These eleven short stories provide many opportunities for students to learn from characters’ choices and make text-to-self connections.

Cracks of Gold” by Elizabeth Donnelly

In this short story, Benjamin must find a way to fix a mistake when he and his mom move to a new apartment. He accidentally breaks a special bowl and Mr. Sato, his neighbor, teaches him an ancient Japanese technique called kintsugi to mend it. Mr. Sato shows Benjamin that when things are broken, they can be repaired and are stronger for it.

As students read, have them follow the annotation task, which asks them to take notes on how Benjamin’s feelings change throughout the story. Then, have students use their notes to discuss the important lesson Benjamin learns about mistakes.

The Retake” by Chris Low

In this short story, Andy is feeling down when he fails a test even after studying hard. He apologizes to his teacher, Mr. Crane, who acknowledges how hard Andy tried. Mr. Crane asks Andy to help him clean up the magnets that form a map of the United States and shows him that he learns better by being active. Andy retakes the test, passes, and now feels confident because he knows what kind of studying works for him.

This text provides students with a great opportunity to make text-to-self connections. Ask students Discussion Question 2, “Some people learn by moving, listening, reading, writing, or even singing. How do you learn best? How do you know that you learn that way?” Be sure to highlight how students’ responses show that everyone learns differently.

Snow Pony” by Krista Curran

In this short story, Asher, his younger sister Becky, and their father are playing in the snow. Asher is angry and frustrated when Becky ruins the snowman he has been building. When Dad takes Becky inside to warm up, Asher decides to let go of his anger and do something nice for his sister. He builds her a special snow pony to ride, which she loves!

After reading, have students watch the PBS Kids video “Kindness” under the “Related Media” tab. Ask students to discuss how they think Asher felt when he decided to show kindness to his sister. Then, extend their learning by asking them to think of ways they can show kindness to themselves and others.

The Related Media tab for the CommonLit lesson "Snow Pony."
Related Media videos are a great way to extend students’ thinking.

The Tides of Change” by Victoria Marie Lees

In this short story, Marie and Evelyn find out that their mother will be deployed in the U.S. Army Reserves. Evelyn is worried about their mom leaving, so Marie tries to reassure her, even though she doesn’t feel so confident herself. When the two girls get caught in a rip current, Marie tries to remain calm and get her sister to safety. Once they are back on the shore, Marie realizes that she can take care of her sister until their mom returns.

As students read, have them follow the annotation task, which asks them to take notes on Marie and Evelyn’s actions throughout the story. Then, have students use their notes to discuss the ways Marie responds to difficult situations and the lesson she learns about stepping up to help.

Hugo and the Seal” by Nora Nickum

In this short story, Hugo is struggling socially at school. His best friend Jasper has moved away, and he is being bullied by Marcus, Ned, and Oliver. One day, Hugo spots a baby seal on the beach and builds a fort so he can keep an eye on it. It turns out that Oliver has been watching over the seal as well, and the two boys agree to protect the animal together.

In this short story, Hugo makes an unexpected friend because of their shared interest. Have students reflect on their own friendships with Discussion Question 3, “Have you ever found out that you have something in common with someone you did not think you would have anything in common with? What did you have in common with them? Did that help you become friends with that person?”

The Basket Weaver” by Jacque Summers

In this short story, a shy Chumash girl named Yo’ee learns to use her strengths and share her voice with her people. Yo’ee wants to be a storyteller but believes her voice is too quiet to be heard. When her grandmother teaches her how to weave traditional Chumash baskets, Yo’ee learns to use her artistic skill to share stories with her people.

Consider pairing this text with “How the Stories Came to Be” by Mabel Powers, which can be found under the “Paired Texts” tab. In this folktale, the narrator describes the Iroquois tradition of storytelling. After reading both texts, have students discuss the significance of storytelling to the Iroquois and the Chumash people. Encourage students to describe how storytelling helps build community.

The Paired Texts tab for the CommonLit lesson "The Basket Weaver."
Paired Texts help students make thematic connections.

Pumpkin Planting” by Krista Curran

In this short story, Emmy is excited to plant a garden with her moms. Together, Emmy, Mama, and Mom dig the dirt to make beds for the seeds, measure where the different plants should go, and start planting. At the end of the story, Emmy can’t wait to see how her tiny pumpkins turn out.

This is a great story for teaching the value of patience. As students read, have them follow the annotation task, which asks them to take notes on Emmy’s feelings throughout the story. Then, students can use their notes to discuss the strategies Emmy uses to regulate her emotions and what she learns about waiting.

Hazel Down the Rabbit Hole” by Rebecca Agiewich

In this short story, Hazel is disappointed when she doesn’t get the starring role in the play at her new school. She is assigned the role of a hedgehog for the performance of “Alice in Wonderland.” When Hazel learns that the other hedgehogs, Ella and Tyler, are incredible dancers, she comes up with a plan to make their parts more exciting.

This story provides students with a great opportunity to think about how to find the bright side in situations that seem less than ideal. Ask Discussion Question 1, “In the story, Hazel is disappointed that she does not get to play Alice, but eventually is excited by her smaller role. Can you think of a time when you did not get something you wanted? Were you able to find a way to make the best of it?”

To Have a Friend …” by Richard Woodward

In this short story, Gil tries to make a new friend after moving somewhere new. He invites Tom, who lives on a nearby farm, to go bike riding with him several times, but Tom always has an excuse for why he can’t join. Eventually, Gil learns that Tom has to do most of the work around the farm because his dad died last year. He acts with empathy and offers to help Tom with the work so they can play together after.

Consider pairing this text with “Reaching Out to the New Kid” by Lissa Rovetch, which can be found under the “Paired Texts” tab. In this advice column, Arizona offers suggestions for supporting a new kid at school. After reading both texts, have students discuss ways they can make new friends and ensure all of their peers feel included.

The Human Zamboni” by Jennifer Sneed

In this short story, thirteen-year-old Harper feels humiliated when she is unable to land an axel during her figure skating program. She tries to think of other activities to pursue, but she doesn’t find anything as appealing as skating. Harper’s dad reminds her that she can skate just because she loves it, and when she returns to the rink, she knows she is in the right place.

As students read, have them follow the annotation task, which asks them to take notes on how Harper’s skating goals change throughout the text. Then, have students discuss how Harper reacted to the setback she experiences and what they can learn from her decision to keep skating.

The CommonLit lesson "The Human Zamboni."
Annotation tasks are a great way to have students respond to what they read.

Nothing Drops” by Kristin Nitz

In this short story, Sara’s volleyball team is losing their game. Sara knows her team can do better and believes she must find a way to encourage them to keep trying. This is a great text to get students thinking about the value of teamwork and the importance of trying your best even when faced with a difficult situation.

After reading, have students consider what makes successful teamwork. Ask Discussion Question 3, “Sara plays volleyball on a team. Have you ever played or worked on a team before? What is important to remember when working or playing on a team?” Encourage students to reflect on their experiences working together in class or during extracurricular activities.

Next Steps

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