Connecting to prior knowledge

As a class read I’m Australian Too by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh. You may want to share that the US version of this book is called I’m An Immigrant Too. After reading the text, spend time discussing the cultural or migrant histories of the students in the class. To open the discussion, prompts such as these could be used:

  •  Do you know where your parents were born or grew up?
  •  Was there a page in the book that you related to?
  •  Did you move to this country from somewhere else?
  •  Did anyone from your family move here from another country?

During this discussion, if it is appropriate, share your own or a relative’s cultural or migrant history.
(ACELT1596)   (EN2-11D)

Connect the third last page of I’m Australian Too to the cover of The Little Refugee. Draw the connection between the word ‘refugee’ on both texts. Prompt students to speculate on the author’s choice of that word. Link back to the US version I’m an Immigrant Too and the reasons for this. Discuss with students if they have heard this term before or know what it means. Create a shared definition of the word ‘refugee’ as a class. Place this word on display in the classroom for future reference.
(ACELT1594)   (EN2-10C)


Exploring the text in context of our community, school and ‘me’

Share the cover of the text with the students. Point out that it is called The Little Refugee. Identify that this title must be referring to the boy on the cover. Discuss how this boy looks and lead the discussion further into similarities and differences to self.

Ask the students:

  • Does he seem happy or sad?
  • Frightened or confident?

Explore the juxtaposition of the picture of the happy and confident boy with the background image of a boat filled with people about to capsize in stormy weather. Discuss how the background image makes students feel.

Ask the students, ‘Does this image portray the feeling of happy or sad? Does it give you the impression of feeling frightened or confident?’

Summarise the discussion with the class. Explain that there is a juxtaposition between the foreground and background images. Define this juxtaposition by explaining that the two images do not share the same message. While the background image seems scary, dangerous and worrying, the boy’s face in the foreground is happy. The illustrator has used visual juxtaposition on the cover for a reason. Hypothesise with your students why the author and illustrator might have used this technique. Identify how the illustrator uses distance, relative size and direct gaze, which invite involvement.
(ACELA1483)   (EN2-10C)

Read the blurb on the front ‘The inspiring and multi-award-winning true story of Australia’s Happiest Refugee’. Show the book cover image of The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do, which this book was inspired by. This book features Anh Do as an adult. Compare the happy face of Anh Do on The Happiest Refugee with the boy who is on the cover of The Littlest Refugee. Explain that Anh Do and Suzanne Do (his wife) are the authors of this book, which was written about his experience of coming to Australia. Read The Little Refugee to the class. Some students might know of Anh Do’s other profiles, such as a painter, comedian and television personality. Invite students to share what they know about Anh Do (see resources).


Rich assessment task

During this task students will create their own visual juxtapositions mirroring the cover of The Little Refugee. Brainstorm different emotions that could be read using facial expressions.

  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Excited
  • Confused
  • Worried
  • Content/Safe

Following this, brainstorm different background images that show a scene which portrays the opposite emotion. For example, the opposite of excited might be bored. An image of someone sitting on a couch looking at the TV portrays the feeling of boredom.

Using the photo collage tool Photovisi ask the students to take self-portraits portraying an emotion and overlay these onto scenes which depict the opposite emotion.

Share these as a class and discuss what stories might lie behind these juxtapositions.

Responding to the text

Read through the text once more. Following this ask your students to create a Y-chart. The sections of the Y-Chart should be labeled ‘I Think’, ‘I Feel’ and ‘I Wonder’. Explain that you would like the students to write the following in each of the sections:

  • In ‘I Think’ explain what you know about the book, what you have learnt from listening to it or any prior knowledge you had on the issues raised in it.
  • In ‘I Feel’ write any emotional responses you had before, during or after reading and explain why you felt this way.
  • In ‘I Wonder’ write any questions you have about the text. These might be general questions about the story or questions you would like to ask the author.

Once students have completed their Y-Chart conduct a class discussion on students’ responses. Before the discussion begins remind students that in a discussion students should look at the person who is talking and there can only be one person talking at a time. Explain that during a discussion students are able to respond to others and ask for those that are quieter to contribute their ideas. Depending on your class a ‘talking tool’ or asking students to raise their hands before they contribute may assist in facilitating respectful discussion and create a time for everyone to contribute. Encourage students to check their own views against the group’s views.
(ACELY1676)   (EN2-1A)


Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

Exploring Plot

Explain to your students that you will read through the text once more, this time stopping at ten key points in the plot. Ask your students to write the numbers one to eleven down their page. Explain that each time you pause the students will be asked to summarise the current event using one or two words only.

For example for the first point the words might be happy and play.

Read through The Little Refugee stopping at the following points:

  1. When Anh is playing with his cousins in Vietnam.
  2. The Vietnam War.
  3. After they board the boat in Vietnam.
  4. After the storm on the boat.
  5. After the pirates attack the boat.
  6. When they arrive in Australia.
  7. When the mother and father start a sewing business.
  8. When the sewing machines are stolen.
  9. After Anh meets Angus.
  10. When Anh is awarded class captain.
  11. At the very end of the book.

Create a timeline on a long sheet of paper or on a whiteboard or use an interactive app such Tiki Toki. Make eleven marks along it to represent the ten events.

Number 2 (the Vietnam War) will require some scaffolding. A number of websites explain the Vietnam War in ways for children to understand, but many do not list the involvement of 60,000 Australians who died in the war. Some of the children might have grandfathers who fought in the Vietnam War, so be sure to refer also to other websites that detail the involvement of Australians. See resources for additional background reading for teachers. Don’t rush this background information. It might need to be a separate lesson as it’s very complex.

Ask a few students to share their responses for each event. Place these on the timeline. As you place the responses on the line, discuss the sudden changes in mood during the story. Additionally, if students have contrasting views at any point during the plot ask them to elaborate on their views. Discuss the use of images and language features that shape the reader’s reaction to events. Finally summarise the plot of The Little Refugee by speculating on what the author’s purpose of this text might be (e.g. to inform or explain another lived experience).
(ACELA1478)   (EN2-8B)

Exploring Setting

In groups provide students with the pages from the text that are located in each of the three major settings in the book.

  1. Vietnam
  2. On the boat
  3. In Australia

Using one colour of sticky notes ask students to annotate any words that are used to describe each setting. Then using a different colour, ask the students to comment on any visual features (such as perspective, colour and angle) that help describe the setting.

During this activity students may note many things. Below is a list of key points to focus on with the students. By covering these points students may comprehend the contrasts between the settings and how these are described in the written words in the text and representations presented in the images.


Students may note that images of Vietnam are mostly dark colours and that the images are viewed from front on. In the description of Vietnam, Anh mentions that they were ‘crowded’, ‘happy’ but that people were dying in jungles and villages and they were in ‘great danger’ and ‘needed to escape’.

The Boat

When on the boat images are still very dark and there are several long shots showing the vastness of the ocean.  Many of the images seem to be from the perspective of Anh, such as looking up at the pirate. The boat is described in the text as an ‘old wooden fishing boat that stank of fish’ and that it was crammed with people. The text also describes the boat as being ‘crashed down’ upon by waves in a big storm.


The images quickly become filled with colour when the family arrives in Australia, representing joy and hope. There are many more images of the characters close up and their facial expressions are clear, contrasting to previous long shots of silhouettes in the book. These close-ups place the characters as central to the continuing autobiography. Australia is described as ‘a great country’ by Anh’s parents in the text. They find a ‘home’ to live in. There is description of a shed and a backyard, inferring more room than the crowded house in Vietnam.

Once students have completed this activity ask them to share their findings with the class. Place the sticky notes completed in this task on a line above the timeline. Explain this is the ‘setting line’ and divide it into the three settings.
(ACELT1594)   (EN2-6B)   (ACELT1599)   (EN2-1A)


Rich assessment task

After completing the previous two tasks (exploring timeline and exploring setting), ask students to create a timeline of their own to retell the text. Remind students to consider the portrayal of the three different settings and the different moods of each of the key events. Explain to students to be mindful that timelines use limited text so they should choose the text they include carefully. To complete this digitally consider using StoryboardThat, a digital tool that allows online timeline creation.
(ACELY1682)   (EN2-10C)

Examining text structure and organisation

Compare and contrast the perspective of The Little Refugee to Ziba Came on a Boat by Liz Lofthouse. For background information on Liz Lofthouse see her bio. Create a chart with three columns labeled, similarities, differences and effect.

Similarities Differences Effect of the differences
Example: Both books follow the stories of refugees. Use of first person in The Little Refugee and third person in Ziba Came by Boat. The use of first person makes you feel involved in the story.

The use of third person makes the audience feel like on-lookers.

Begin by discussing the similarities between the two texts. The texts have similar plot features such as the fear and danger that is being left in a previous home, the dangerous boat ride and the safety and joy of arrival in a new country. Following this, discuss the differences between the two texts. Particularly discuss the use of first person in The Little Refugee as opposed to third person in Ziba Came on a Boat. Finally consider the different perspectives and list the effect each of these have on the story and readers. Ask the students why the authors might have chosen to write from different perspectives for the different stories.

Explain that the format The Little Refugee takes is an autobiography. It is the story of the person’s life written (in this case, co-authored) by that person. Revise the timeline from the previous task. On it note the approximate ages that the students believe Anh was at each point in the story. Look for clues in the text to assist with this.

Discuss with the students if they had to choose ten or less key events in their own lives when would they begin their story and at what age they would finish it. Contrast The Little Refugee with some of the events in Boy by Roald Dahl. Explain that this is a much longer and detailed text but is also an autobiographical story of a particular period of the author’s life.
(ACELT1594)   (EN2-10C)

Examining grammar and vocabulary

Explain to your students the different purposes of verbs. They can be used to describe actions, thoughts, speech, feelings, the existence of something and the relationship between two things. You may want to list the different processes and have them on display for future reference. Following this, form three groups (one for each of the contexts) and go through the text and list the different types of verbs in the relevant columns. See below for an incomplete example:

Actions Thinking Saying Feeling Relating


crowded (in the clause ‘the house was crowded’, the verb is ‘was’(relational)  and ‘crowded’ is an adjective 


were dying








didn’t know told terrified

happy (note in the sentence ‘I was happy’, happy is an adjective, not a verb).



turned (discuss as this verb is not used as an action verb in this instance)

Give the students an opportunity to notice the emotions that each of the verbs bring. Also discuss the patterns of types of verbs. As The Little Refugee is an autobiography there are a lot of action verbs with few speech verbs.

Discuss the verb patterns for each context and why the author would use particular verb patterns for each setting of the story.

Then compare the work of the three groups and look for similarities and differences. Explore why some verb types are more common in various parts of the biography. Why did the author make those choices?

Ask students to place a star next to the verbs that are in past tense. Students could then be guided to comment on any similarities in the spelling of many of these words. Explain that because this story is recounting events that have happened the majority of verbs will be in past tense and many will have spelling patterns such as the use of ‘ed’ in hugged, crashed and crammed.

Then list and discuss past tense written as ‘crept’ and ‘bought’, etc. Finish by guiding the discussion to the way verb auxiliaries carry tense (e.g. was swimming, etc). Conclude by pulling the discussion together and showing the many ways to write past tense and where the patterns are.
(ACELA1482)   (EN2-9B)   (ACELA1484)   (EN2-9B)


Rich assessment task

Have students choose one of the events listed:

  • Vietnam in the 1970s
  • Vietnam War
  • Ocean storms
  • Australia in the 1970s
  • School in Australia in the 1970s

Invite students to work with a partner to research, plan and write a short report. The purpose is to provide more information to the the other students in the class on a topic related to the text.

Once students have completed this, have them highlight the different types of verbs used in the report. Encourage students to include different types of verbs within their short text and to think about tense.

Students can share these texts in small groups or with the whole class.
(ACELT1601)   (EN2-2A)

Innovating on the text

Reflect on the last page of the book and the theme of the autobiography that ‘everything will turn out okay in the end’. Discuss with the students other events that may seem bad but turn out to be okay in the end. These might be local events rather than personal such as a flood in a classroom, a storm causing the cancellation of an important local event, etc. Allow students to share stories from their lives and the lives of others if they wish. Write these down to form a ‘selection of stories’.

You may like to research Anh’s life since he was a little boy as depicted in The Little Refugee. He has been very successful in many different ways and has won awards. Looking at his success as an adult can be connected back to the last pages of the book and the advice his parents gave him. Do a quick think-pair-share as students talk about the advice their parents give them. Conclude the discussion by reading the notes on the imprint page where the reader is told profits from this book go to the Loreto Vietnam-Australia Program. Do another think-pair-share for students to think about why Anh Do and his wife may have made this decision. Finally, what do the students’ think Anh’s parents would have thought about that decision.

Discuss the pattern in the plot of The Little Refugee, that something bad happens and then it is resolved. Illustrate the patterning in The Little Refugee by drawing a wavy line, draw at least three ‘waves’ in the line. Write the word complication at the peak of each wave and resolution at the bottom.

Complete an oral construction of a story as a class using a round-robin structure.

Before beginning, talk about active listening and what that entails, and about roles for group members. Demonstrate effects such as tone, volume and pace.

To keep with the format of The Little Refugee give every second student a red counter. Explain that the red counters are the complications. Explain that the students with red counters will have to add a complication or build on an already existing complication. Explain that the students without the counters will need to try to resolve the problems faced in the complication. The teacher should begin the story and then the person to the left will continue it until all students have shared. The teacher will then conclude the story. After this activity has been completed as a class invite students to complete a similar oral storytelling activity in small groups.
(ACELY1792)   (EN2-1A)

Once students have shared a few stories in their small groups encourage them to write one of these stories. Challenge the students to create a  fictional autobiography and write it from their perspective as the main character.


Rich assessment task

Now the students will develop a written factual biography or autobiography using multimodal texts. To clarify the difference between fact and fiction, explain again that The Little Refugee is a true account of Anh Do’s life. It was written by Anh so is an autobiography. If students would prefer not to write about themselves, allow them to do some research to do a biography on someone appropriate. Give the students a storyboard planner. Explain that turning their story into a storyboard means that they need to visualise what images will describe the unfolding story. They must identify major events in the period of time chosen.

Students can use their storyboards to create stop-motion animations keeping a focus on major events. This animation can be analysed by the students before they begin their own. For more information on how to create stop-motion animation characters see this link.
(ACELY1682)   (EN2-10C)