Inside Out and Back Again: A Unit Plan

If you like what you see in this unit plan, please visit my store on Teachers Pay Teachers: Better Living Through Literature. The unit below is a mere tasting of the comprehensive unit plans posted on TpT.  My unit plans on TpP include daily activities and assessments as well as Power Point presentations and pre and post reading activities.


The instruction in this unit plan is expected to require between ten and twelve weeks. Obviously, any plan is tentative and will be edited to meet the specific demands of students as these demands arise. I expect that the unit will evolve as it unfolds and I will be prepared to make the necessary changed required to this instructional roadmap to meet the demands of my particular students.

The theme of this unit is the trauma of the refugee experience.

The core reading around which instruction will be built is the text  Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai.  The informational texts have been selected to enrich the reading experience and challenge students.  I have added selected texts in order to address the specific needs of my students in this heterogeneously grouped class. Students will be conducting supervised research both as a pre-reading strategy and as a post-reading assessment at the end of the unit.  In addition, a local Vietnam war veteran, has agreed to speak to students at the start of the unit about his experiences as a helicopter pilot during the evacuation of Saigon.

In-class reading will be conducted via a modified Socratic method and students will be expected to Cornell style double-sided notes during in-class reading.

During the course of this unit, students will work whole class, in assigned collaborative groups and individually. In order to best meet the needs of every learner and to allow for differentiation of tasks, homogeneous grouping will be formed when appropriate.  The expectation is that every student will benefit from experiences in each of these varied instructional settings.

This unit is designed for 8th grade students who have already read of two characters whose experiences can be classified as “refugees,” which makes this reading a sequentially appropriate literary choice. During Quarter 1, they have seen Kino in The Pearl (Steinbeck), driven by generations of European oppression, leave La Paz in the hopes of finding the respect he had never been given by Mexico’s conquerors. They have lived in the annex with Anne Frank, the ultimate refugee, (The Diary of Anne Frank, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett) whose family had been forced into hiding by the horrors of the Holocaust.  Now they embark on a third refugee journey in Southeast Asia as seen through the eyes of a ten year old girl when she and her family are evacuated from Saigon in 1975. The child faces issues of cultural displacement similar to those experienced by Kino and many of the war induced fears described by Anne Frank.  Additionally, this child must adapt to life in the southern United States when she and her family are relocated to Alabama.

Essential Questions: What is home? How do critical incidents reveal character? What common themes unify the refugee experience?  How can we tell the powerful stories about people’s experiences?

Instructional Activities:

Weeks 1-3: Students will be working in assigned homogeneously grouped learning teams to conduct some preliminary research to prepare to read about Vietnam.  So as to differentiate effectively, the topics will be assigned based on ability and interest.  Each topic will be accompanied by a series of “research questions,” specific information to present to the class through either a Power Point Presentation of a Prezi Presentation.  Students will use the school data bases and print sources to find and paraphrase relevant information about: the geography, history and culture of Vietnam as well as the details of US involvement, including the anti-war movement at home. Each team will compile a series of five slides, prepare a rehearsed presentation and design a complementary handout to supplement their presentation. Students will also compile a bibliography documenting their sources.   Once students have shared their research, a local Vietnam veteran has volunteered to be our primary source and talk to students about his experiences as a helicopter pilot in country.

Weeks 4-7: Students will read the book.  All in-class reading will be conducted via a modified Socratic method. Activities to promote close reading will include extracting relevant information to support original assertions about character, conflict, setting, theme.  Students will work to summarize text through graphic organizers and questioning.  Reading will be assessed through both an objective test (multiple choice, constructed response) and a extended response in-class essay.

Weeks 7-10:  Students will conduct a post-reading research project about other refugee experiences and will create a chapter-length poem to share their research.  Students will use the same research sources  for this assessment as they did for their pre-reading work: school data bases and library supplied print sources. Students will again compile a bibliography.  Additionally, they will be required to incorporate no fewer than four of the following literary devices: simile, metaphor, hyperbole, personification, sensory language, allusion, alliteration, symbolism, dialogue, first/third person narration, rhyme.

Week 11: Students will write an in-class essay response comparing/contrasting Kim Ha’s experiences in this book to either protagonist from previous whole-class reading:  Kino or Anne Frank

Sample Critical Lens Essay Assignment:

Critical Lens Essay

Your Task:

Write a well-developed, organized essay in which you discuss Inside Out and Back Again, and The Diary of Anne Frank from the perspective of the given quote. In your essay, provide a clear and valid interpretation of the quote, agree or disagree with the quote as you have interpreted it, and support your position on the quote using specific references to appropriate literary elements or devices.

Critical Lens

“Although the specifics differ from place to place and from time to time, the refugee experience is characterized by a combination of desperation and hope and anxiety and optimism.”


  • You must number the steps on this assignment sheet.
  • You must plan your essay on the PLANNING PAGE.
  • For your analysis, use Inside Out and Back Again and The Diary of Anne Frank. Include specific references to these works in your essay (you must be specific—generalizations will not earn you much credit).
  • Provide a valid interpretation of the quote.
  • Indicate whether you agree or disagree with the quote (do not use I).
  • For each work, do not summarize but instead use literary elements (plot, setting, characterization, conflict,theme) or literary devices (point of view, structure, figurative language) to develop your analysis.
  • Devote one paragraph to each work.       Choose one literary element or one literary device for each work.
  • Specify titles and authors.
  • Adhere to all the conventions of standard written English.



Instructional Objectives:

  •  Students will be able to use print and reliable digital informational sources to conduct supervised research about the conflict in Vietnam, specifically the fall of Saigon as pre-reading preparation.
  • Students will be able to paraphrase information and document all sources in appropriate MLA format.
  • Students will be able to present their research using technology as a creative tool and a speaking aid through either Power Point or Prezi.
  • Students will be able to analyze the individual and unique cultural experiences of Kim Ha as vehicles that reveal character and theme.
  • Students will be able to sequence the events in Kim Ha’s experiences through graphic organizers.
  • Students will be able to evaluate Thanhha Lai’s choice to use poetry as the means of revealing character and expressing theme by referring to specific text-based details in support of their original assertions.
  • Students will be able to synthesize information gathered from their research and their class mate’s presentations with the sequence of events in the core reading Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai.
  • Students will be able to synthesize all of the year’s reading through an extended written response that will compare/contrast the refugee experiences of three different characters from readings this year in English 8: Kino, Anne Frank and Kim Ha, incorporating relevant text based support from all three works as well as evidence from selected informational texts.
  • Students will synthesize information and experiences in the unit by again using print and digital sources to create an original narrative poem reflecting the “inside out” and “back again” nature of the refugee experience.

List of Tentative Texts:

Core Reading:

Lai, Thanhha. Inside Out & Back Again. New York: Harper Collins, 2011.

Related Texts:

Butterfield, Fox. “Panic Arises in Saigon, but Exits Are Few.” New York Times.  April, 1975.

Dinh, Linh. “Saigion’s Fall, 35 Years Later.” The New York Times.  29 April 2010. Op-Ed

Lawson, Carol. “Sheltering Children of the Vietnam War.” New York Times. April, 1991.

Learning Network via The New York Times : “April 30, 1975: Saigon Falls.”

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