A Lesson in Crossing Cultures through Fiction

Inside/Outside: “Fire Escape” by Mitali Perkins


Students will…

  • discuss the story using in-text examples.
  • compare how the roles of being an “insider” and “outsider” are portrayed in the story, and discuss how the roles may apply to the students’ own lives.
  • reflect on the force of culture in the lives of the characters, and in their own lives.
  • compose their own short stories or essays about being an outsider.
  • have the option to submit their writing to YARN.  Be sure to advise them to read and observe the Submission Guidelines before submitting.

What you’ll need:


In Class:

  1. Read “Fire Escape”  and Mitali Perkins’ biography on her website. You might want to make this an at-home assignmentd by providing students with a link to the site that they can read at home or in a library.  Or, schedule quiet reading time in computer lab in a previous class so the students can read.  Whichever, encourage students to take notes on the story and Q&A as they read, especially jotting down specific lines that move them.
  2. Introduce YARN to the class, especially the “About YARN” and “Meet the Editors” pages.
  3. Put Mitali Perkins’ story up on the screen.  If it does not appear on the homepage or in the fiction area, it will be available in the July 2010 Archives.
  4. Warm students up by asking what they thought about the story: What did they like about it?  What was it about?  Follow up with “why” questions, and ask that students support their answers with specific words and phrases from the story.
  5. Segue into questions that link Ms. Perkins’ Q&A answers to students’ discussion of the story. How do her answers change and/or enhance students’ understanding of the story?
    • Focus on Ms. Perkins’ thoughts about writing as an “outsider” versus writing as an “insider”? Do they agree with Ms. Perkins or disagree, and why?  Can they reference other stories from the class to support their ideas?  What is Ms. Perkins herself to “Fire Escape”–an insider or outsider?  How does knowing a little of her biography influence their reading of the story, and why?
    • Which characters in “Fire Escape” are insiders and which are outsiders? Inside of what culture?  Outside of what culture?  Is it possible for a person to be both an insider and outsider?  How is the idea of inside and outside also represented in the story?
    • It’s useful to help students see, as well, that culture need not be ethnic, as it is in the story–the basketball team is a culture in high school, and so is the band or the theater.
    • Students need not come to a consensus about these issues.I In fact, a lingering ambiguity might inspire more interesting writing.

There are several possible writing assignments that could come out of your discussion of “Fire Escape,” the second two of which could be submitted to YARN for possible publication. (We don’t recommend sending the essays that might result from the first prompt, because they would likely be more academic in tone and reflection, while the second two are more creative.) Please do encourage students to revise and improve their writing further, even after their pieces have been graded, before submitting work for publication

  • Prompt 1:  Write a short essay reflecting on the role of the insider/outsider in writing, and be sure to engage with the ideas presented in class.
  • Prompt 2:  Write a short creative essay in which you reflect on a time when you were an insider and/or outsider to a particular culture.
  • Prompt 3: Write a short story with a character who is an insider and/or outsider to a particular culture.

This writing portion of the lesson could be made into a take-home assignment, due several days after the in-class lesson (for classes of more advanced writers), OR it could be broken down into a longer writing lesson involving in-class and at-home brainstorming, and/or journaling, drafting, and revising (for an example of how this might break down, see the lesson on “The Weather.”)

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