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 seventy 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 6th 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 by Alan Gratz. This 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. This text will continue students’ 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). 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.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

  • Website: How to Read Comics by Tracy Edmunds (TracyEdmunds.com)

  • Article: “Refugee” by Diane Boudreau, Melissa McDaniel, Erin Sprout, Andrew Turgeon (National Geographic)


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, and what are they willing to sacrifice to find safety?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.




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To see all the vocabulary for this course, view our 6th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

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.
  • This unit focuses primarily on the experience of refugees and does not go into much detail about the complex and contentious politics of refugee aid/resettlement. You may wish to supplement this unit with up-to-the-moment information about laws and policies that impact refugees. Consider providing information about how the world refugee crisis impacts your own state, city, and community—and how politicians representing your area have responded to these issues.

Lesson Map


  • “Refugee” — stop before "Environmental Refugees"




Define important terms related to this unit and determine the technical meaning of unfamiliar words using context clues and reference texts.


  • The Unwanted pp. 1 – 19

  • How to Read Comics



Define significant terms essential for understanding graphic novels, and explain how Brown uses text and illustrations to develop the reader’s understanding of the conflict in Syria.


  • The Unwanted pp. 20 – 45


Explain how Brown uses words and images to develop mood, tone, and meaning.


  • The Unwanted pp. 46 – 67



Describe different challenges that refugees face and explain how Brown develops the reader’s understanding of this topic through data, anecdotes, quotes, and illustrations.


  • The Unwanted pp. 68 – 90


Determine author Don Brown’s point of view on the world’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis and his purpose in writing The Unwanted.


  • Refugee pp. 1 – 17


Describe the narrative structure of Refugee and explain how the first three chapters develop aspects of characters, setting, and plot.


  • Refugee pp. 18 – 48


Explain how Gratz uses figurative language, word choice, and punctuation to help develop mood and meaning.


  • Refugee pp. 49 – 80


Explain how characters respond to the difficult situations they face and how they have changed since the beginning of the text.


  • Refugee pp. 81 – 109



Explain how characters respond to and change as a result of specific plot events, and identify how their responses reveal their perspective.


  • Refugee pp. 110 – 140



Explain how Refugee can be considered a “coming-of-age” novel and describe how each of the three protagonists are changing as the text progresses.


  • Refugee pp. 141 – 170


Explain how Gratz uses figurative language and imagery to help develop mood and meaning.


Literary Analysis Writing

  • Refugee


Perform a Close Reading of the text using inference and evidence.


  • Refugee pp. 171 – 202


Explain how Gratz makes connections between the stories of the three young refugees.


  • Refugee pp. 203 – 235



Explain how characters respond to and change as a result of specific plot events and identify how their responses reveal their perspective.


  • Refugee pp. 236 – 262

Explain how characters respond differently to specific plot events, and how their responses reveal their perspective.


  • Refugee pp. 263 – 291



Explain how and why characters respond to specific plot events, and how their responses reveal their perspective.


  • Refugee pp. 292 – 317



Describe how characters’ perspectives have changed by the end of the text and explain how Gratz makes connections between the book’s three protagonists.


  • Refugee


Determine themes in Refugee and explain how they are developed through the stories of specific characters.


Socratic Seminar

  • Refugee



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


Informative Writing


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


Informative Writing



Evaluate and compile research information into a digital presentation.


Informative Writing



Logically organize the information in presentations, including all required components, and appropriately cite sources.


Informative Writing



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





Plan and outline a free verse poem that explores the experiences of a displaced family.




Interpret an experience of a displaced family through a free verse poem.


2 days


Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.6.2.a — Use punctuation (commas, parentheses, dashes) to set off nonrestrictive/parenthetical elements.

  • 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).

  • L.6.5 — Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.6.3 — Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).

  • 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.6.6 — Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.

  • 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.6.2 — 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.

  • RL.6.7 — Compare and contrast the experience of reading a story, drama, or poem to listening to or viewing an audio, video, or live version of the text, including contrasting what they "see" and "hear" when reading the text to what they perceive when they listen or watch.

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

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

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

  • W.6.9 — Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

  • W.6.9.a — Apply grade 6 Reading standards to literature (e.g., "Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres [e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories] in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics").

Spiral Standards