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Fleeing Conflict: Refugee & The Unwanted

Students explore the topic of "coming of age" through the stories of young refugees from different time periods, all of whom face unthinkable hardships as they desperately seek safety.

Unit Summary

There are 70 million people in the world today who have fled their homes due to the threat of violence or persecution. They are young children and adults and the elderly. Most are struggling to survive; all are desperately seeking safety and stability.

This final ELA unit of the sixth-grade year introduces students to their plight.

Students will begin the unit by reading The Unwanted, a nonfiction graphic novel by Don Brown that focuses on the experience of Syrian refugees. This compelling book uses text and images to educate the reader about both the political complexities of this crisis and also the human toll. Students will build their schema around this pressing and timely issue before diving into Refugee, the core text of the unit. Alan Gratz’s bestselling novel tells the story of Isabel, Josef, and Mahmoud, three young refugees from three time periods, as they flee their respective homelands in search of safety. As he alternates between each refugee’s story, Gratz draws the reader’s attention to the unique challenges each faces, all while deftly weaving their stories together across time.

Students will spend time studying Gratz’s unique structural choices and the way that he uses structure to create meaning. They will also continue their year-long interrogation of what it means to “come of age,” by analyzing how characters change over the course of the text in response to events (and particularly traumatic events).

This unit also features three writing tasks: a literary analysis task, a research task, and a narrative writing task. Halfway through the unit, students will address one of our essential questions as they reflect on the way that the three refugee families have been treated by others and take a position on whether people are essentially generous or selfish. At the end of the unit, students will have the opportunity to work in small groups to research another contemporary refugee crisis and present their research to their classmates in a PowerPoint presentation. They will culminate this unit—and the year—by using their research to write a narrative featuring a young refugee from the crisis they studied, using Refugee as a model.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 5 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions


  • Why do people make the decision to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere?
  • How do people respond when they see others in need?
  • What does it mean to “come of age” during times of crisis and war?

Reading Enduring Understandings


  • Refugees are people who choose—or are forced—to flee their homes because of war, political unrest, violence, or persecution. Currently there are millions of refugees around the world—the highest number in recorded history.
  • Refugees often face extreme hardships and even risk death in their search for safety for themselves and their families.
  • The response to refugees can vary widely; some individuals and governments are welcoming, while others are unwelcoming or even hostile to those who seek their help.
  • The Syrian civil war has sparked one of the largest refugee crises in recent history, as many millions of people have left the war-torn country seeking refuge and asylum elsewhere.



Notes for Teachers


  • These texts present the brutal reality of what life is (and was) like for refugees. There are scenes in both core texts that graphically describe war, violence, and torture, as well as the emotional aftermath of these events. The Unwanted may be particularly upsetting to students because events are depicted visually. While we feel that these images are not gratuitous, it is strongly recommended that you determine what is appropriate for your specific group of students and inform parents about what you will be discussing.
  • Provide students with ample opportunities to discuss their reactions to the text.
  • The plight of refugees is a topic that students may have seen in the news. The question of refugee resettlement in the United States—specifically those from Muslim-majority countries—is a contentious one. You may wish to talk to students about the “Muslim ban” and ask them to discuss their reactions.
  • Questions 5-6 and the essay on the unit assessment reference the article "Going to School as a Refugee" by Caroline Garrison (see unit materials). Be sure to include this article with the assessment.

Lesson Map


  • “The Plight...” — (Stop before section titled “Environmental Refugees”)




Determine the technical meaning of significant terms using context clues and reference texts.


  • The Unwanted pp. 1 – 25


Explain aspects of the conflict in Syria by integrating information communicated by text and illustrations.


  • The Unwanted pp. 26 – 51


Determine the meaning of unknown words and figurative language by using context clues from surrounding text and images.


  • The Unwanted pp. 52 – 75

  • “Anti-Immigrant...”


Explain aspects of refugees’ experiences by integrating information communicated by text and illustrations.


  • The Unwanted pp. 76 – 93


Explain how specific panels and sections fit into the overall structure of The Unwanted and help develop meaning.


  • Refugee pp. 1 – 17


Explain how the first three chapters of Refugee fit into the overall structure of the text and develop setting and plot.


  • Refugee pp. 18 – 48


Determine the impact of figurative language and explain how punctuation can be used to create meaning in a text.


  • Refugee pp. 49 – 80


Explain how the author uses specific scenes and incidents to make connections between the stories of the three young refugees.


  • Refugee pp. 81 – 109



Explain how characters respond to specific plot events and identify how this reveals or changes their perspective.


  • Refugee pp. 110 – 140



Explain how Refugee is a “coming-of-age” novel by identifying how characters have changed over the course of the text.


  • Refugee pp. 141 – 170


Explain the meaning of figurative language and its impact on the mood of a scene.


Literary Analysis Writing

  • Refugee




Gather sufficient evidence appropriate to the task.


Literary Analysis Writing

  • Refugee




Craft a strong thesis statement and body paragraphs. 


Literary Analysis Writing

  • Refugee




Craft a strong introduction and conclusion. 


  • Refugee pp. 171 – 202


Explain how the author uses specific sentences and scenes to make connections between the stories of the three young refugees.


  • Refugee pp. 203 – 235

  • “Alien World...”



Closely read specific passages of Refugee and explain how they reveal changes in characters’ perspectives and make connections between different refugees’ stories.


  • Refugee pp. 236 – 262


Write objective summaries of the stories of the three young refugees.


  • Refugee pp. 263 – 291


Explain the impact and connotations of specific words and how mood is developed through specific words, phrases, and sensory details.


  • Refugee pp. 292 – 317


Explain how the author makes connections between the stories of the three young refugees over the course of the text.


  • Refugee — Full text


Determine themes in Refugee and explain how these are developed and supported over the course of the text.


Informative Writing

  • Sources for Lessons 21-23




Begin to gather information for presentations from provided resources and those found online, differentiating between credible and non-credible sources.


Informative Writing

  • Sources for Lessons 21-23





Create a PowerPoint presentation and appropriately cite sources.


Informative Writing

  • Sources for Lessons 21-23





Present PowerPoint presentations using appropriate volume, eye contact, emphasis, and pronunciation.


Socratic Seminar

  • Refugee

  • Socratic Seminar Guide



Engage in a Socratic Seminar with peers, responding directly to others by rephrasing and delineating arguments and posing clarifying questions.


Narrative Writing

  • Refugee




Develop compelling, dynamic characters and vivid settings for narratives. 


Narrative Writing

  • Refugee




Organize narratives logically and include dialogue to develop characters.


Narrative Writing

  • Refugee



Provide a concluding section that follows naturally from narrative and structure.


2 days


  • “Going to School as a Refugee”

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.6.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 6 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

  • L.6.4.c — Consult reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.

  • L.6.4.d — Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.6.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings.

  • RI.6.5 — Analyze how a particular sentence, paragraph, chapter, or section fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the ideas.

  • RI.6.7 — Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.6.1 — Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RL.6.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

  • RL.6.3 — Describe how a particular story's or drama's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

  • RL.6.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.

  • RL.6.5 — Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot.

  • RL.6.6 — Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.6.1 — Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

  • SL.6.1.d — Review the key ideas expressed and demonstrate understanding of multiple perspectives through reflection and paraphrasing.

  • SL.6.3 — Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.

  • SL.6.4 — Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

  • SL.6.5 — Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, images, music, sound) and visual displays in presentations to clarify information.

  • SL.6.6 — Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Writing Standards
  • W.6.1 — Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

  • W.6.1.a — Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly.

  • W.6.1.b — Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

  • W.6.1.e — Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the argument presented.

  • W.6.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content

  • W.6.2.a — Introduce a topic; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

  • W.6.2.b — Develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.

  • W.6.3 — Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

  • W.6.3.a — Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.

  • W.6.3.b — Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

  • W.6.3.d — Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.

  • W.6.3.e — Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.

  • W.6.6 — Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting.

  • W.6.7 — Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.

  • W.6.8 — Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources; assess the credibility of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources.