New to CommonLit? A long-time user looking to refresh your lesson plans? Use these texts in your high school classes!
Published in · 8 min read · Aug 13, 2019
8 min read
Aug 13, 2019
CommonLit is a digital literacy program with over 2,000 lessons for grades 3–12. CommonLit’s library includes high-quality literary and nonfiction texts, digital accessibility tools for students, and data-tracking tools for teachers.
In this post, we are excited to share 15+ of our favorite texts for high schoolers. To see all of our texts for high school students visit our full library.
“I, Too” by Langston Hughes
In direct response to Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing,” Langston Hughes wrote this powerful poem that challenges the notion of a single view of American identity. In just a few short, free-verse stanzas, the poem acknowledges the historic oppression of Black Americans, communicates optimism that equality will be gained through perseverance, and refutes the idea that patriotism is limited to the dominant culture of a country.
“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut
This famous and thought-provoking short story is one of Vonnegut’s most famous pieces. In the story, the speaker describes a future society where everyone has been made equal — but what does “equality” mean for its citizens? As you read have students take note of how each person is affected by the government’s actions.
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
This classic short story has it all: mystery, suspense, and an unexpected twist ending. The story depicts a small New England town holding its annual lottery — a mysterious event that reveals the power of tradition and ritual. As you read, have students take notes on how the author builds suspense and foreshadows the ending.
“Boy Soldier” by Fred D’Aguiar
In this jarring poem, a young soldier is described. Juxtaposing a beaming smile and awkward body of a growing boy with the violent and chaotic imagery of death, British-Guyanese poet Fred D’Aguiar encapsulates the tragic existence and demise of young boys being forced into warfare. Use the annotation task and discussion questions to address how ill-prepared the young soldier is for war and his ultimate death at the hands of another boy just like him.
“The Pros and Cons of Youth Sports Aren’t Only Physical” by Dr. Marika Lindholm
In this article by Dr. Marika Lindholm, a mother of athletes and professor at Northeastern University, Lindholm summarizes her research regarding the psychological risks and benefits of playing youth sports. This text, which is also available in a Spanish language version, can be paired with “Life After Sport” and “Teen Brain Takes Biggest Sports Hits” to create a mini-unit that culminates with an argumentative writing assignment asking students to take a stance on whether young people should be allowed to participate in certain sports.
“Nelson Mandela’s Nobel Peace Prize Lecture” by Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela, the South African leader and human rights activist, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. In this speech, he speaks of justice and how South Africans successfully dismantled the apartheid system. This lecture highlights key themes of his human rights activism. You can facilitate a discussion with your students with the following questions: What makes an activist? What characteristics does Mandela have that made him a successful activist?
“Elie Wiesel” by The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel (1928–2016) was a Romanian-born, Jewish American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor. In this informational text, his impressive academic accomplishments and humanitarian efforts are discussed. While reading the text, ask your students to take notes on how Wiesel influenced human rights activism during and after his lifetime.
“The Last Curiosity” by Lucy Tan
If you’re a fan of television shows like Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone, this science fiction text is for you. During the aftermath of the destruction of mankind, the collective voices of the artificial intelligence left-behind in our “smart” devices make up one sentient being self-named as “The Woken.” The Woken narrates this tale as they (the surviving A.I. of earth) set out to explore what is really means to be human. Pair this text with the NPR article, “Are Stories a Key to Human Intelligence?” to see how your students feel about what truly does embody what it means to be human.
“Eraser Tattoo” by Jason Reynolds
Award-winning YA author, Jason Reynolds, tells the tale of Shay and Dante, two teens in love. What sets this story apart from so many others is that Shay and Dante’s relationship is represented in a way that is authentic and thoughtful. Sitting on the stoop and reflecting upon their shared history as a couple, Shay and Dante spend their last moments together before Shay and her family move to another state. The tone is sorrowful but hopeful as Shay and Dante share their short-term wishes and long-term dreams. Have students analyze the symbolism behind the eraser tattoo that Shay gives Dante.
“A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury
In this short story, set in the future, a man travels back in time to when the dinosaurs walked the Earth. As he travels through time, he learns that the impact of changing something small in the past might have a different effect on the present. As your students read, have them take notes on Eckels’ actions while he is in the past.
“Here’s what happens when you ‘like’ a brand on Facebook” by Alisha Horky and Mark J. Pelletier
This informational text discusses all the different ways that individuals engage with different brands on social media. Summarizing the findings of two separate studies, the authors describe the reasons behind why we “like” a brand on Facebook as well as the different types of engagement consumers have with brands on social media platforms. This text, available here in a Spanish language version, can be paired with the informational text titled “The Power of ‘Like’” for a robust discussion on social media’s impact on consumer decisions.
“American Dream Faces Harsh New Reality” by Ari Shapiro
In this informational text, Ari Shapiro (of NPR’s Morning Edition) discusses the American Dream and its modern interpretations. He interviews Americans about their feelings surrounding “the dream” and if they feel like they can truly achieve it. As students read, have them take notes on how America has changed over time. How would they define the modern American Dream?
Excerpt from Notes from A Native Son by James Baldwin (Grade 11)
James Baldwin’s words in Notes from a Native Son are as poignant and powerful today as they were when they were published in the 1950s. In this excerpt, Baldwin reflects upon an evening when three important events converged–the birth of his youngest sibling, the death of his father, and the 1943 Detroit race riot. Baldwin discusses his complicated relationship with his father and his thoughts on what made his father who he was. As you read, have students take notes on how Baldwin describes his father.
“A&P” by John Updike (Grade 11)
This story by John Updike, famous American author known for writing about life in small-town America, is narrated by a young A&P grocery store cashier. The narrator witnesses three teenage girls who come into a grocery store in their bathing suits during the more conservative 1960s. As you read, have students take note of the different ways the narrator finds the leading girl attractive and how his feelings evolve throughout the story.
“Sweat” Zora Neale Hurston (Grade 12)
This short story, written by one of the most important figures of the Harlem Renaissance, focuses on a hard-working washerwoman and her cruel, unemployed husband. The husband, who is lousy in every way imaginable, decides he wants to rid himself of his wife using a dangerous rattlesnake. Read to the end to find out if the man gets his just reward. Please note that there is a reference to domestic violence in this story and some use of offensive language. Students may need support with reading the distinctive regional dialect in which Zora Neale Hurston writes.
“A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez (Grade 12)
Gabriel García Márquez is a nobel laureate and one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. In this magical realism story, he writes of an old man with wings who crashes into a family’s yard. His arrival disrupts the quiet town and confuses the townspeople.
As students read this story, ask them to take notes on the reactions of the townspeople when they realize the old man has wings.
“Teaching Shakespeare in a Maximum Security Prison” by Michael Martin (Grade 11)
In this NPR interview hosted by Michael Martin, Professor Laura Bates discusses teaching Shakespeare in a maximum security prison to inmates. Bates discusses the meaningful class discussions and importance of education in prison. After your students read the interview, you could have a class discussion about access to education for people who are incarcerated. Why is it important? What are some ways to ensure education is available to those who need it?
“What makes good people do bad things?” by Melissa Dittmann (Grade 11)
In 1971, Phillip Zimbardo, a psychology professor at Stanford University, oversaw an infamous and controversial experiment called the Stanford Prison Experiment. In this article, the experiment is discussed and students learn about some of the takeaways for the psychology community.
“What Adolescents Miss When We Let Them Grow up in Cyberspace” by Brent Staples (Grade 12)
This opinion piece will undoubtedly spark a robust debate with your high school students. In this text, Brent Staples asserts that allowing teenagers to spend considerable amounts of time on the Internet may be damaging their development. In preparation for discussion, have students annotate the text for what teenagers use the Internet for and how it may affect them.
We’d love to hear from you and your students! Tell us your favorite CommonLit texts for high schoolers in the comments below.