Art by Mora Vieytes

How to Make S'mores

A school trip teaches Raniya some important lessons—and not just about a favorite American treat

By Hena Khan
From the February 2023 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will identify important events in the story’s plot and explain how they help the main character, Raniya, adjust to living in the United States.

Lexile: 600L-700L
Guided Reading Level: S
DRA Level: 40
Other Key Skills: author’s craft, character’s motivation, figurative language, how characters interact, compare and contrast, how a character changes, text to self, explanatory writing
UP CLOSE: How Plot Affects Character

As you read, think about how the events in this story affect Raniya. How do they help her to change?

“It’s almost time for our big adventure!” Ms. Wehrle drops a yellow paper on my desk.

I must be hearing wrong when she says our class is taking a three-day trip to “study science and nature, and things you can’t learn in a classroom.”

Three days? I took trips at the Lahore Grammar School in Pakistan—my school until we moved to America this summer. But we visited places for a couple of hours. We didn’t sleep there.

When I show my parents the yellow paper, they don’t like the idea either. Abbu shakes his head. “I won’t send my daughter into the jungle with strangers!”

Ammi agrees with Abbu, and I sigh with relief. It’s bad enough being stuck in middle school every day. It’s taken me a month to stop getting lost in the giant building. I’m finally beginning to understand how things work in America (HERE) compared to Pakistan (THERE).

THERE everyone wore neat uniforms. HERE kids wear whatever they want—even pants with holes in them.

THERE my school was all girls. HERE half the students are boys.

THERE I had one class in English, and the rest in Urdu. HERE I think, write, and speak in English all day and go to a special English learning class, called ESL.

THERE I had my best friend, Deena. HERE I have nobody to talk to, share secrets with, or trade lunches with.

A week later, Ms. Wehrle calls me to her desk. “Raniya, I don’t have your permission slip for Outdoor Ed.”

“Yes, ma—” I stop in time before saying “madam,” like I called my teachers THERE. It slipped out of my mouth during the first week and everyone giggled. “I’m not going.”

“Why not?” Ms. Wehrle frowns.

“My parents said I can’t go,” I say.

“Oh. If it’s a matter of the cost, I’m sure—”

“No, thank you,” I interrupt. My face grows warm, and I look up to see if anyone is listening. THERE Abbu had a job at an office where he wore fancy suits and shiny shoes. HERE he goes to work in jeans and sneakers at a shop. But Abbu says we still have plenty of money.

“Well then, may I ask why?”

“Oh, um, I don’t know,” I mumble. A boy named Tony with dark hair is definitely listening from his desk.

“Would it be OK if I called your parents to discuss?” Ms. Wehrle asks.

“Yes. May I go back to my seat?”

“Of course.” Ms. Wehrle frowns again. 

As I walk past, Tony shrugs at me.

By the time I get off the bus and walk home, everything has changed.

“Your teacher called,” my father says. “She told me about the learning that happens at Outdoor Ed that can’t happen in a classroom. She said it’s safe, and she will sleep in the same cabin as you—all girls. 

I told her thank you very much and gave my permission.”

HERE I watch TV shows where kids roll their eyes at their parents and say things like “But, Dad,” stretching out their words so it sounds like “Daaa-ad.”

“Yes, Abbu” is all I say, although my heart is racing. At bedtime, I confess to my mother that I’m scared.

“You will be fine, meri jaan.” Ammi always calls me her “heart.” “Your teacher said it is most kids’ favorite part of the year.”

“It won’t be for me.”

“You always enjoy school trips.” Ammi brushes my hair out of my face.

“That was THERE. Please don’t make me go.”

“You will be fine.” Ammi smiles. But I see the worry in her eyes.

A few days later, I’m sitting on the bus with my Outdoor Ed group, called the Frogs. I’m gripping my lunch as I sit by the window, alone. Everyone talks in excited voices about what we’re going to do at this place called Skycroft.

The bus pulls away from school, and Ammi shrinks into the distance. Just before she disappears from view, she wipes her eyes.

As my chest tightens, I’m grateful she didn’t cry in front of me. I would have crumbled into pieces, and Ms. Wehrle would have had to sweep me off the sidewalk. Ammi never cries. Even when we waved goodbye to our cousins and left our happy life THERE in Pakistan to board a plane HERE to Maryland three months ago, she forced a smile at me.

I take a breath and wipe my eyes. I sink into my seat and wait for the hour-long ride to end.

I wake up when the bus stops. I look down and something is missing. My lunch bag! I turn around and see Tony, in the seat behind me, holding my lunch and grinning.

My heart sinks into my stomach. I’ve seen bullies on TV, stealing lunches and shoving kids into lockers. I don’t know what to do, so I turn back around and say nothing.

“Don’t you want this?” Tony asks, touching my arm. “I mean, what’s left?” he adds. “I tried half your sandwich. Was that spicy mayo?”

I can’t help turning around and staring at him. He really ate my lunch?

“Just kidding. Here. It fell on the floor while you were snoring.” He holds out the bag.

“Did I snore?” My face grows warm.

“Kidding. It’s so loud on this bus I wouldn’t know if you were.”

I don’t have an answer, so I grab my lunch bag and turn around.

We file off the bus, and it’s much colder than it was at home. Trees are everywhere. As we start our hour-long hike, I look at the ground, trying to keep mud from getting on my white tennis shoes. A pair of red sneakers is staying near mine. It’s Tony.

“I was in ESL for a while too,” he volunteers. “I’m from El Salvador. Where are you from?”

“Pakistan.” I say it the way we do THERE, “pok-iss-TAHN,” and I can tell he doesn’t understand.

“PAK-iz-stan,” I offer again, and now Tony nods.

“Well, see you later.” Tony catches up to another boy, who has blond hair. I glance around me. A girl from my math class is looking at me, a little smile on her lips. Her name is Eva. I keep walking.

Later, in the dining hall, I sit on a bench while Ms. Wehrle explains the rest of the day. Everyone groans when she says there’s another hike and cheers about something called s’mores. S’mores?

Tony catches my eye from another bench as I bite into my sandwich. I can’t help smiling and hold out half in his direction. He smiles back, shakes his head, and takes a bite of his own.

I’m assigned to the Laurel Cabin, and my group heads along a path to a box-shaped building. Inside are bunk beds, and everyone rushes to grab one. I start to worry that I’ll be sharing with Ms. Wehrle when I spot Eva alone next to a set of beds. 

“Can I share with you?” I ask.

“Sure. But can you take the top? I’m afraid of heights,” she says.


“You’re new, right?” Eva continues. “I moved here from France in the middle of fifth grade. We lived there for three years because my dad’s in the Navy. We move around a lot.”

“Oh.” That’s why Eva doesn’t sound French. She speaks just like the other kids.

“You’re lucky you started here in sixth grade.”


“The end of fifth grade had parties and a ceremony with a slideshow. I wasn’t in any of the pictures, and I didn’t know anyone.”

“I don’t know anyone,” I say.

“Yeah, but four elementary schools feed into our middle school. So everyone doesn’t know some people.”

I don’t see how that is the same as not having any friends, but I don’t say so. Instead, I ask: “What are s’mores?” 

Eva smiles mysteriously. “Oh, you’ll see.”

I learn what s’mores are after we eat cheeseburgers and fries for dinner. We go outside to a big fire and put big fluffy squares called marshmallows on long sticks to cook. They catch fire and we blow them out, and they turn black on the outside and gooey on the inside. Then we make a sandwich with them on sweet crackers and chocolate.

Eva is sitting next to me and also talking to another girl named Laurie. Tony and his blond friend come over to us with a huge stack of s’mores.

“We’re making a s’mores tower—the biggest ever!” Tony says.

“That’s not very big.” Eva looks unconvinced.

“That’s why we need yours,” Tony says.

Eva starts to hand him the squares she just finished assembling. Midway, she stops and shoves them in her mouth. She laughs as the marshmallow oozes through the sides.

We all tear into the s’mores tower, making it topple over and catching the pieces before they fall to the ground. My fingers are covered in melted chocolate and sticky marshmallow goo, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted in America.

That night, I climb onto the top bunk and get into my sleeping bag as Eva settles into hers. “That was fun. Tomorrow there’s a reptile guy.”

I don’t ask what a reptile guy is. I hope it’s another good surprise, and that it has nothing to do with snakes.

“Good night, Raniya,” Eva says.

“Good night, Eva.”

Someone sneezes loudly, and we all start giggling. Then someone snorts, and that makes us laugh even harder. 

Suddenly I realize this is the first time I haven’t kissed my parents goodnight. I say my prayers in my head and pause before I ask to go back THERE, to Pakistan—like I do every night. I still want to go back, but maybe not just yet.

And if we stay HERE, in Maryland, Outdoor Ed might end up being my favorite part of the year too. Maybe there are some things you can’t learn in a classroom.

Like how to make s’mores. 


Write to Win

By the end of the story, Raniya is not in such a hurry to go “back THERE, to Pakistan.” What events in the story helped her accept staying HERE? Send a well-written response to “S’mores Contest” by April 1, 2023. Five winners will each receive a copy Zara's Rules for Record-Breaking Fun by Hena Khan. Visit the Storyworks Contests page for more information.

This story was originally published in the February 2023 issue.

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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Table of Contents

1. Preparing to Read

2. Reading and Discussing

Close Reading, Critical Thinking

3. Skill Building and Writing

4. Differentiate and Customize

Striving Readers, Advanced Readers, Multilingual Learners

5. Can’t-Miss Teaching Extras

1. Preparing to Read

Watch a Video, Preview Vocabulary, Set a Purpose for Reading


  • In this story, the main character has recently moved from Pakistan to Maryland. Have students briefly brainstorm with a partner to name emotions they predict the character might feel.
  • Before reading, show the Background Builder Slideshow. It will introduce students to some of the places and terms they will encounter in the story, including Pakistan, El Salvador, the language Urdu, and the words abbu (father) and ammi (mother).
  • Distribute or assign our Vocabulary Skill Builder to preview challenging words. Students will be able to add other unfamiliar words from the story as well. Vocabulary words include mumble, confess, glance, ceremony, and assembling.
  • Have a volunteer read aloud the Up Close box on page 11 for the class. Make sure students know that plot refers to the action or events of the story.


2. Reading and Discussing

First Read: Get to Know the Text (20 minutes)

  • Have students read the stories independently or in small groups. They can also listen to our Author Read-Alouds, in which Monique Gray Smith and Talia Cowen read their stories!

Second Read: Unpack the Text (30 minutes)

  • Put students in small groups. Ask them to discuss the close-reading questions in the margins. Go over the critical-thinking questions together as a class.

Close-Reading Questions


  • Why do you think THERE and HERE are capitalized in this sentence and the lines that follow? What does it tell you about Raniya’s thinking? (author’s craft, p. 11) These words are capitalized to show how Raniya compares Pakistan and America in her mind and thinks of them as two very different places. HERE (America) feels unfamiliar, confusing, and lonely to her.
  • Based on what you’ve read so far, why is Raniya relieved that her parents won’t let her go on the trip? (character’s motivation, p. 11) Raniya is relieved because the idea of going on a three-day trip and sleeping away from home seems very strange to her. She has struggled to get used to school in America, and she doesn’t have a best friend like she did in Pakistan. Spending that much time in a setting where she’s uncomfortable doesn’t sound like fun at all.
  • How is this the beginning of a problem for Raniya? (plot, p. 12) Raniya had thought she wouldn’t have to go on the trip, but now she has to face her fears and go.
  • Would this really have happened? What does this description tell you? (figurative language, p. 12) No, Raniya would not have really crumbled into pieces. This description tells you that Raniya is nervous about going away, and she’s having a hard time controlling her emotions.
  • What is Raniya’s impression of Tony so far? (how characters interact, p. 12) Raniya doesn’t have a very good impression of Tony so far. She first notices him when he’s listening to her conversation with Mrs. Wehrle, which makes her uncomfortable. When she discovers that he has taken her lunch bag, she thinks he might be a bully like ones she has seen on TV.
  • How is this statement different from Tony’s previous interactions with Raniya?(character, p. 13) For the first time, Tony isn’t joking around. He tells Raniya something honest about himself—that he’s from El Salvador and was in ESL. This helps Raniya connect with him because she sees they have something in common.
  • Why does Raniya do this? (character’s motivation, p. 13) Raniya holds out half her sandwich to Tony as a reminder of the joke he made earlier about eating half her sandwich. It’s also a sign that her feelings toward Tony have changed and she now sees him as a friend.
  • What do Raniya and Eva have in common? How are they different? (compare and contrast, p. 13) Raniya and Eva have both moved to Maryland from another country and experienced the discomfort of being the new kid. They are different because Eva is American and probably more familiar with American customs than Raniya. Also, Eva had to start her new school in the middle of the year, while Raniya started at the beginning. Still, both probably felt lonely and left out after moving.
  • How is this a turning point for Raniya? (plot, p. 14) This is a turning point for Raniya because she feels happy and included in something that is a new American custom to her. As she eats s’mores with the other kids, she feels a bond of friendship with them.
  • Write your own question about these lines. (how a character changes, p. 14) Questions will vary, but students might ask about how Raniya has changed by the end of the story.


Critical-Thinking Questions


  • What do you think are the most important events that make Raniya feel more at home in America? (how plot affects character) Answers will vary, but students will probably say that important events include Tony opening up to Raniya about coming from another country like her; Eva asking Raniya to be bunk mates and sharing that she moved to Maryland from another place; and making s’mores and joking around with Tony, Eva, and the other kids.
  • Imagine Raniya were in your class. What might you do to welcome her? (Think about what characters in the story did to make her feel welcome.) (text to self) Answers will vary. Students might be inspired by the way characters in the story shared what they had in common with Raniya. They might also say they would invite her to participate in fun activities, like making s’mores.


3. Skill Building and Writing

Featured Skill: How Plot Affects Character
  • Distribute or digitally assign the How Plot Affects Character Skill Builder, which will help students map the story’s plot and how different events affect Raniya.
  • Ask students to respond to the writing prompt at the end of the story. Encourage them to submit their responses to our writing contest!

Differentiate and Customize
For Striving Readers

To fully comprehend this story, students need to have some background knowledge about the situation Raniya finds herself in and some of the place names they’ll come across. To help them, be sure to show and discuss the Background Builder Slideshow. In addition, make sure they understand that outdoor education is an activity that some schools participate in, in which classes spend several days in a camplike setting and do activities such as hiking, learning about nature, and making s’mores!

For Advanced Readers

Invite readers to write a final section of the story, in which Raniya is back at school after the outdoor education trip is over. What do they think will happen? How might Raniya’s experience be different from before?

For Multilingual Learners

This is a perfect story for students who have moved from another country to make personal connections. In pairs or small groups, ask them to discuss how their experiences have been similar to or different from those of Raniya. What advice would they give Raniya, based on what they have done? If students feel comfortable, they can also share their thoughts with the rest of the class.

Can't-Miss Teaching Extras
Explore the Storyworks Archive

Check out another fiction story by Hena Khan: “Home” from our December 2021/January 2022 issue.

Share an Immigrant Story

On this webpage from Learning for Justice, you can read or listen to “Julia Moves to the United States,” a short nonfiction story about how it feels to leave your home and relocate to a new country.

Connect With Your Students

This video from Edutopia illustrates how to create empathy maps in order to build relationships with your students while considering their strengths and needs.