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What is it Like to Be an Immigrant Separated from Your Family?



Students build empathy for refugees and immigrants by learning about the experience of some families separated at the southern border of the U.S. in 2018. Students then hear a poem and write their own imaginative poems to convey their learning.

As suggested in the assessment segment of this review, empathy is a beginning not an end. Other lessons that explore the topic in greater detail should follow. 

Video link to poem Home by Warsan Shire

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

The lesson supports those skills associated with reading with comprehension, discussion and debate, and creative writing.


The lesson introduces the students to a critical issue of the day; makes use of the case study approach to the study of issues; and engages the heart of the students by personalizing the stories of immigrant families.


The resource is effective in achieving its objective of engaging the heart of the students but must be followed by other resources that engage the mind of the students if they are to understand the challenges raised by the mass migration of peoples.

Recommendation of how and where to use it

The lesson is an effective resource that may be used to initiate a study of the causes and effects of the current movement of peoples. Other lessons must follow that address the questions - Why are these people moving? What has been the response of those countries asked to open their borders? Why have these countries responded as they have? What policies might be effective in meeting the challenges inherent in this issue?

Relevant Curriculum Units

The following tool will allow you to explore the relevant curriculum matches for this resource. To start, select a province listed below.

  • Step 1Select a province
  • Newfoundland & Labrador
    • Step 2Select a grade level
    • Grade 10
      • Step 3Select a subject
      • Geography
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Canadian Geography 1202: Global Issues n Canadian Geography
        • Canadian Geography 1202: Human Population Issues in Canadian Geography
  • Ontario
    • Step 2Select a grade level
    • Grade 9
      • Step 3Select a subject
      • Geography
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Issues in Canadian Geography (Academic):Changing Populations
  • Prince Edward Island
    • Step 2Select a grade level
    • Grade 10
      • Step 3Select a subject
      • Geography
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Geography of Canada 421A: Canada’s Global Connections
  • Quebec
    • Step 2Select a grade level
    • Grade 11
      • Step 3Select a subject
      • Geography
        • Step 4Relevant matches
        • Cultural Geography: Latin America

Themes Addressed

  • Governance (2)

    • Government Regulations
    • International Relations
  • Human Rights (1)

    • Refugees and Immigration

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Satisfactory

The resource is intended to raise student awareness of the immigrant / refugee experience. It does this by having students investigate five stories that illustrate the experience of selected immigrants. Personalizing issues such as the current mass migration is effective in getting student attention. The use of questions that focus on how the student "feel" about the experience of the people involved is also effective. This approach, however, fails to address the complexity of the issue. Students can only become aware of the competing perspectives on the issue if they understand the difference between immigrants and refugees; explore the reasons why people are arriving at the U.S. border and the merits of the policies adopted by the U.S government.

The resource, therefore, may be effective in engaging student interest but should be followed by other lessons that identify the competing interests and the reasons attached to those perspectives. 

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Satisfactory

The resource has students examine the experience of migrants arriving at the U.S. border seeking asylum. In order to satisfy the multi-dimensional requirements demanded of resources, students would need to explore the reasons why they were at the border. This is only dealt with peripherally. Teachers, therefore, should follow this lesson with one that looks at the environmental, economic and social factors that are causing this vast movement of peoples in search of a better life.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Satisfactory

The limited goal of the resource - to consider what it is like to be an immigrant separated from your family - does not explore the complexity of the issue of mass migration. To do so, the teacher needs to have students consider why peoples are migrating in the numbers we are witnessing and the reaction of the people and governments in those countries that are the destination of this mass movement. 

By engaging student interest in the topic, this resource may serve to initiate further investigation of the larger questions - why are people migrating and why are other countries responding to this migration in the manner they are.

Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Good

The resource includes reference to "how people are helping" by raising awareness in the media and by supporting direct legal services for immigrants. Students are invited to write their own poem that might imaginatively convey some of the experiences of the families separated at the border, or convey students' own response to the situation. These poems may serve to alert others about the issue.

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Very Good

The lesson offers the opportunity to discuss a variety of questions that are value laden.

  • What obligations do we have individually and collectively to assist others whose well being is threatened?                         
  • Where does the immigration/refugee debate fit within the broader debate over human rights?                                       
  • Is support for immigrant/refuges and act of charity or justice?

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Very Good

Creating empathy and respect for other humans is at the core of this resource. Students are expected to build empathy and respect for refugees and immigrants by learning about the experience of some of the families separated at the southern border of the U.S. in 2018.

Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Poor/Not considered
Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Good

Many communities in Canada have responded to crisis elsewhere by assisting in efforts to relocate refugees. Teachers can bring a local focus to the topic of this resource by having students examine what is being done in their community to assist in the re-settlement of refugees.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Good

The current movement of peoples has considerable precedents that students and teachers may explore. These include Jewish refugees prior to and during WW2, Europeans displaced by that war, Hungarian refugees from the 1956 uprising, and Irish who emigrated to Canada during the potato famine. 

The lesson also allows for the possibility of teacher/student exploration about what any future Canadian immigration policy might look like.

Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Satisfactory

The lesson is designed to engage student emotions. The stories of the five families separated at the U.S. southern border may be expected to raise the students sense of injustice and encourage a feeling of empathy for the plight of refugees but it does not investigate the complexity of the situation. This would require that students understand the push-pull factors behind this mass movement of peoples and why some people in the host countries react as they do to the arrival of these people at their border. In defense of this approach, it may be argued that once we have engaged the heart, we can then engage the mind.

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Good

The immigration refugees issue may engage a number of subject areas. History requires that we look at the push-pull factors that have caused mass migrations in the past. An examination of the resource base of the immigrants country of origin is the stuff of geography, while an investigation of factors such as employment rates and GST in these same countries is the realm of economics. Civics ask that we look at our responsibility as global citizens in considering how we might respond to people on the move; a response that may also be shaped by ethical and religious considerations.

While the above issues are the domain of the Humanities, the fact that many of these refugees are environmental refugees means that students might explore topics normally associated with Environmental Science. Finally, the lessons use of a poem to engage student's interests and the use of student poems to express their reactions to the issue leads the students and teachers into the realm of English Language Arts.

Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Good

The use of family stories to explore the issue of families separated by migration may be described as inductive learning. Students start with the raw material of these stories in an inquiry exercise aimed at raising their awareness of and understanding of the migrant experience. Students are asked to discuss with others their reaction to each story and questions are provided to guide that discussion. At the conclusion of the exercise, teachers are provided with a set of questions they may use to have students examine the common elements in the family stories. 

Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.


Differentiated Instruction Good

The lesson plan requires students to participate in small group discussion of the individual immigrant experience to large group discussion of the common denominators in the migrant study; to respond to a poem that is a powerful telling of the experience of those seeking asylum; to write and share a poem that expresses their reaction to what they have learned and felt after hearing the migrant's stories.

Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Satisfactory

Reading the stories of the migrant experience allows students to "experience" at a visceral level the struggles of those seeking asylum. It may be expected to engage the student in a way that a more detached report cannot achieve. Once engaged, however, teachers and students should then explore the issue in further depth in order to appreciate the complexity of the issue. 

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Good

Small group discussion of the experiences of the migrant families and the sharing of their reactions with the larger class allows students to learn from the insights and perspectives of their classmates. 

Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Good

Teacher monitoring of discussions among students and the resulting presentations allows for a considerable measure of formative evaluation that indicate the level of student understanding of and emotional response to the migrant experience. The poems that students create as a concluding exercise will also offer insights into the students mindfulness.

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Good

The sharing among students of their response to the stories they are hearing will help broaden their understanding of the migrant's struggles and with teacher encouragement something of the competing perspectives on the position taken by the people in the "host" country.

Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Very Good

The strength of the lesson plan is the use of case studies - the migrant family stories - to engage the student. This is a good place to start but should be regarded as just that - a start to a deeper examination of the larger issue of the mass movement of peoples that we are witnessing today.

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Good

The lesson plan is an exercise in guided inquiry. The teacher supplies the data and some questions to guide the student exploration of that data. Students work in small groups to mine that data and report their findings to the class. 

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.