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Immigration Simulation

Spanish 3 is just starting a unit on immigration using the novel Esperanza by Carol Gaab. This group is new to novels, so we are starting easy to build confidence, while digging into complex ideas in Spanish, such as immigration and poverty. Here is my post from last year about teaching the novel Esperanza. This immigration simulation would also be great before starting the novel Cajas de Cartón

Last year at #CSCTFL15 I was at a session (ok multiple sessions) with the wonderful Carrie Toth @SenoraCMT. She brought up a simple but powerful way to get students to really start thinking about immigration, and has given me permission to share it here. The basic idea is to divide students into two "countries," such as the United States & your country of study. Those in the "United States" are given comfortable accommodations, including food and technology. Those in the other country have nothing. This could also be used to exemplify the refugee crisis in Europe. This small simulation leads to discussions in the target language about immigration. 


To do this small immigration simulation, do the following:
  • Print large flags or signs for each "country" you are representing & post them in two distinct areas of the room. 
    • U.S. - In the comfy corner with donuts, cookies or another snack.
    • Guatemala - On the floor & everything they have, phones included was put in the back of the room to simulate having nothing. 
  • Print small flags or names of countries to hand to students as they enter class. Hand these out at the door to randomly divide the students into two groups. 
  • Post instructions on the board, like those below. (I know that these are in English, but this way students could quickly see their directions, without getting confused by the language. The goal of the lesson was not I can understand directions in Spanish, but instead the bigger picture simulation). 

  • Allow students to enjoy their area for a while and realize what we were doing. (This is when those in Guatemala may yell "Soy pobre, quiero una galleta!")
  • Have a class discussion in the target language. Ask each group how they are feeling. Those chowing down on snacks in the US think everything is great (except maybe some tenderhearted souls who feel bad and want to share. Bless their hearts:) This brings up WHY the student would personally want to leave their country and move to another (food, clean water, more opportunities, jobs.etc). For many students they do not have the prior knowledge to put themselves in the position of an immigrant and this provides that background experience.
  • Continue the simulation as long as you see fit. I only used it as a "hook" and then let everyone have a cookies, but it could be continued throughout reading as well. 
  • Later when reading as a class you can then reference this small simulation, reminding students that the character is risking everything to immigrate, for some of the same reasons they wanted to immigrate to the other "country" in class.
"The United States" - with cookies & comfortable seating 

"Guatemala" - the floor of the classroom 

Enjoying the luxury of the U.S.

upset and hungry in "Guatemala"


Here are other things we have done so far in our unit before starting Esperanza.
  • Students completed a reading activity to learn about Guatemala by Martina Bex - La Geografía de Guatemala.
  • As a class we completed a song activity by Sharon Birch for the song Ave Que Emigra by Gaby Moreno, which shows scenes of Guatemala and has themes of immigration. 
  • **New this year we watched the hour long documentary Living on One. It is in mostly English, but it takes place in Guatemala and really made students think about the extremity of the poverty that many people live in. 
  • I presented a Student Slideshow made by a former student that went on a mission trip with the International Samaritan organization in Guatemala in the summer of 2014.
  • The immigration simulation. 
  • Which Way Home - We are currently watching this great documentary about child immigrants from Central America. Last year we watched it after reading, but I think it is even better before the book, since it gives a great visual image of the lives these children have in Central America and the treacherous journey the endure for the chance at a better life. Check out this post about why I would recommend using the English subtitles to get the most out of the movie. 
What do you use to talk about immigration?

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