Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Lesson Plans

Understanding immigration reform - Lesson Plan

November 18, 2012

Full Lesson


By Lisa Prososki


Secondary current events, political science, social studies, U.S. history, civics, debate, and communication arts classes


Three 90-minute or five 50-minute class periods plus additional time for extension activities.


Students will:

  1. Utilize their prior knowledge to brainstorm definitions for immigrant, illegal immigrant, and undocumented immigrant and share these definitions with classmates, as well as answer questions about immigration facts and statistics.
  2. Participate in a class discussion where they must share and support their opinions using reasons, facts, and examples.
  3. Conduct research using Internet, news and primary sources to learn about the opinions of various groups representing a variety of viewpoints about immigration reform.
  4. Develop a role play that illustrates a specific point of view related to immigration reform and perform this role play for classmates.
  5. Learn about current laws/pending legislation related to immigration reform by utilizing primary sources.
  6. Debate issues related to immigration reform based on the various viewpoints represented in the prior class activities.
  7. Compose a persuasive essay, letter to the editor, or e-mail/letter to a state senator describing their views about immigration reform and their ideas for solving the problem.


Each year millions of people cross the U.S. borders illegally in search of the American dream — a land of freedom and opportunity that can provide them and their families with a quality of life they cannot enjoy in their home countries.

Throughout the 2000s, Americans became increasingly concerned with illegal immigration, citing the rising cost of illegal immigrants and the strain they place on public services such as the education, legal, and emergency medical systems in the U.S.

With some 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S. and working in jobs that most Americans will not do, illegal immigrants feel they are a crucial part of the economic prosperity enjoyed by U.S. citizens.

With many varying opinions about illegal immigrants, people on all sides of the issue are calling for immigration reform. Everyday citizens, business leaders, and immigrants, legal and illegal, are making their views known to lawmakers in an attempt to spur immigration reform that will fairly address the problem of illegal immigration and provide a solution that is beneficial to all people residing and working in the U.S today.


NOTE: This lesson is broken into two parts. Depending on the amount of time available for study, the lesson could be done in its entirety or Part 1 and Part 2 could be completed as stand alone lessons.

Part 1: The Facts of the Matter
  1. Write the words “immigrant,” “illegal immigrant” and “undocumented immigrant” on the board or overhead and have them displayed for students when they enter the classroom. Direct students to think about each term and share his/her definition of each term with the person sitting next to him/her. As a group, discuss the various definitions and work as a class to record an accurate description for each term (simple definitions are listed below).
    • immigrant – a person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another after being granted permission to do so by the government
    • illegal immigrant – an alien (non-citizen) who has entered the United States without government permission or stayed beyond the termination date of a visa. This person is sometimes referred to as an “undocumented immigrant”.
    • undocumented immigrant – an alien (non-citizen) who has entered the United States without government permission or stayed beyond the termination date of a visa. This person is sometimes referred to as an “illegal immigrant”.
    • Note: Take time to discuss the fact that while illegal immigrants and undocumented immigrants are the same thing, the terms have very different connotations. Briefly discuss these connotations.
    • Also, despite the widespread use of “illegal” and “undocumented” immigrants in the media, the AP Stylebook no longer recognizes either term. Instead, it encourages the use of “persons who have immigrated illegally”. Briefly discuss why this might be.
  2. List the term “immigration reform” on the board or overhead. Take 2-3 minutes to do a class brainstorming session and list all the ideas students can generate about this topic.
  3. To get students interested and thinking more about the facts related to immigration, particularly illegal immigrants, distribute the Immigration Facts and Statistics worksheet and provide students with 5 minutes to complete the questions using their prior knowledge and their best guesses.
    • Note: Statistics and information presented on the Immigration Facts and Statistics worksheet was found from a number of primary sources including the Center for Immigration Studies, Online NewsHour, the Nightly Business Report, the White House Immigration Reform Fact Sheet, and ABC News.
  4. After students have completed the Immigration Facts and Statistics worksheet, work as a class to discuss the answers to each question. Once students have some basic facts about illegal immigration, pose the following questions:
    1. In your opinion, in what ways are illegal immigrants important/helpful to the U.S.?
    2. In your opinion, in what ways are illegal immigrants impacting the U.S. in a negative way?
    • Facilitate a short discussion about these two questions and have students give specific reasons, facts and examples to support what they say whenever possible.
Part 2: Debating Various Points of View

Distribute the handout From My Point of View Part 1 to each student. Select students to read about each different group’s point of view on immigration and reforming the current laws. As you complete the section about each group of people, take 2-3 minutes to discuss their point of view and summarize their main ideas about illegal immigrants.

  1. Divide the class into 4 groups. Using Internet resources or other primary sources, have students work as a group to research the common opinions of the people they are representing. They should use the questions on From My Point of View Parts 2-3 handout to guide their research.
  2. When research has been completed and each group has a clear understanding of what the people they represent believe about illegal immigrants, direct students to Part 3 of the From My Point of View handout. Give groups 15-20 minutes to create and practice their role-play.
  3. Have each group present their role-play to the class. Students should pay careful attention to each group presentation to learn how each group feels about the issues surrounding illegal immigrants.
  4. When all groups have completed their role play demonstrations, distribute current information about the laws governing illegal immigrants and/or the legislation being considered by lawmakers to reform immigration laws and policies. This information can be found using the Related Links section included below.
  5. Bring all of the groups together as a class to present their proposals and discuss and debate the various points of view related to immigration. Encourage groups to use their Pros/Cons charts and their written proposals to support the point of view they are representing.
  6. As a final activity, have each student draft a letter, persuasive essay, or letter to the editor that describes what they believe should be done to solve the problem of illegal immigrants in the U.S. Students should utilize what they have learned from their research and class discussion and debate activities to formulate a plan that addresses the point of view provided by each of the groups they learned about. Encourage students to share their work by e-mailing state lawmakers or submitting their writing to the school or local newspaper.
Related Links

The White House Immigration Fact Sheet
Outlining President Obama’s plan for immigration reform, the site provides facts, statistics, and detailed information about what the president believes should be done to reform U.S. immigration laws and policies.

Senate Hearts Appeal for Immigration Reform
This video and blog examine the two different sides of the current immigration reform debate.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 
Sample questions from the Naturalization Self Test offer opportunities to view the types of questions presented on the citizenship test in an interactive format.

Pew Hispanic Center
The site provides statistical information and studies about America’s Hispanic population and has specific links dedicated to immigration issues

Extension Activity

Have students learn about the steps are for becoming a U.S. citizen. Use primary sources to research the process and create a flow chart that documents the steps. Using an online source such as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Naturalization Self Test, have students answer the sample questions to see what types of knowledge immigrants must have about the country. Have students discuss the steps to citizenship and why they are important for those considering immigration to the U.S.

About the Author

Lisa Prososki is an independent educational consultant who taught middle school and high school social studies, English, reading, and technology courses for twelve years. Prososki has worked with PBS TeacherSource and has authored and edited many lesson plans and materials for various PBS programs over the past nine years. In addition to conducting workshops for teachers at various state and national meetings, Prososki works as an editor, creates a wide range of educational and training materials for corporate clients, and has authored one book.

To find out more about opportunities to contribute to this site, contact Leah Clapman at extra [at]

More Social Studies lesson plans from PBS TeacherSource

Copyright © 2013 MacNeil-Lehrer Productions All Rights Reserved