Back to Writings

Inside Out and Back Again Poems

School: Brockport Oliver Middle School

City/State: Brockport, NY

Grade(s): 8

Format(s): Poem

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Social Studies

Type(s): Poetry

Writing Assignment Description

These poems are based on the novel Inside Out And Back Again by Thannha Lai and preceded by students writing an essay introducing the concepts of the universal refugee experience during EL Education’s Grade 8 ELA, Module 1, Unit 3. The novel is written in free verse poetry form and is told from the perspective of a young Vietnamese refugee. As readers, we feel her heartbreak as she has to flee her home and leave everything behind. We can see her life being turned inside out when she escapes and can feel her hope as she settles into her new home in America.

Students were asked to research a country with a refugee crisis, and write a poem from the perspective of a refugee. The teacher modified this assignment to incorporate more recent refugee crises—Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan. Some students got permission to choose from outside of this list; for example, one student from the Ukraine wanted to write as a refugee from his family’s home country.

Students’ method of research was compiling online research guides for each country. Students watched videos and read news reports, articles and websites to gather their information. They spent several days researching their country of choice, taking notes on the country, its conflict, and the culture, history, and traditions of its people. Their goal was to create a ‘culturally appropriate’ narrator and to include historical and cultural details in their writing in order to make their poem authentic. Students studied closely the poems from Lai’s book to see how she was able to skillfully weave in researched details with ease.

Poems were to be written in free verse form, from the perspective of a culturally appropriate narrator. They had to include at least three historical or cultural details and had to also include several instances of figurative language. The poem had to be set in the context of a specific scene, and needed to show how the refugee’s life had been turned ‘inside out.’

The end result of this assignment was something truly beautiful. Students—even ones who do not love ELA or writing—created really powerful poems that captured what it might mean to be a refugee—the struggle, the fear, the heartbreak, and sometimes the triumph that goes along with this life-changing experience. And they did it all with their words.


How This Writing Can Be Useful

  • Examples of skillful writing for emotional impact
  • Creative writing based on empathy and understanding
  • Compelling tie to universal refugee experience
  • Interesting use of photographic images to add to the impact of student writing

Relevant Resources

Back to Writings