Working with Refugees

9, 10, 11, 12

In this two-part lesson, students view a film and read about the work of UNHCR with refugees. They complete a worksheet about protection of and support for refugees and then discuss the topics in a fishbowl-style discussion group.

PrintTwo 45-Minute Sessions

The learner will:

  • take notes on the big themes and details of a film.
  • describe and analyze information about the issues and support of refugees.
  • discuss, compare, and contrast perceptions about the issues.
  • summarize their feelings and observations about the important issues related to refugees.
  • define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.
  • define philanthropy as giving time, talent, or treasure or taking action for the common good.
  • access to the online video "A World in Crisis"
  • student copies of Handout One: Viewing and Research Guide
  • asylum: the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance
  • asylum seeker: a person who flees his or her own country and seek sanctuary in another country; asylum gives one the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance
  • economic migrant: someone who leaves his or her country of origin for financial reasons, rather than due to persecution or violation of human rights like refugees
  • immigrant: someone who takes up permanent residence in a country other than his or her original homeland
  • internally displaced person (IDP): someone who has been forced to flee his or her home for the same reason as a refugee, but remains in his or her own country and has not crossed an international border. Unlike refugees, IDPs are not protected by international law or eligible to receive many types of aid
  • migrant: a person who moves to a foreign country for a variety of reasons and for a certain length of time (usually a minimum of a year)
  • repatriation: the process of returning to one’s home country. The majority of refugees prefer to return home as soon as it is safe to do so after a conflict.
  • resettlement: the process of helping a refugee find a new, permanent home when they cannot safely reside in a country of first asylum or return home  
  • “Prima Facie” refugees: refugees who are recognized as needing human rights protection on a group basis (for example, a mass movement of refugees across a border during a widespread conflict)
  • refugee: someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group; a refugee either cannot return home or is afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.
  • stateless person: someone who is not a citizen of any country. Citizenship allows for certain political, economic, social and other rights of the individual, as well as the responsibilities of both government and citizen.
  • transient: the condition of staying only a short time; not lasting

Ask students to write an exit ticket with a reflection about the fishbowl activity. They may answer the following question on an index card and hand it to the instructor as they leave:

What do you think you can do to help refugees, and how do you feel about doing something?



  1. Anticipatory Set

    Tell students that in any refugee crisis, 75-80 percent of those affected are women and children. Rescue organizations design camps to help care for the inhabitants in a conflict-free environment. Women are encouraged to get involved in camp leadership to make sure their concerns are heard. At the camp, children may receive education and women receive job training. In addition to living in camps, nearly half of refugees now live in urban settings in the developing world. UNHCR helps refugees become self-sufficient and learn the laws of their asylum country. Refugees take the responsibility to make a new start. 

  2. Divide the class into viewing groups of two or three students. Distribute the student handout on the video "Working with Refugees." Have groups read through all of the questions.

  3. Show a video about refugees from this collection from the UNHCR:​ Have students complete the Film Viewing Guide handout from observations of the film(s) and website research.


  4. Tell the students that people who help refugees are called philanthropists. A philanthropist is someone who gives time, talent, or treasure or takes action for the common good. Discuss how helping refugees helps the common good. Ask the students in what ways they have been philanthropists by sharing their time, talent, or treasure, and discuss how their actions help the common good. Listen to and discuss their examples, leading students to recognize that they already do things for the common good. Discuss how they feel about helping others.

  5. Day Two:

  6. Based on the video and student worksheet, hold a fishbowl discussion.

  7. Have students number off from one to five. Their number tells them what group they are in.

  8. Ask all students to arrange all the desks or chairs into a single-file circle in the middle of the room facing inward. Place enough chairs for the largest group in the center of the circle, facing one another. It is helpful to have an illustration of this configuration on the board or overhead to hasten arrangement.

  9. Explain the fishbowl activity. Each group takes a turn in the center of the circle. Only the students in the center circle are allowed to speak during the discussion. Students on the outside circle should be listening closely and referring to their video notes. When a student from the outer circle wants to contribute to the discussion, he or she moves to the group in the middle and taps a participant to indicate that he or she wants to take their place in the discussion circle.

  10. After every member of the first group has commented on the first question and key points have been addressed, have the second group come to the center for the second question and conduct the activity in the same way. Be sure to switch groups every time you move to another question to make sure all students have an opportunity to be in the center discussion circle at least once. If a group overlooks a key point, ask students in the outer circle to volunteer missing information.

  11. Encourage all students -- those in the fishbowl as well as those listening to the discussions -- to take notes for use in the next day's activity.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define philanthropy to include giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good. Explain how a volunteer individual/group can act for the common good.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Identify and discuss examples of philanthropy and charity in modern culture.
    2. Standard DP 03. Names and Types of Organizations within the Civil Society Sector
      1. 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.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss and give examples of why some humans will sacrifice for the benefit of unknown others.
    2. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark HS.9 Analyze a major social issue as a "commons problem" and suggest ways the civil society sector could help to resolve it.
    3. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Describe how the common good was served in an historical event as a result of action by a civil society sector organization.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.