Immigration Unit and TodaysMeet

After Christmas break, I started an immigration unit with my Spanish 3 students and, since I didn’t particularly like the unit I had planned for Spanish 4, I decided to modify it for them as well. Additionally, I had a dental appointment that day. Sub plans for the first day of a unit? Yikes! But these are upper level kids, so I left a writing prompt:

-What do you know about immigration in the US? What do you know about the problems surrounding illegal immigration in the US? What solutions would you propose to those problems? What do you know about immigration in the rest of the world?
-Write in Spanish, of course. Feel free to use a dictionary, and make a list of all the words you look up. When you’re done, trade papers with another student and write a response to their thoughts and opinions.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with the results. We had just taken midterms, so I had a really good idea where my students were proficiency-wise, but this gave them an opportunity to do some low-pressure writing to get back in the swing of things, and gave me one more look at their writing before we jumped into this unit.

More importantly, it told me where they were on the issue of immigration. Being that we are in a rural, fairly conservative, Appalachian school district and almost 100% white, I thought I knew what their thoughts would be. I was right. Most of the students took the standard, “Immigration is a big problem. Most immigrants are from Mexico. The US needs stronger boarders. Immigrants steal jobs from Americans. They should have to learn to speak English before they come here.” Some of them were a little more understanding, “I know they come here for a better life, but why don’t they come legally?” And every one of my students told me that they know essentially nothing about immigration in the rest of the world. A few guessed that it might be a problem elsewhere and a few said it probably wasn’t as big a deal in other countries.

I already had some plans ready, but I did make some notes about some common themes – after reading what they wrote, I knew I wanted to touch on the strength of the US/Mexico border, the idea of immigrants stealing jobs, and what kinds of laws are already in place relating to illegal immigration. I also wanted to give my kids a better understanding of why people come here illegally and what their goals are. And I wanted them to go beyond the opinions that (I figure) they were echoing from society, parents, etc. and really think about and form their own opinions about this (and all, but right now just this) issue. Regardless of whether their opinions and mine are the same, I’ll be satisfied if I get them to give some real thought to the issue and come up with their own conclusions.

So, what have I actually done with my students so far? Here’s a brief overview:

  • First, I asked them to tell me any words or phrases that they associated with immigration. They came up with lots of things ranging from good to neutral to bad. They know I’m open to talking about negative things, as long as we do so in a respectful manner, so I accepted all their suggestions and wrote them on the board as we went along.
  • Next, we listened to two Audio Lingua clips: Sandra from Mexico talks about the dangers of crossing illegally and Elvis from Cuba talks about what it’s like to live in Miami and what he misses from home. I had them do Cloze activities for both of them (Transcripts; Cloze) and after each one, we briefly discussed to make sure everyone understood. I have also been taking any opportunity to ask provocative questions or make statements that I know kids will strongly agree or disagree with to get them thinking and talking.
  • Next, I showed three videos. They’re in English, but I thought they offered a worthwhile perspective on immigration that my students had probably never experienced before. While we watched, I created a TodaysMeet chat room and we discussed the videos in Spanish. News clip about a Guatemalan man; The faces of immigration: Guatemala; and a short video about undocumented youths. By far, the last is the most touching, and generated the most discussion. Here is the transcript of our TodaysMeet discussion (sidenote, “Pecadoo” is my brilliant class clown playing on the fact that my students were confusing the words pescado and pecado in our song of the week). If you can get your hands on a class set of iPads or laptops, I highly recommend this particular tool. It allowed us to discuss these videos as they were going on without interrupting the flow, and it allowed us to use a lot of Spanish on a day when my students would otherwise have been hearing mostly English. I was very pleased with how this went and will definitely be using this resource again.
  • Next, I wanted to take a look at the idea that several students had mentioned about strengthening the US boarder. This is such a common idea. We hear about it all the time on TV, from politicians, in movies, and in everyday conversation. It’s definitely a hot topic. So I found this very interesting article and gave the kids these questions to go along with it. I have to admit, this article was a really tough read for my 3s, even with the questions to help guide them to the most important points, and even after I asked them to read through and identify new words first and then read and answer the questions. So after they did their best, we did a recap and discussion (which, I admit, involved some English, because it was really, really important to me that they understood this article). In the end, I felt like it was a good activity, even if the reading was a bit above their heads – if nothing else, they learned many things about the current situation of immigration in the US.
  • Now, we’re watching La misma luna. If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend it even if you’re not teaching an immigration unit. But if you are, then definitely don’t miss this movie! I purchased a few sets of questions on Teachers Pay Teachers, and then combined and modified them for my own use (since my questions are a combination of others’ paid work and my own, I’m not linking this one, sorry, but before you teach this movie, check out what you can get for just a few dollars on Teachers Pay Teachers!). At first, the kids were skeptical of watching a film in Spanish, even though I’m playing it with the Spanish subtitles. But after two days, they’re totally hooked. One girl cried during yesterday’s viewing, and the response when I asked whether they liked the movie in general was a resounding yes.

I don’t know if I’m changing any minds or hearts yet, but I’m definitely getting them to think!

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Laura says:

    I’ve always wanted to do an immigration unit and use the novel, “Cajas de cartón” that I read in my Spanish class. I believe Sara-Elizabeth at Musicuentos just created a teacher’s guide.
    Anyway–thanks for the ideas!

    1. Melanie says:

      I do too! You have no idea how much I’m kicking myself – I once found a whole box full of copies of the book at Ollie’s for, like, 99 cents each, and I didn’t buy them! I’m not using it this year, but I definitely want to integrate it in the future.

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