The Journey and Adjusting to New Life

9, 10, 11, 12

Through video, a simulation activity about learning a new language, and discussion, students build understanding of life as a refugee.

Photo Credit: Refugees by Global Panorama is licensed under CC by 4.0 

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne 50-Minute Class Period

The learners will...

  • identify the needs of a refugee who is forced to flee suddenly.
  • practice reading, speaking, and writing in a new language.
  • reflect on and build empathy for the life of a refugee.

Student copies of the handouts below


  1. Anticipatory Set (10 minutes)

    Watch The Most Shocking Second a Day, parts 1&2 on YouTube 

    This video shows how a young person's life changed as she became a refugee. Ask students to watch for and be prepared to share some of the changes in this young girl's situation. (The video moves quickly, so it may be good to show it twice.) 

    Talk about the changes and comparisons in her life to raise awareness and empathy.

  2. Following the video, discuss what kinds of needs she might have once she arrived in a new place (i.e., health, clothing, friendship, emotional support). Discuss who might help her with each one. 

    Make a side-by-side table of needs and people or organizations who might help with these needs. As you make the list discuss whether these helpers are from government, nonprofits, businesses, or family. Discuss how different sectors play a role. 

  3. Students cycle through centers with small groups and complete the three activities (see handouts below) related to adjustment to life in a new country (6-7 minutes each):

    • Reading in a New Language
    • Writing in a New Langauge
    • Understanding in a New Language 
  4. Reflection on the three centers – This can be completed as a class discussion, or the teacher may select one or more questions for a written reflection.

    • How did you feel when you were learning to read in the new language?
    • How did you feel when you were learning to write in the new language?
    • How did you feel when you were trying to understand directions in the new language?

    (Note: some refugees come with a lot of education but have to start all over with work because of language challenges. People who are learning a new language often feel or are treated like they are less intelligent, and this can make them feel bad about themselves.) 

  5. Optional Extender: To build understanding of how one person's actions can permanently impact the life of another, use a modification of the Middle School Game, found at /units/character-education-fairness-grade-7/middle-school-game. In place of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, assign students to be people who are fleeing for their lives from persecution, war, or violence; people who have recently arrived in a new country but are still adjusting; and people who have lived for a long time in the new country.

    Follow up with questions:

    1. Who was a person fleeing for their life for most of the game? How did this feel?

    2. Who was a person who was newly arrived in a new country for most of the game? How did this feel?

    3. Who was a person who had lived in the new country for a long time? What was that like for you? When did you realize you had the power to tap shoulders?

    4. Who had the power to change the lives of others in this situation? The government? Or individuals?

    5. Considering our understanding of the needs of refugees, what are some of the ways individuals can 'tap shoulders' to change the lives of others in a permanent way?

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 03. Names and Types of Organizations within the Civil Society Sector
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Discuss examples of civil society organizations from a list of categories of organizations.
      2. Benchmark E.2 Name an example of a civil society charitable organization.
      3. Benchmark HS.2 Provide an example of an organization (or a service that it contributes) from a list of categories of civil society organizations.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.7 Describe the concept of the individual's "reserved power" to act and how this idea relates to the growth of the civil-society sector.
      2. Benchmark E.7 Give classroom examples of when a student does not need the teacher's permission to act philanthropically.
      3. Benchmark MS.7 Identify and give examples of an individual's reserved power to act.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark E.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
      2. Benchmark MS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
      3. Benchmark HS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.