Create a safe learning environment for students to discuss how they feel about complex events with these short stories for elementary students.
Emotions, such as sorrow and grief, can be difficult to introduce to elementary school students. However, these online reading lessons from CommonLit are designed to be useful tools for teachers who are discussing these subjects in their classrooms.
These five stories for grades 3-5 include sensitive topics ranging from the death of family members and the loss of pets to the impacts of severe illness. We recommend that you carefully select the text that you think is most appropriate for your students. It may be helpful to read the text together and to invite discussion from students who feel comfortable sharing.
“My Great-Grandma” by Nancy Machlis (3rd Grade)
In this short story, Nancy Machlis explores the topics of loss and grief and reminds readers that love will always prevail. The main characters, a sister and brother, visit a nursing home to see their Great-Grandma who struggles to remember who they are. They realize that they cannot change their Great-Grandma’s health, but they can still love her unconditionally and appreciate the good times they spent with her. This text provides a meaningful opportunity for students to discuss their favorite memories with older loved ones.
“All Saints’ Day at Night” by Linda Rae Apolzon (3rd Grade)
In this article, Linda Rae Apolzon describes the Roman Catholic holiday, All Saints’ Day, which commemorates those who have passed away. Tomek, a young boy, is scared to visit the cemetery with his family at night. When they arrive, he notices that the cemetery is beautifully lit by candles and that the place is not terrifying after all. Tomek learns the importance of honoring family as he celebrates the life of his late grandfather. Students can use this text as a starting point to reflect on remembering the lives of important people who have passed.
“The Sun Stands Still” by Josephine Cameron (4th Grade)
In this short story, Josephine Cameron discusses the impacts of grief and loss of a close family member. Izzie is a young girl who normally celebrates her favorite day of the year, the winter solstice, with her grandfather. This year is the first time she experiences the day without the person she loves most. Through a shared passion of violin playing, Izzie honors her grandfather’s memory and finds comfort in her family singing Grandpa’s favorite tune. This text can help spark dialogue about supporting those who are struggling after the death of someone they care about.
“Shells” by Cynthia Rylant (4th Grade)
In this narrative, Cynthia Rylant portrays the difficulty of loneliness when a young boy, Michael, transitions to living with his Aunt Esther after his parents tragically pass away. Michael feels like he has nothing in common with his aunt and falls into a depressive state with no one to talk to or play with. However, his situation turns around when he begins to care for a hermit crab and finds that Aunt Esther surprisingly takes an interest in his new pet too. This story can help students discuss how to adapt to change and how relationships begin to heal.
“Thirteen and a Half” by Rachel Vail (5th Grade)
In this short story, Rachel Vail writes about mourning the death of a pet. The narrator visits the house of his new classmate, Ashley. During their playdate, Ashley finds that her pet bird, Sweet Pea, has passed away. The narrator learns how to support Ashley, even though they do not know each other well. Together, they remember the life of Sweet Pea by hosting a funeral. This text will allow students to share their thoughts on how to handle death as a part of life and how to support friends.
We encourage teachers to pick one of these five resources that cover complex situations and to create a supportive environment when covering difficult topics.
Looking for more short stories to spark class discussion in your ELA curriculum? Browse the CommonLit library.
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