Inside out and Back Again Book Unit Ideas

Chances are sometime this year whether you’re a teacher, work in a school, know someone who’s a teacher or have kids you have heard the words “Common Core”. What is it? A new set of standards that the country is implementing to get all states on the same page about what is taught in schools. This means all states have the same standards, instead of separate standards for each state like it used to be.

The common core standards are designed to make underperforming U.S students more college and career ready. I believe they are  more authentic and will be more helpful than the old standards for meeting that goal.

Some teachers are irritated with my state, New York, because they have gone ahead and designed whole book units on books for each grade level and “suggested” to schools to teach these units. This takes away creativity of the teacher as she is no longer able to design her own lessons. No one wants to be a robot and just follow a script, which is what essentially the NYS modules are.

My school district has not mandated that we use these units, however I really liked one of the books, Inside out and Back Again by Thannha Lai so I decided to go ahead and teach it. I haven’t followed the scripted lessons word for word; I have taken what I could use and implemented changes that will fit the needs of my students. Okay, since I’m probably boring you with teacher speak, here are some ideas that I used to spice it up.

1. Include websites and more supported material on Vietnam that is student friendly.

Many of the articles and websites that the state used were dry. So here are some that I used to spice it up.

Vietnam War Facts

Fall of Saigon Video

Helicopter Pilot recalls Fall of Saigon

Sweet refugee stimulation video game <<<< really cooL!

Refugee Background

2. Real life correspondence with refugees.

The school I used to work at was an area that serviced a lot of ESL and refugee students. I got in touch with a friend (thanks Judy!) and we organized a little “pen pal” type activity. My students are so excited to see what our refugee student has to say in response to questions they created! We’re reading them tomorrow in class. This will help with their refugee research for the final project. I also reached out to local agencies and organized an office supply drive at my school. Some refugees at a center in Buffalo are having a hard time with supplies for applying for jobs and learning English. I organized a drive at my school and I will deliver the office supplies to the agency when the drive is over. Another great real life connection!

3.Differentiated final project

The final project of the module was the write a poem. I offered them multiple choices utilizing my school’s 1:1 I pad situation. They will use apps like Instablend, Piccollage, Videolicious, and Podomatic to create these projects.

Final Projects for Inside out and Back Again

Also, here is a daily vocabulary bell work packet that I give my students when we start this unit. I do this with all of my units. I take a selection of words from the unit and students work with the words every day upon entering the classroom. 


I can’t wait to share the projects when they are completed! This blog topic was way far off from my regular topics but I am excited about the ideas I tried and just wanted to share! Thanks for reading!

If you’re a teacher, how do you feel about the common core?

Does your state have scripted lessons? Would you follow it?



10 thoughts on “Inside out and Back Again Book Unit Ideas

  1. Rachel Wooten

    When I try clicking on the links above, it won’t take me there. Any suggestions? Thanks!

  2. Kimberly

    Hi Andrea,
    I am a new teacher at a middle school that requires me to closely adhere to the EngageNY curriculum. I am struggling to make it my own and adapt it for my special needs/ELL learners who are struggling readers. Many o them feel like they cannot relate to Ha’s story. I want to make the book as relevant and engaging as possible for them while working to increase their below grade-level reading and writing skills. Do you have any sample lesson plans that incorporate the resources you’ve used to hold you students’ interest? I am going to administer the EngageNY Module 1 Unit 1 Lesson 5 mid-unit assessment next week (which focuses on “Birthday Wishes” pages 31-32?, and what we’ve learned about Ha thus far) and I want my students to be (and FEEL) prepared.

    Thank you for this post. It was just what I needed 🙂

  3. Mae Backer

    Hi! You work at Wellsville, don’t you? I believe I used to sub for you! I just started my first year of real teaching (ELA 8-9 at A-A), and while browsing for fun Inside Out and Back Again activities, I came across this blog! What a small world! Thanks for sharing your ideas!!


  5. Katrina Cavagna

    I also teach in Western New York! I have been searching for some good ways to get the kids connected to the novel! Thank you for this post!

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