Ideas for teaching "Outcasts United": learning about lots of different conflicts in one book without getting lost

I just finished reading Warren St. John's excellent Outcasts United, about the Fugees, a youth soccer team in Clarkston, Georgia, composed entirely of refugees, and their coach and founder, Luma Mufleh. 

I'd love to read this book with students, and while I'll need to re-read it and mark it up in order to develop all my initial ideas, I want to get a few written down now, while I'm thinking of them. 

In particular, the ideas in Talking in Class would lend themselves to teaching this - there are so many great "what would you do?" dilemmas throughout the book. 

But first, 'Backstory' lectures, which could use a better name. 

Many of the book's chapters focus on the perspective of a particular family of refugees living in Clarkston, and open with an explanation of the conflict that forced them to flee their homes. These are social studies gold, but English trouble, because they slow the pace of the book, so less skilled readers will get bogged down in them and have trouble figuring out how to get through the sudden onslaught of new characters and settings, while more skilled readers will be inclined to skim them in order to get back to the soccer (as, I confess, I was once I was about three-quarters through the book).

I have a few ideas for helping the class to track the various families on the team, and for becoming conversant in the history of the 20th century through some of the conflicts of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. 

Here's what I'd like students to learn from this aspect of the project:

  • Know the basics about what happened in a series of significant conflicts
  • Understand why these conflicts forced people to seek asylum in other countries
  • Understand the "semi-deep" chronology of events leading up to each conflict, and how they fit in the history of the 20th century relative to each other
  • Know where these conflicts took place on a map
  • Understand the role(s) that the US played in these conflicts, in order to underscore the broader point that America played a role in pretty much everything that happened geopolitically since WWII
Big world map
I'll put a big world map on the wall, and when we find out about characters who come from a particular country in the book, we'll put a pin there and label it. 

We can also do a quiz or two with a blank map of the world where students just need to indicate where the countries of origin are.

"Semi-deep" chronology
I'm using the term "semi-deep" because I want students to understand that countries don't just suddenly explode into genocide for no reason, but you can ALWAYS go deeper into historical backstory and I don't want to get bogged down. 

I'd like to put a timeline on the wall, with notecards indicating important events in the background to each conflict, so people can see the history visually, AND see that, for example, King Leopold of Belgium reigned before WWII.

'Backstory' lectures
Pairs of students will be responsible for giving a ten-minute lecture explaining the conflicts that are described at the beginnings of chapters. Different students will give the lectures on the day that we read a particular chapter. This lecture can draw on what's in the book, but should take more time on explaining everything.

As part of this lecture, the partners will...
  • put a pin on the country of origin 
  • put up notecards on the timeline as they explain them
  • set eight quiz questions for their classmates for the end of the week.
    • I'll add two questions of my own, and I'll also have the discretion to change the questions if they seem too easy, or incorrect