Best Practices Windows and Mirrors: Diverse Literature on CommonLit
Our library provides an array of diverse perspectives to help students both see themselves and learn about others in the literature they explore in class.
CommonLit believes in the importance of exposing students to diverse literature that reflects experiences both similar and different from their own. This concept is often referred to as “windows” and “mirrors” in literature.
We know that students need to read stories that serve as mirrors, reflecting their own experiences, and windows that teach them about different cultures. When students see themselves reflected as mirrors in the characters and stories they are reading, they feel a sense of belonging and understanding. Windows, on the other hand, allow students to learn about people whose race, culture, religion, and lifestyle differ from their own.
Diverse perspectives on the CommonLit library
CommonLit’s library represents a breadth of cultures, genres, and stories. We are constantly adding to our lesson library, with the aim of showcasing characters and authors on CommonLit that reflect the diversity of American schools and the wider world.
Our library includes authentic texts by authors of color, including Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous authors. We consistently add works by diverse contemporary authors to our library, including passages by Elizabeth Acevedo, Joseph Bruchac, Jason Reynolds, Ada Limon, Naomi Shihab Nye, Amy Tan, and Gary Soto.
Additionally, we seek to highlight relevant themes and varying perspectives in the stories we share. Hundreds of texts on our library explore diverse themes of identity, community, and growing up. For instance, teachers can use our library to introduce students to the diary of a 16-year-old Syrian refugee in Lebanon, a poem that explores divorce from a child’s perspective, or an article about a student in Washington, D.C. who was homeless in high school and graduated at the top of her class.
CommonLit Originals showcase a variety of perspectives
CommonLit also has an Original Content Writing program, which offers an opportunity to showcase stories from a robust and representative canon of children’s literature. These texts are exclusive to CommonLit. The majority are by authors of color and dive into themes of identity, culture, and relationships. Authors like Gary Soto, Lucy Tan, Mitu Malhorta, Kgat Patrong, and Padma Venkatraman have contributed original texts to our library.
In Susan Muaddi Darraj’s “Gyroscopes,” an Arab American teenager deals with painful feelings when she must confront racism in an unexpected place. Shelby Ostergaard’s “The Test” helps students understand learning differences as a student discovers his friend with dyslexia gets extra time on an assessment. “The Satchel” by Lynette Samuel follows a boy named Kojo, who is worried about fitting in at his new school when his classmates make fun of his Ghanaian lunch and satchel. These stories allow students to explore important and relatable topics that will spark meaningful discussions. They will allow for both windows and mirrors in the classroom.
Our nonfiction texts also provide diverse perspectives for students
CommonLit’s library is home to over 90 biographies that tell the story of artists, athletes, intellectuals, leaders, and activists from around the world. Students can explore the story of Paralympian Melissa Stockwell, rocket into outer space with astronaut Guion Bluford, or learn how Native American artist Michael Naranjo sees with his hands.
Additionally, we are constantly curating texts about cultures and histories from around the world. Our library reflects holidays from various cultures and countries, like Holi, Ramadan, Passover, Tết, Día de Los Muertos, Nowruz, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and beyond.
We have a variety of Text Sets, groups of texts surrounding a common theme, that showcase diverse cultures. Our Text Sets include: Native American History and Authors, Black Heritage, Black Authors, Jewish Authors and Heritage, Latino Authors and History, Asian and Pacific Islander Authors and Cultures, African Cultures and History, Elementary: Cultures Around the World.
Another resource that provides windows and mirrors to students are our Supplemental Units, which include a handful of reading and writing lessons linked by a common theme that culminates in an end-of-unit essay. Our Thematic Unit on Holidays asks students to answer the question: “How do the holidays we celebrate reveal what is important to us?” Throughout the unit, students read five short texts that focus on children of all different cultures celebrating holidays, including All Saint’s Day in Poland, Thanksgiving in America, Holi in India, Ramadan in America, and Saint Lucia Day in Sweden.
CommonLit also has a Thematic Unit on Cultures Around the World. In this unit, students read about the traditional way of life for the Inuit people in the Arctic, the Urco Miraño people in the Amazon, the Tuareg people in the Sahara Desert, a Muslim family celebrating Girgian, and a Russian boy celebrating Yom Kippur in America. The texts are tied together by the Essential Question: “How do traditions make different cultures unique?”
Our ELA curriculum features a diverse range of stories as well
CommonLit 360, our free ELA curriculum for grades 6-12, also prioritizes diversity. Over 50% of our texts in these units feature protagonists of color or are written by authors of color. For example, in Grade 6 Unit 1: Characters Who Change and Grow 6 of 7 Essential Reading Lessons feature texts with protagonists of color, written by authors of color.
For example, “The Scholarship Jacket” explores themes of inequality based on socio-economic status and is written by Mexican American author Marta Salinas. “Thrown” focuses on a young boy with autism who is struggling to advance to a more difficult martial arts class, written by Asian American author Mike Jung. “The Medicine Bag” by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, deals with a young boy’s struggle to understand his grandfather and his Sioux cultural roots.
Our CommonLit 360 units represent a diverse array of perspectives, highlighting timely and important themes that students can either relate to or learn more about others through reading.
Interested in learning more about how to roll out CommonLit 360 at your school or district?
Our monthly thematic webinars highlight the diverse range of texts on CommonLit. We have hosted webinars aimed at helping teachers discover lessons for Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and more. Register for a free webinar here.