Elementary Texts on CommonLit about Making a Difference

Students sitting around a round table with their laptops open. Some students are raising their hands.

These texts show students how just one person can make a difference in a local community or the world!

Being a kid can sometimes be frustrating. With rules at home, rules at school, and rules everywhere in between, kids can easily feel like everyone is in control of their lives except them! How can we show students that they do have power in their communities and even in the world? How can we inspire them to make a difference?

At CommonLit, we believe that reading can truly be transformative. That’s why we aim to gather high-quality reading materials that are relevant and inspiring, pair them with great reading strategies and skills-based questions, and make them available to students and teachers for free!

Here’s an awesome set of inspiring texts that includes both fiction and nonfiction–all revolving around the topic of making a difference!

Do What You Can” by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

This is a sweet fable retold by an elementary school principal who wrote stories for her students. The story follows a single raindrop who feels sorry for a hardworking farmer and his withering crop. Although the raindrop has been told that it cannot make a difference — being only one small drop of water — that raindrop decides to do the kind thing even if it cannot solve the farmer’s troubles.

While children are sometimes very literal thinkers, there can be no mistaking the simple message of this fable. Through this story, children understand that the kindness of one simple act can inspire others to follow with their own acts of kindness. After reading this heartwarming story, you can’t help but internalize the sweet message of the title: “Do what you can.”

Because of its more overt message, a fable such as “Do What You Can” is a great way to address the concept of theme with younger readers. With support, students should be able to discern the main theme of this story and apply it to their own lives and experiences.

Getting Started on Saving the Everglades” by Meg Chorliane

“Getting Started on Saving the Everglades” talks about the importance of the Everglades as a natural habitat for so many animals and how people are taking measures to protect and restore portions of it to its original state.

Not only is this a great article for teaching students the importance of focusing on doing what they can to protect the environment; this text also has great value for analyzing the interaction of ideas. Students can take notes as they read on the cause and effect relationship between the people and the land. This will prepare them to answer the culminating assessment question: “What is the connection between the actions of humans and the Everglades?”

If your students aren’t familiar with this marshy home to hundreds of different animal species, we recommend introducing the text with one of our Related Media videos.

The Related Media tab for the CommonLit lesson "Getting Started on Saving the Everglades."

Girls of the Crescent: Meet the Two Teenagers Fighting for Better Representation in Books” by Girls of the Crescent

To paraphrase a much-borrowed quote, it’s important to provide students with both texts that are windows–allowing students to see the world from other perspectives–and texts that are mirrors–highlighting well-developed characters that look, talk, and act like them. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a reality for all kids, as noticed by Mena and Zena, two Muslim teenagers living in Michigan.

In “Girls of the Crescent,” Mena and Zena provide a first-hand account of how they took action when realizing their school and public libraries had very few books featuring Muslim women and girls. These two amazing young women started their own non-profit organization and worked, first, by raising awareness and funds to provide books to their own community libraries. Since then, they have broadened their sights and outreach to many other communities.

If your students love “Girls of the Crescent” and are up for a challenge, consider introducing them to “Marley Dias: The 13 Year-Old Author Who Made a Difference.” Like Mena and Zena, Marley also took action to do something about the lack of representation in available books. So, Marley founded a book drive called #1000blackgirlbooks. This article about Marley, as well as an article about Pakistani education advocate Malala Yousafzai, are available in the Paired Texts tab for “Girls of the Crescent.”

Hooray for Us!” by Connie Hurst Howard

Yuki is a young girl who wants to clean up the park next door to her school, but it’s going to take more than just hardwork from her classmates to get the park ready for children. This short story follows Yuki and her friends as they attempt to raise money for the restoration of an old park.

Yuki takes the lead by suggesting to her classmates, teacher, and principal that they hold a carnival to raise the money, but she is disappointed when the funds they raise fall short of the goal. Inspired by Yuki’s giving spirit but understanding of the community’s hardships, the principal surprises Yuki with a creative appeal that asks for something even better than monetary donations.

Students who read this story will understand that even good ideas can fall short of their goals, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Sometimes, a little bit of creativity and good will can help turn things around!

The CommonLit lesson "Hooray for Us!"

The Peace Corps Journey” by Jennifer Borgen

In this informational text about the Peace Corps, students get an overview of the history of the Peace Corps, why and when it was founded, and a brief description of what a Peace Corps volunteer experiences during the two years of service to the organization. Most importantly, students get a small understanding that life looks drastically different across the globe.

This text will show your students that there is a lot to learn about other countries and cultures that they can’t get from just watching TV. For example, students may have seen lots of pictures of animals from the West African Savannah, but did they know that a common breakfast in West African countries is fried spaghetti and boiled plantains?! The author of this text highlights the ability to share different cultures from around the world as one of the many benefits of the Peace Corps.

Beyond the knowledge and topics of discussion this text has to offer, it also embodies the quality and complexity of texts students will need to become familiar with in late elementary school. For example, the overall structure and purpose of the text is not as simplistic as those read in early elementary; this text starts by outlining the history of the Peace Corps, then takes a more persuasive tone by describing the benefits and goals of the organization, and lastly ends with a call to action for its young readers. Teachers can support students as they read complex texts on CommonLit by activating Guided Reading Mode, which chunks texts in logical sections, slows students down by asking basic comprehension questions at the end of each section, and then provides immediate feedback and opportunities for re-reading before allowing students to move on to the next section.

The Student Preview for the CommonLit lesson "The Peace Corps Journey." Guided Reading Mode is enabled, so part of the text is blurred.

Next Steps

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

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