lesson plan: immigration role play

For the last month, I’ve been teaching two sections of Grade 9 Geography. I haven’t studied Geography since grade 9, and all I remember from that course was that my teacher’s favourite fish is arctic char from Lake Winnipeg. Needless to say, I was relieved to discover that I’d be teaching what I call the History side of Geography. I taught units on immigration, settlement patterns, and urban land use – much more up my alley than fauna of the Boreal forest and precipitation graphs for Charlottetown and Medicine Hat.

I’ve been co-planning these units with another student teacher from OISE, a thoughtful and dedicated educator whose thoroughness more than makes up for my seat of the pants approach to lesson planning. I think that we I put together a good unit on immigration – including the history of Canadian immigration, an evaluation of trends and patterns, a little bit of graphing and article interpretation thrown in for skill building, sharing personal histories in class and in written reflections, and a culminating role-play activity as well as a unit test.

I’ve decided to share the role-play here. Judging by my assessment of the students’ written reflections as well as their test scores, this activity was a success as it helped students understand and apply many of the terms and concepts associated with this unit.

Students were divided into groups of six. In each group, there were two immigration officers and four fictional characters who were applying to immigrate to Canada. Students were given:

  • character profiles
  • a handout detailing what makes a legitimate refugee claim
  • three copies of the point system (for each applicant except for the refugee)
  • a job description for a Canadian immigration officer
  • a task sheet with a rubric for the reflection

Students had approximately 40 minutes for the role play, and by the end of the time allotted, students playing the role of immigration officer had to use their critical thinking skills to evaluate the claims and decide which two of the four applicants should be allowed to immigrate.

The second part of the activity was a reflection, written in the last 20 minutes of class. Reflections had to include:

A) Reference to the terms we learned in class:

  • push & pull factors
  • tossed salad, multiculturalism
  • categories and types of immigrants (independent, skilled worker, investor, refugee, family, etc.)

B) If you played the role of  an immigrant

  • An explanation of the role that you were given
  • What were some of the problems that you faced?
  • Were you accepted? Why/Why not?
  • What do you think of the system? Was the decision fair?
  • How did it make you feel? Can you empathize with this person’s situation?
  • Would you have made the same decision if you were an immigration officer?

If you played the role of an immigration officer

  • An explanation of the role that you were given
  • How did playing this role make you feel? Can you empathize with this person’s situation?
  • What were some of the problems that you faced?
  • Did you find your job difficult? Why/Why not?
  • Was the points system clear? Was it fair?
  • How do you think the immigrants who you denied felt?

I gave each of the four immigrants a nuanced profile, hoping that the decisions of the immigration officers wouldn’t be too cut and dry. Indeed, there was a good degree of debate and discussion within each group, and different groups arrived at different – and equally defensible – conclusions. I would definitely use this activity again – it ran smoothly, engaged different kinds of learners in an authentic task, and provided opportunities for formative (watching the role plays) as well as summative (marking the reflections) assessment.

The immigrant profiles are below:

Rashmi Choudhary

Born in Delhi, India, you completed a four-year Bachelor of Science to earn your Nursing degree at the Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur College of Nursing in New Delhi. Having worked as a nurse for just over two years after graduating, you enjoy the nursing profession but are not happy at the hospital where you are currently employed. You are single and full of energy, and at age 24, you see a bright future ahead – you are looking for some adventure and want to advance your career in a new country. Your Auntie Aishwarya (your mother’s sister) and her husband immigrated to Canada in the 1970’s and your cousins – born in Canada – are around your age. You have met them at several family occasions and are excited to spend more time with them – one is a doctor in Hamilton and you hope he may be able to help you find a job. Your English is perfect but you do not speak any French.

Silvio Costa

Born in Recife, Brazil, you have been supporting your family working for 21 years at your cousin’s welding shop. You left high school at age 16, and began apprenticing as a welder and earning some money for your work. Lately, business has been slow and you are concerned about your two young sons’ futures. Your former neighbour Paulo, who used to work with you, moved to Calgary twelve years ago and now has a successful welding business. Paulo has promised you a full-time job when you arrive in Canada. Your wife and sons will move with you. Your wife is a hair stylist with a high school education. You understand English well – thanks to your love of American rock music – but your grammar and spelling aren’t great, and you get nervous when speaking English. You are taking a night school class to learn English. You speak no French. You have been trying to apply for immigration to Canada for six years. While you do have friends living in Canada, you would be the first of your family to immigrate.

Jane Smith

You are a 52 year old American citizen interested in starting a genetic screening clinic in Alberta, Canada. You have opened seven clinics all over the States that have succeeded. You have advanced technology that you use for the screening process for genetic diseases however, there are already two clinics in Ontario that are using the same technology. Your net worth is $7.5 million and you are willing to invest $1.7 million in developing the Canadian clinic. You will employ 4 Canadian scientists. You are a single mother and you have three dependent children under the age of 18. This is your first time applying to Canada for citizenship but you already own a ski chalet in Banff and have been vacationing there for the last 10 years.

Abdulhelil Tunyaz

You are a 31 year old Uighur – a member of a Muslim ethnic, religious and linguistic minority – who lives in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region  (XUAR) in China, formerly known as East Turkmenistan. Your community has been persecuted by the Chinese government since the late 1990’s. Your brother and uncle were arrested and imprisoned in 2001, seemingly for no reason – the Chinese government claims that they were radical Uighur separatist terrorists. You have not seen them since. You suspect that they have been tortured, and are afraid for your own safety. You are an engineer, and in November you flew to Canada for a conference. You are afraid that if you return to China, the authorities will detain you against your will.


4 responses to “lesson plan: immigration role play

  1. Hi there,

    Stumbled upon your blog. I’m in somewhat of a similar situation as you. I’ve been teaching for quite a while, but this my first time with Grade 9 Geo. I’m more of a Grade 11 and 12 Social Science specialist. I like the activity you did, and was wondering if you might consider sending me the handouts you used in class. I’m sure I can cobble the equivalent together with a bit of time, but we’re starting immigration this week, and it would certainly save a bit of time.

    Thanks for any consideration.


  2. Hi DJ,
    Thanks for your feedback – unfortunately, I’m in Australia and the handouts are on my hard drive back in Canada! Best of luck with your unit.

    • Hi,
      I was just wondering if you have access to the hand outs/documents used for this lesson? If so, would you mind sharing them?
      Thank you!
      An international English teacher in the Netherlands

  3. Hi Emily,
    Thanks for the reply! Once I clicked on the front page of your blog, I realized you were in Australia. Bryon Bay as well, one of my favourite places in the country. Lived there for a month and loved it. Miss the lighthouse point, and did my dive course out by the rocks off the main beach.

    It’s all good – I’m a resource hoarder, and likely have something that I can cobble together, but it caught my eye when your blog somehow popped up. I’m been teaching for about 9 years, but recently took a break to backpack around the world for 3 years, and have only recently returned to Canada. Reading your entries from down under have been giving me the itch to get out again. If only I hadn’t blown my life savings, sold all my possessions, and cashed in all my pension for my trip. 🙂 Oh well, poor in cash, rich in experience. Thanks again!


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