War Coming Close to Home | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA 2012 G8:M1:U1

War Coming Close to Home

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In this first unit, students will build their close reading skills as they consider the crisis of war coming close to home. They begin the novel Inside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha Lai, focusing on how critical incidents reveal the dynamic nature of Ha, the main character, whose Vietnamese family is deciding whether to flee during the fall of Saigon. The novel is poignantly told in diary entries in the form of short free-verse poems. Students will consider how text structure, figurative language, and specific word choice contribute to a text's meaning as they closely read selected poems. Their study of the novel is paired with reading a rich informational article, "The Vietnam Wars," which gives students key background knowledge about the history of war in Vietnam. Students build their skills using context clues, and also begin the routine of "QuickWrites," receiving explicit instruction and then practicing writing strong paragraphs in which they effectively cite and analyze text.

For their Mid-Unit Assessment, students will analyze how key incidents in the novel reveal Ha's character. In the second half of the unit, students continue to read the novel paired with informational text, as they focus in on critical incidents the character experiences leading up to the fall of Saigon. Students begin to more carefully examine how word choice and tone contribute to the meaning of both informational text and specific poems in the novel.

For their End of Unit Assessment, students write two strong paragraphs in which they analyze the word choice, tone, and meaning of two texts (an informational audio text and a poem from the novel).

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • What is home?
  • How do critical incidents reveal character?
  • Critical incidents reveal a character's dynamic nature.
  • Authors use specific word choice to create tone and enhance meaning.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards. However, the module intentionally incorporates Social Studies content. These intentional connections are described below.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Texts and Resources to Buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please download the Trade Book List for procurement guidance.

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
Inside Out & Back Again
by Thanhha Lai
One per student
ISBN: 978-0061962790, 0061962791


Optional: Community, Experts, Fieldwork, Service, and Extensions


Invite experts to speak to the class about the history of Vietnam, the Vietnam War, or the fall of Saigon.

Locate refugees from Vietnam to come and answer the questions students generate.




Coordinate a local refugee center to inquire about service opportunities.


  • Social Studies teachers may complement this unit with a focus on similar Guiding Questions, which were developed from the NYS Social Studies Core Curriculum; see Guiding Questions above.

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