The Life of a Refugee

6, 7, 8

Through pictures, provocative questions, group discussion, and video, students explore what a refugee is, what his or her life is like, and how people can help them feel welcome and get the tools they need to survive in a new home.

PrintTwo 50-Minute Sessions

The learner will:

  • define refugee and describe the lifestyle attributes of different refugee children.
  • discuss the importance of hearing all voices in a community and respecting their right to be heard.
  • identify civil society organizations that protect and speak for minority viewpoints (UNHCR).
  • identify community responsibilities toward protecting the voices of refugees.
  • identify the feelings of people who must leave their home and come to an unfamiliar place without the tools they need.
Teacher Preparation 

Read the following background on refugees and the work of UNHCR

Millions of people worldwide are considered refugees, living in virtually every country in the world. Unfortunately, the experience faced by refugees is often misunderstood. A refugee is a person who leaves his/her country for fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Normally, a government guarantees the basic rights of their citizens; however, people become refugees when their human rights have been violated or threatened and the government is unable or unwilling to protect those rights. The leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries are war and ethnic, tribal or religious violence.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was established in 1950 and works to protect and assist millions of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, who are mainly women and children. UNHCR assists not only refugees, but also asylum seekers (when a person flees his/her country and seeks sanctuary in another country), refugees returning home (when a refugee returns to his/her home country), and internally displaced persons (when a person has been forced to flee his/her home for the same reason as a refugee, but remains in his/her own country and has not crossed an international border).
UNHCR works in places such as Afghanistan, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Kenya, Iraq, Syria and many other countries across the globe. UNHCR provides support in the way of shelter, food, clean water, education and medical care. UNHCR not only works to ensure basic human rights for refugees, but it also works to find solutions to the major issues faced by refugees.
  • 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.
Home Connection 

Students may ask at home about their own family heritage. They may hear stories of the experience of leaving or coming to another culture.


USA for UNHCR posters 

USA for UNHCR videos (To Be a Refugee)


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Students complete the "Pictures Tell a Story" worksheet (Handout One)to infer what the pictures are all about. Tell the students that this will give them a hint about what they will be learning about in this unit. After students write their sentences, the teacher leads a "group share" of students' ideas. The teacher should then inform students of the topic of the lesson: refugees.

  2. Give each student a copy of Handout Two: "What Do You Know about Refugees?"Activate prior knowledge by asking students what they already know about refugees. Capture their ideas on the board. Students should copy the ideas discussed onto the first column of the KWL (Know, Want to Know, Learned) chart.

  3. After activating prior knowledge, give each student a copyofthe "Defining Refugee" worksheet (Handout Three) and tell them to come up with their own definition of the word refugee and write it in the big circle at the top. The teachers may use "calling sticks" (craft sticks or index card with students‘ names) to allow students to share the definitions they created.

  4. Students will then view segments from the "To Be a Refugee" video (00:12 – 00:21 ; 00:30 – 00:38 ; 01:09 – 01:18) and listen for other definitions of a refugee. Students should capture on the worksheet the definitions stated by the children on the video. Allow students to share the definitions they captured. Then provide the UNHCR definition of refugee to be recorded in the last definition circle on the worksheet. (See Vocabulary above.) Note: They will view the entire video in Day Two.

  5. Display the poster "Spot the Refugee"from the USA for UNHCR site at (Use the version without text, but read the text ahead to guide your discussion). Now that students have an idea of the definition of refugee, share the poster "Spot the Refugee" to see if they can identify who they believe is the refugee. Give each student a small circular dot sticker to place on the LEGO figure they believe to be the refugee. After all students have placed their stickers, lead a brief discussion of why students selected the LEGO figure they did. After students have shared, the teacher may display or read aloud the text that corresponds with the poster. Discuss the idea that refugees are just like us except they may not have the tools they need to succeed in their new setting.

  6. Discuss the importance of hearing all voices in a community. Discuss what responsibility the community has to make sure the voices are heard of those who may have been denied their individual rights, such as refugees. Tell the students that UNHCR is a civil society organization that protects and speaks for minority viewpoints.

  7. Have the students write an exit card and hand it to you as they leave the room: Record one thing you want to learn about refugees (and write it on the W section of your KWL chart).

  8. Day Two

  9. Review the exit cards from the previous day, and write the students' responses on the W column of the KWL chart. Have students record their classmates' responses onto their own KWL charts. Discuss how together the class can answer these questions through class activities and research. Encourage students to take responsibility for becoming experts on some the issues raised.

  10. Give each student a copy of the handout "Reading Pictures: The Life of a Refugee." Students observe pictures and make inferences about life as a refugee. They write a brief description of different aspects of a refugee's life (food,education, shelter, and fun). To share their responses, students will use the "Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up" strategy. Students all stand up at their seats. They put their hands up in the air and locate a partner by giving him or her a high five. If there is an odd number of students one group may form a triad. Students will take 30 seconds to share their predictions, and then everyone will put their hands up again and locate a new partner. (Repeat until students have shared at least 3 times.)

  11. Next, students will view the video "To Be a Refugee" and complete the "Life of a Refugee" worksheet. They will observe the school, home, and food situations for different refugees and take notes while viewing. After viewing the video, students meet in small groups todiscuss the following question: In your opinion, is life in a refugee camp easy or difficult? Explain why you think it is easy/difficult based on the information you captured from the video on shelter, food and school. The students will share their ideas in the group using talking chips. Talking chips ensure that each group member contributes to the discussion. Each student has one talking chip, which can be a penny, a bingo chip or any small chip-like object. When a student would like to share, he/she places his/her chip in the center of the discussion table. NOTE: Teacher should monitor students actively participating in the group discussion using the talking chips.

  12. Now that students have learned more about the lives of refugees, they examine the poster "What‘s Wrong Here?" All students should view the poster and decide what they think is wrong with the poster. After each student has come up with a response, they should share their ideas. After ideas are shared, reveal the words that correspond with the text. Reflect on the statement from the poster, "But we are asking you to keep an open mind. And a smile of welcome." Students should consider what they think it means to keep an open mind and give a smile and why it is important as it relates to refugees.

  13. Have students write an exit card and hand it to you as they leave the room: Write one thing you learned about life as a refugee (and write it on the L section of your KWL chart).

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Describe the importance of hearing all voices in a community and respecting their right to be heard.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Identify civil society organizations that protect and speak for minority viewpoints.
      3. Benchmark MS.5 Discuss examples of groups denied their rights in history.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.