CommonLit’s digital literacy program will help enhance your reading curriculum with these lessons which include guiding questions, Paired Texts, Related Media, and other tools to boost student reading comprehension. The following poems, memoirs, and short stories by Black authors, will foster meaningful discussions around real world experiences such as how we express identity, handle discrimination, live up to societal expectations, and more.
“East 149th Street [Symphony For a Black Girl]” by Teri Ellen Cross Davis (6th grade)
Contemporary poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis is known for writing about the experiences of women and people of color in America. In this poem, a young girl describes her experience of having her hair braided by her mother. Throughout the poem, her feelings change from discomfort to appreciating the freedom and joy that accompanies her new hairstyle.
Extend this lesson by assigning the suggested Paired Text “First Day Fly” by Jason Reynolds. Have students compare how in both texts the speaker’s physical appearance is associated with their identity. Ask students to describe a time where changing their appearance was important to expressing their identity.
“First Day Fly” by Jason Reynolds (6th grade)
Jason Reynolds is an award-winning author of young adult novels and poetry who strives to create stories that make young people feel cared for. In this short story, a boy is preparing the perfect back to school outfit.
As students read, have them take note of the boy’s feelings throughout the story. Lead a class discussion using Discussion Question 3, “The narrator is looking back on an important day in his life, talking about it to his younger self. How would you want your older self to look back on your life right now and tell your story? What would you hope that your older self would understand about who you are now?”
“Hi, Im Nic” by Nic Stone (7th grade)
Nic Stone is a New York Times Bestselling author known best for writing young adult fiction. In this memoir, Stone describes the time she traveled to Israel with hopes of finding herself. While in Israel, she listened to people’s stories about how the conflict between Palestine and Israel impacted them. After hearing these stories, Nic’s perspectives of the world changed and she realized she was meant to be a storyteller.
In the text, the author references the phrase "putting oneself in another's shoes." Have students respond to Discussion Question 2, “What does it mean to be in another person's shoes? Can you think of some examples from your own life where being in someone else's shoes helped you understand something from a different point of view?”
“Mothers” by Nikki Giovanni (8th grade)
Nikki Giovanni is a well-known African American poet, writer, and activist whose work ranges from children's literature to writings about race and social issues. In this poem, the speaker reflects on a childhood memory of her mother reading her a poem. Later, the speaker shares that she taught her son the same poem.
Share this video of Nikki Giovanni reading her poem “Mothers.” Have students pay attention to the tone Giovanni uses and which words she emphasizes. Ask students to discuss how her word choice impacts the theme of the text.
“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid (9ths grade)
Award winning Caribbean American writer, Jamaica Kincaid, is well known for her essays, stories, and novels that often include personal portrayals of family relationships set in her native Antigua. In this short story, a mother lectures her daughter on society’s expectations of women. After giving her directions for maintaining the house and how to act towards boys and men, the mother is disappointed that her daughter may not follow all her directions.
Extend your lesson by showing “Expectations,” a spoken word poem that addresses the expectations society places upon young people. Lead a class discussion comparing and contrasting the expectations placed on the speaker of the video and those placed upon the girl in Kincaid’s “Girl.”
“Eraser Tattoo” by Jason Reynolds (10th grade)
Another Reynolds piece we have in our library is a short story about Dante and Shay saying their final goodbyes before Shay and her family move away. As they discuss their relationship and hopes and dreams for their future, Shay gives Dante a friction burn with a pencil eraser to remember her after she is gone.
Show this video where Jason Reynolds challenges viewers to come up with a fictional tattoo for themselves. Ask students to describe their fictional tattoo and the story behind it. Do students think Dante will ever regret the eraser tattoo he let Shay give him? Why or why not?
“From Citizen, VI [On the Train the Woman Standing]” by Claudia Rankine (10th grade)
Contemporary American poet, Claudia Rankine, won the National Book Award in 2015 for Citizen: An American Lyrics which is a collection of poems that highlights the effects of racism in America. In this poem from Citizen, the speaker witnesses a man being discriminated against on the subway. Worried he is feeling isolated because no one is sitting next time, the speaker sits with him and reflects on how this experience must make him feel.
At the end of the poem, the speaker says she will claim him as family if anyone asks him to move. Have students practice their writing skills by completing a written response for Discussion Question 3, “Describe ways you can help others deal with discrimination? Is it important for those who may not face discrimination to be aware of prejudice in ordinary life? Why or why not?”
Looking for more short stories by Black authors to share with your students? Check out this text set that features Black Authors and this text set that features key figures in Black History!
To hear about great ways to celebrate Black History Month in your classrooms, join the upcoming Black History Month Webinar!