No Choice!
  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark E.6 Identify lack of religious, economic, or political freedom as a motivating factor for migration to a new country.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.2 Discuss the importance of respect for others.

Students discuss what it feels like to not have a choice. They relate this experience to how the Pilgrims and other immigrants feel when they chose to come to the United States for democratic freedom.

PrintOne Forty-Five Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • respond to the text and others' interpretation of the text.
  • write in a journal from the point of view of a Mayflower passenger or a person who chose to stay in England.
  • recognize that human rights and freedom to choose are the foundation of the forming of democracy.
  • read-aloud copy of Across the Wide Dark Sea: The Mayflower Journey by Jean Van Leeuwen (see Bibliography)
  • read-aloud copy of How Many Days to America? by Eve Bunting (see Bibliography)
  • Journals and pencils
Home Connection: 

Encourage students to talk to their parents about why their family (or ancestors) came to this country. Students who are Native Americans may ask their parents how they feel about immigration.

  • Bunting, Eve. How Many Days to America? Clarion Books, 1990. ISBN: 0395547776
  • Cohen, Barbara. Molly's Pilgrim. Harper Trophy, 1998. ISBN: 0688162800
  • Van Leeuwen, Jean. Across the Wide Dark Sea: The Mayflower Journey. Dial Books for Young People, 1995. ISBN: 0803711662
  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Give students an experience with having the freedom to choose removed. They get what they are assigned. If they ask for a specific option, deny their request and say, "you don't have a choice today." 


    • Show three or four varieties of cookies or candies. Pass them out randomly, one per student, telling them they may not swap. 
    • As you dismiss students for recess, individually tell them whether they are going out, playing a specific activity, staying in to read, or sitting at the principal's office. 
    • At quiet reading time, when students typically have choice, put books in their hands randomly.
  2. After time experiencing their forced experience, reflect on the experience with some of these questions:

    • How did it feel to have no choice?
    • What did you want to do/try to do to get your choice back?
    • Would you have enjoyed the activity you were assigned if you hadn't been forced? 
    • Did you want to cooperate, rebel, get along, or join others in protest? Why did you have that reaction?
  3. Ask the students what they would think if the government started telling them where to live, where to go to school, or where or how they may worship? Discuss.

  4. Tell them that you are going to read two stories about families who wanted freedom from a government that told them where and how they should worship.

  5. Read Across the Wide Dark Sea (see Bibliography). Talk about where the events of this book fit on a timeline. Talk about why the boy's family left their home to seek a new home in a strange new place. Lead the students to understand that they were taking a great risk, causing themselves much discomfort, and facing uncertainty. Does having freedom seem that important? Why?

  6. Read How Many Days to America? (see Bibliography). Talk about why the family left their home to seek a new home in America. Talk about the risks and uncertainties they faced. What did they have when they came? What was the most important thing to the family about America?

    Discuss the opportunity cost of leaving their home. What did they give up?

    Talk about how this story could be today or any time or place as many families from many countries are coming to America to escape oppressive governments. Discuss the importance of respect and sensitivity (and tolerance) toward others.

  7. Talk about the people who chose to stay behind in their home countries in both books. What life did they face? Why did they stay?

  8. Talk about the similarities and differences between the two books. Pass out a blank Venn diagram. Have students write the names of the books at the top of the circles in the diagram. Tell them to write about these similarities and differences in the Venn diagram.


Pair up the students. In each pair, one student takes the point of view of a person leaving home to come to America, while the other student takes the point of view of someone who decides to stay. Allow the students time to talk about who they are, where they live and why one of them has decided to come to America. Then, they write in their journals as if they are writing letters to each other, giving their perspective about their different situations.