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Digital Learning on Immigration: Quick Lessons for Students by Students

Teach digital learning and engage students any day of the week on immigration with our mini-lessons! We pair historical political cartoons with short video clips produced by young adults on immigration themes and provide rigorous questions for student reflection and class discussion. No more than five minutes in length, these films inspire dialogue, critical thinking and creative teaching on immigration. Additional activities are provided to extend learning and explore the themes covered in the films.

Our digital learning mini-lessons on immigration makes it easy to: insert and adapt short lessons, ask students to draw connections between historical and present immigration themes, engage students with multimedia, and underscore the power of youth voice.  

How to Use the Mini-Lessons

The mini-lessons include questions that can be used as warm-ups, homework, extra credit, in-between time during standardized testing days, or extended into full lessons in order to provide students with both historical context and real-world accounts on the impact of immigration today. Currently, we have three mini-lessons but plan to include more in the future. 

Teachers have to flexibility to adapt the guide to best meet classroom needs and extend learning with suggested activities.

Extend the Lessons

While we include suggested activities that build upon the themes discussed in the films, it is the perfect opportunity for students to cultivate their own voice through a digital storytelling project and/or service-learning. 

  • Cross Borders with Digital Storytelling
    Using digital storytelling to capture immigration stories is a powerful way for teachers to create opportunities for “empathetic moments” among students and shape classroom environments. Our most popular lesson plan for K-12 students makes it easy to implement in the classroom.
  • Combine Digital Learning with Service Learning 
    Our current community grants recipients are using digital technologies to reach beyond the classroom walls to study immigration issues that matter to them. Read about our current inspiring teachers who use podcasts and digital immigration narratives to learn more about immigration and a previous project where students brought awareness and assistance to migrant farm workers in their local community. Use this lesson plan to create a similar service-learning initiative in your community – and of course, feel free to apply to our next round of community grants.

We’d love to hear what you think! Let us know your thoughts by emailing us or by filling out a brief feedback form.

Mini-Lesson 1: Exploring Multiple Cultural Identities

Video Synopsis: Speculating on the melting pot versus salad bowl analogy of U.S. assimilation, the narrator tells a compelling story of how he holds onto his family’s Chinese heritage while an American.  He shows that a mixture of cultures is not just possible in America, but part of being American from the foods we eat to the places we visit. 

Themes: cultural identity and heritage, integration, assimilation, Chinese immigration


  • How does cultural diversity mean to you?
  • Why is it important to be able to hold onto one’s cultural identity?
  • The narrator says that “the future of millions is brighter because of their parents’ decision to immigrate to America.”  What kinds of opportunities are implied by this statement? (CCSS.ELA.Literacy.RI9-12.1)
  • Explain the most likely reason the narrator chose to end the story with the central question “are we a melting pot or a salad bowl?” unanswered. What is its effect on the viewer? (CCSS.ELA.Literacy.RI9-10.5)
  • How does the detail of the melting pot versus salad bowl analogy develop the narrator’s main idea? (CCSS. ELA.Literacy.RI.9-10.2)

Further Study:

  1. Why Can’t a Nation That Calls Itself a Melting Pot Sort Out Its Immigration System? (Huffington Post, 2014)
    In this inquiry-driven article, the writer explores the tensions of welcoming immigrants with an outdated immigration system by raising commonly asked questions.
  2. 37 Maps That Explain How America is a Nation of Immigrants (Vox)
    As the introductory text explains “It's impossible to understand the country today without knowing who's been kept out, who's been let in, and how they've been treated once they arrive.” Choose among these colorful maps to illustrate key events in immigration history as well as highlight nuances such as “in a country that’s been around for more than 200 years… most people are still able to identify their ancestry based on the countries in which their families lived before they immigrated to the United States.
  3. American Born Chinese (Gene Luen Yan, 2006)  
    A graphic novel that cleverly takes readers through a journey combining three storylines while looking at cultural stereotypes, immigration, and assimilation.
  4. “The Mortar of Assimilation” (Political Cartoon, 1889) 
    A female US figure stirs various stereotypes of different nationalities into the American melting pot. The one unmixable element is the Irish immigrant.

    Student Reflection:

    How is current immigration climate similar and different to the cartoon “The Mortar of Assimilation”?



Mini-Lesson 2: When Two Undocumented Students Speak Out


Video Synopsis: Told from the perspectives of two undocumented Asian American college students, Luke Hwang and Stephanie Camba, this video chronicles their experiences from living in the shadows to publicly sharing their stories, highlighting youth activism, social justice, and a call for comprehensive immigration reform.

Themes: social justice, youth activism, undocumented immigrants, Dreamers, Korean and Asian American immigration


  • After viewing this film, what do you think are some of the challenges to being undocumented in the U.S.?
  • Luke Hwang says, “Sharing my story is a source of empowerment and encouragement.  You are able to voice your own story and move people to action.”  Using evidence to support your answer, how is his statement supported in the film?  (CCSS.ELA.Literacy.RI9-12.1)
  • Explain the most likely reason the film begins with the question “does it makes someone less human because they are undocumented?” What is its effect on the viewer? (CCSS.ELA.Literacy.RI9-10.5)
  • What is the purpose of adding the statistics at the end of the film that there are “11.4 million people in the U.S. are undocumented” and “1.3 million are Asian Americans?”  How do these facts advance the author’s purpose? (CCSS.ELA.Literacy.RI9-10.6)

Further Study:

  1. Report Shines a Light On Undocumented College Students in the US (NBC News, 2015)
    This article highlights the stresses and challenges uniquely faced by undocumented college students.
  2. I Used to Be an Undocumented Teen Immigrant Until This New Action Changed My Life (Teen Vogue)
    A personal narrative of how one young woman currently in college has benefitted from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
  3. Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Students, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream (Joshua Davis 2014)  In this novel, author Joshua Davis tells the true story of four undocumented teenagers who build a ragtag robot nicknamed “Stinky” out of spare parts to compete in a national robotics championship against the likes of MIT.  A film version was also recently released.
  4. “Be Just—Even to John Chinaman” (Political Cartoon, 1893)
    A judge says to Miss Columbia, "You allowed that boy to come into your school, it would be inhuman to throw him out now - it will be sufficient in the future to keep his brothers out." Note the ironing board and opium pipe carried by the Chinese. An Irish American holds up a slate with the slogan "Kick the Heathen Out; He's Got No Vote."

    Student Reflection:

    How are the themes reflecting the current immigration climate in the video, “Human Undocumented” similar and different to the cartoon “Be Just—Even to John Chinaman”?

Mini-Lesson 3: A Nation of Immigrants, Now and Then

Video Synopsis: Opening with the infamous lines from the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” this film focuses on how American is and has been a nation of immigrants, rich in cultural and religious diversity.

Themes: multiculturalism, religious pluralism, acceptance, Declaration of Independence, inalienable rights, social justice


  • What is the message of the film? (CCSS.ELA.Literacy.RI9-12.1)
  • How do the themes of multiculturalism and religious pluralism provide an account of U.S. immigration? (CCSS.ELA.Literacy.RI9-12.2)
  • How does the song “Amazing Grace” emphasize a tone to the film? (CCSS.ELA.Literacy.RI9-12.4)
  • The filmmaker chose to open with the infamous lines from the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” What is the purpose of this particular passage in relation to the film?  (CCSS.ELA.Literacy.RI9-12.6)

Further Study:

  1. Could you pass the citizenship test?  (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services – USCIS, 2011) During a naturalization interview, an immigrant seeking citizenship will be asked up to 10 questions by a USCIS officer from the list of 100 questions. They must answer correctly six of the 10 questions to pass the civics test.  Have students investigate their knowledge of civics by taking a portion of this exam. Then, ask students to reflect on the purposes of the test as well as their reactions to taking it.
  2. A Brief History of Islam in America (Vox)
    This article details Islam’s long history in America from its founding until today, demonstrating the importance Muslim Americans have played in our nation.
  3. Catholics, other Christians support immigration reform, but say faith plays small role (Pew Research Center, 2014)
    This short article explores how religious leaders have supported immigration reform and how this may affect the perception of immigration and immigrants among followers.
  4. Memories of Survival (Esther Nisenthal Krinitz)
    In this beautiful 64-page picture book, Krinitz tells her story of survival during the Holocaust through her fabric art images and the narratives she stitched below each picture. It is an educational resource for grades 6-9 teachers exploring the Holocaust, immigration, and themes of social justice and acceptance of cultures and religions.
  5. Looking Backwards (Political Cartoon 1893)
    Shadows of immigration past hangs behind the same Americans barring entry to new arrivals.

    Student Reflection:

    How is the current immigration climate similar and different to the cartoon “Looking Backwards”?

Year Released: 2015