Engaging Elementary Short Stories on CommonLit about Competition

A teacher and two students sitting at a table. The teacher is pointing and smiling.

These great short stories for grades 3–5 from CommonLit’s library offer valuable lessons about winning and losing!

We’ve all been there. A children’s sports game that started out friendly, with high-fives on the field and cheering fans in the stands. But somewhere between “Play Ball!” and “That’s Game!” a meltdown happens, and someone is going home a sore winner or sore loser…and the children aren’t all that happy either!

All joking aside, some sort of competition is inevitable in childhood–and adulthood–and there’s a lot of valuable lessons to be learned from the experiences of winning and losing. At CommonLit, we know that literacy instruction provides a great opportunity to build students’ knowledge about the world around them. That’s why we are dedicated to providing teachers with free access to high-quality texts about relevant, developmentally appropriate topics for their students.

Here’s a great selection of texts that offer lessons about sportsmanship, teamwork, resilience, and just plain having fun!

Marble Champ” by Gary Soto

Lupe, a straight-A student who wins spelling bees and science fairs, is frustrated with her clumsiness when it comes to anything athletic. One day, she decides to tackle a new goal: dominating a sport. So she sets out to be a playground marbles champion.

Your students may laugh at Lupe’s approach to getting “in shape” for the competition, but the comedy doesn’t take away from the message that hard work and determination pay off. Sadly, marbles may not be as familiar to students these days, but CommonLit has you covered! In the Related Media section of our teacher resources we provide you with a short video that explains the world of competitive marbles as well as a narrated version of this story for an engaging read aloud.

For those of you who teach Spanish-speaking students, don’t forget CommonLit’s Spanish Library that has over 200 elementary reading level texts. “Marble Champ,” like many of our texts, comes in both English and Spanish. You can find “Campeona De Canicas” here.

The CommonLit Español lesson "Campeona de canicas."

Sometimes a Dream Needs a Push” by Walter Dean Myers

After a car accident, Chris wants to join a wheelchair basketball team, but his dad Jim, a former pro basketball player himself, is unsure. This short story written by an award-winning author shows kids that sometimes it’s the adults that need to learn the big life lessons.

The digitally assignable lesson that accompanies this story asks students to take notes throughout the text on Chris’s dad’s attitude. This is a great lesson for intermediate grades to understand character development and change over time. Jim’s character is revealed through direct statements about his hopes and dreams, his words (or barely audible mumbles), his actions, and what Chris and his mother say about him when he’s not present. The change in Chris’s dad is believable and reinforces to students that hardwork and a great attitude can impact their own lives as well as the lives of others.

The Human Zamboni” by Jennifer Sneed

Harper loves figure skating and dreams of making it to the Olympics. But when Harper experiences an embarrassing setback on the ice, she is left wondering if she should continue with the sport she loves.

This story is a little bittersweet because it approaches dreams a bit more realistically than some, but it’s an incredible read. With support from her dads and friends, this story’s main character must readdress why she loves ice skating and her goals for the sport. In addition to being a great text for analyzing the development of theme, this story also teaches students a valuable lesson about the art of recovering from embarrassment.

For those who live in the South, like me, and only see ice when opening the freezer, you might need to utilize one of CommonLit’s Related Media resources to build background knowledge on figure skating and what an “axel” is!

The Related Media tab for the CommonLit lesson "The Human Zamboni."

The Champion of Quiet” by Tracy Stewart

Maggie, the new girl and “Champion of Quiet,” hates gym class. Gym class means team sports, and team sports means picking teams, and picking teams means Maggie is always picked last. But what happens when Maggie gets a chance to pick a team?

Faced with the decision of picking a champion team or a team full of unique champions, Maggie has to break from being Champion of Quiet to make her voice heard. This hilarious story may not end the way most underdog movies do, but your students will walk away with a much better lesson about what’s really important–just like Maggie walks away with some newfound friends and a brand new nickname.

This text, appropriate for younger readers, is wonderful for exploring bravery, identity (how you see yourself as well as how others see you), and the joy that can sometimes come with losing.

The Challenge” by Gary Soto

“The Challenge,” or “El Desafío” if you would like to use the Spanish text, follows José, a young boy who has been trying to win the attention of his crush, Estela, for several weeks. After multiple failed attempts at catching Estela’s eye, José learns she plays racquetball, so he challenges her to a match. Readers pick up hints along the way of Estela’s (or Stinger’s) talent as an athlete, but, unfortunately, José realizes his errors in judgement too late to avoid an embarrassing and painful loss!

This is a great text to practice inferencing and analyzing character development. This is also a great text for discussing the dangers of making assumptions before getting to know someone. After reading, teachers have optional discussion questions at their disposal on CommonLit; one such question asks about different stereotypes that are brought up in the text and how they shape how the characters interact with each other.

Cobra Kite” by Mahani Zubaidy Gunnell

This is a really interesting story that will help broaden your students’ thinking about competitive games. In rural Malaysia, the existence of a kite in the sky is an open invitation to a kite fight! Kite flyers will make their kites swoop, dive, and dodge in order to knock their competitor’s kite to the ground. Even onlookers can join in the competition; once a kite falls, it is fair game to be claimed by anyone who can race to find where it lands.

“Cobra Kite” is all about not underestimating the underdog. Who will win the kite fight? And who among the village will win the treasured prize of the fallen kite? The answers may surprise you!

If your students love “Cobra Kite” and are curious about the author’s experiences living in Malaysia, they will also love her memoir piece, “A Cobra in the Garden,” made available through the Paired Texts resource tab. As with any paired text, CommonLit provides suggested questions to lead discussion. Here, you could ask your students to compare both experiences and explain what they have learned about the author’s life from both.

The CommonLit lesson "Cobra Kite."

Next Steps

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

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