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February 15, 2017

Lesson plan: What public libraries can teach us about immigration

This NewsHour Extra lesson plan uses video from PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs’ newest series, New Americans, to explore what immigration looks like at grassroots levels across the country.


A one-on-one conversation club in a Louisville, Kentucky library connects local volunteers with new arrivals to the U.S. in order to build trust and community. Find out if your community has a similar program and explore options for creating similar civic activities.

Warm up activity:

Short writing activity: Write the following question on the board and ask your students to free write (continuously writing down their thoughts for the duration of the activity) their responses in their notebooks for five minutes.

How might a simple one-on-one conversation with an immigrant or a person who has recently become a U.S. citizen make them feel more welcome?*

*Let your students know that they can answer this question if they are a naturalized citizen (born in the U.S.), a permanent legal resident, an immigrant who has lived in the country for a short or long period of time, or has recently become a citizen.

Main activity:

  1. Watch the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs video, ‘Conversation clubs connect new arrivals,’ produced by Jailen Leavell and Laquan Richardson, students at Pleasure Ridge Park High School in Louisville, Kentucky.

Conversation clubs connect new arrivals to Kentucky from Student Reporting Labs on Vimeo. Instruction provided by SRL Connected Educator Mary Dunn. Mentor support provided by Brian Spellman of KET and Victor Fernandez of the PBS NewsHour.

2. Short debrief of film:
Were you surprised to hear that hundreds of public libraries across the country have programs like the one featured in this video? Does your community have a similar program to help immigrants? Not sure? The next activity will help you find out.

3. Group research activity:

  • As a class, ask your students where they would first go to find out if the library in their town has programs for new immigrants?
  • Work as a class if you have a projector in your room, or have students work in small groups on computers. Google either the name of the local public library or a local government website, which often has links to the library. Remind students that the library is one of the many services provided by local government and that the library’s employees are government employees.
    • NOTE: You can also check out the services offered in the nearest city, but start out in your own town. Students may be surprised to find that their local public library does offer such services.
  • Ask students to examine the library’s website. What types of services does the library provide? (i.e. language classes, SAT classes, tax preparation help) Do any of these services surprise your students? If yes, ask them to explain why. Why would a library be a good place for language classes or tax preparation classes? Ask students if they believe local or state government should be responsible in helping to provide services to the community? If students wanted to find out more about their library’s programs, perhaps volunteer like the students featured in the SRL video, what could they do? (i.e. check for contact information).

 Extension activities:

  • Going above and beyond: A lot of programs that start at the local level are in fact started by local people! If your community doesn’t have a program similar to Louisville Library’s conversation club, what could you do in order to start such a program?
    • One thing you can suggest to your students is speak to their student government representatives about starting a ‘conversation club’-type program in their school, if the need exists. Perhaps you might consider other reasons why students may to start one-on-one conversation clubs, including bringing students from different backgrounds or grade levels together.
    • Another idea is to research similar stories of community members making a difference at the local level. Ask your students to Google stories about people who’ve brought about change in their town or city after they’d gotten involved at the local level.
      • I typed in “‘libraries immigrant language classes” into Google and found this piece in the Nevada Appeal newspaper, ‘Citizenship class offered at Carson City Library.’ It’s a short feature story about Ronald Roberts who has helped non-native speakers become fluent in the English language for the past 20 years. Roberts has assisted more than 200 people to become U.S. citizens.
        • How do you think you could find out the origins of this citizenship class offered at the Carson City Library? Keep in mind that it likely started with one or two people simply talking together about ways they could help better their community. Ask your students if they would consider volunteering in a similar program? Are there other ways to help immigrants feel welcome in addition to language classes?
  • Check out more videos from the Student Reporting Labs series “New Americans: Stories of Immigration, Identity and Community Through the Eyes of Teenagers.
  • Watch the We the Voters video “Citizen Next” on PBS Election Central’s website or click HERE to learn more about immigration policy in the U.S., including why it’s difficult for even legal immigrants to become U.S. citizens. Ask students to fill out the handout located in the materials section on the top right of this page.
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  • Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.3 Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).

      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.3 Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).

      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.3 Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g., through comparisons, analogies, or categories).

      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.3 Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.

      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.3 Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.

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