Alone in a strange country

18th July 2008 at 01:00
You have half an hour to pack a small rucksack and leave home. Alice Smith teaches her pupils what it feels like to be a refugee

You have half an hour to pack a small rucksack and leave home. Alice Smith teaches her pupils what it feels like to be a refugee

This is a powerful lesson about tolerating refugees because it explores how people feel when they are a stranger in a country - and not by choice.

It can be upsetting, so you need to know your class well and make sure you've taken into account any traumas or bereavements.

Set up the classroom with the lights dimmed and sad music playing. Tell the pupils: "When you get home there is a note on the kitchen table saying you must leave in half an hour. You do not know where you are going or how long for. You can only take a small rucksack." Get the pupils to list the 10 items that they want to take with them.

"Also on the kitchen table are three tickets. Decide and write down which three people will come with you."

Now they must share the rucksack and so can only take three items, not 10. Ask them to cross off seven items from their list.

Then break into a hotseat activity, with the teacher playing the role of a refugee and answering questions about their situation.

Now go back to the original scenario and tell them: "There is bad news. There are only two tickets. You need to leave someone behind. Write a letter saying goodbye, explaining why they cannot come and expressing how you feel."

At this point some may get upset so it is important to reinforce that the activity is not real. Once pupils have completed their letters, get them to close their eyes and tap one child on the shoulder to read out their letter. They may need a bit of encouragement, but it's important not to force them to read it out.

Break the sombre mood by a physical activity such as "Simon says".

Finally, discuss with your pupils some of the issues that have arisen for them around asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants

Alice Smith teaches at Highlands School in north London.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today