After observing anti-immigrant rhetoric on the elementary school playground during the 2016 election season, concerned educators in Berkeley, California, decided to do something about it. Equipped with information and inspiration, they set out to plan a districtwide day of action. The resulting “Teach In” featured lessons on immigration adapted from the Teaching Tolerance classroom resources bank.
The following are three of the lessons used by Berkeley teachers during the Teach In.
- How can I counter anti-immigration rhetoric and promote inclusivity at my school?
- How can I dispel negative stereotypes about immigrants and help my students differentiate myths from facts?
Lesson #1: Music for Justice
This activity focuses on musical explorations and builds on inclusion themes. It also highlights the “color” that diversity adds to our country’s fabric by asking students to color in a butterfly poster when others are included.
Before conducting this activity, provide students with modern examples of children who have immigrated to the United States. This Scholastic webpage has pictures and videos of schoolchildren telling their stories of immigration. (To highlight a Muslim student, click on Vandi from Sierra Leone; to highlight a Latino student, click on Gabriella from Mexico.)
- Place chairs in a circle. Make sure the number of chairs is one fewer than the number of students.
- Play music and have the children walk around the chairs. Use music from different regions of the world to enrich the game.
- Tell students that when the music stops, they should quickly find a seat.
- After a few rounds of removing chairs, when one or two students don't have a place to sit, introduce a new twist on the game of musical chairs: Challenge students to find safe and creative ways for everyone to have a seat. Students may connect the chairs, sit on each other's laps and squeeze together. Every time the group accommodates someone who would normally be excluded in a traditional game of musical chairs, color in some pieces of the butterfly poster until it is decorated.
- Continue on for a few more rounds. With each round, students will have more contact with each other and will be challenged to work even harder to find ways to be inclusive as the butterfly is colored in.
- After the game, conduct small group discussions comparing how students felt when they had no chair and were excluded, and how they felt when the group found a way to include everyone.
- Guide a whole class discussion tying students' experiences in this activity to the challenges students face when they move to a new country. Refer back to students from the Scholastic website, characters from books about immigrant experiences, or students in your class who have immigrated (if they are comfortable speaking about their experiences).
- Discuss what the butterfly poster looked like before everybody was included. Discuss how it looks now. Relate the change to how the United States has developed because of the contributions of immigrants, since its founding and through today.
Lesson #2: Family Ties and Tales
After exposure to relevant literature in class, students will research their family history by interviewing parents, family members or guardians. They will use this information along with visual props to tell their stories to classmates.
Give each student a copy of the "Family Data Sheet." Review the sheet’s instructions with your class and provide reasonable time for them to complete it.
- Objects gathered from home, including a photo of each student
- World map
- Colored push pins
- Colored markers
- Color-coded map key with enough colors for each student (colors correspond to pin colors)
- Literature addressing immigration, slavery and Native history
- Copies of the "Family Data Sheet"
- Before beginning the lesson, you should address special concerns families with adopted children and students living in foster care may have about the activity. It may be useful to call parents or guardians in advance to discuss the activity and to find out if it might raise sensitive issues with their child. If parents are uncomfortable with the lesson, you can alter the format for the entire class and focus on interesting facts about each student’s immediate family. (In this instance, students still collect family objects, share them with peers and make a class quilt, but the mapping portion would be omitted as well as any research on ancestors.) Encourage parents or guardians to talk to their children about their choices in completing the activity. For example, adopted children may want to include birth and adoptive parents, or solely the adoptive parents or birth parents.
- Prepare your students for the lesson by reading a variety of short stories that focus on immigration. Be sure to include stories about American Indians—people indigenous to what is now the United States—and about African Americans, many of whom are descended from enslaved people transported here forcibly. Look through your own classroom or school library for suitable titles. Suggested titles include: The Mats by Francisco Arcellana; The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco; Leaving for America by Roslyn Bresnick-Perry; Families: A Celebration of Diversity, Commitment, and Love by Aylette Jenness; Encounter by Jane Yolen; Two Lands, One Heart: An American Boy’s Journey to His Mother’s Vietnam by Jeremy Schmidt and Ted Wood; Wood-Hoopoe Willie by Virginia Kroll; Itse Selu: Cherokee Harvest Festival by Daniel Pennington; and, Grandmother’s Song by Barbara Soros.
- Discuss the themes and issues presented in the literature. Why do people from all over the world come to the United States? From where and by what means? Discuss how the influx of immigrants may affect those who are already here.
- Using objects they gathered from home, have students either pair up to share their personal histories with each other or take turns in front of the whole group. First, demonstrate by sharing your family history with your class community.
- Have each storyteller conclude their presentation by locating their countries of ancestry on the map and marking those nations with color pushpins. All pins should be in countries outside of the United States—except the pins of children with American Indian ancestry.
Lesson #3: Immigration Myths
After engaging in discussions around the terms myth and immigration, students will consider common immigration myths and how facts and information can be used to debunk them.
- Begin with a discussion of the term myth. Ask students where they have heard the word before and what they think it means. After discussion, inform students that a myth, in this case, is a widely held but false belief or idea. Inform the class that today they will be busting myths about immigration.
- Discuss the term immigration. Ask students where they have heard the word before and what they think it means. After discussion, inform students that immigration is the action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country.
- Display or distribute “10 Myths About Immigration.”
- Have students discuss the following questions for each myth:
• Do you think this statement is always true? Why or why not?
• Why might people think that this statement is true?
• Why might people say that this statement is not true?
- Use facts and information to help debunk the myths and illuminate student understanding of immigration.
- Follow up with this short three-minute video, debunking many of the immigration myths perpetuated during the 2016 presidential election.
- Both the video and “10 Myths About Immigration” are backed by facts and information and both resources provide their sources. Show these citations to students and have a discussion about the importance of evidence in argumentation and debate.
Find additional lessons used by Berkeley teachers during the immigration Teach In here.