How Will Human Rights Play Out with Changing Demographics?

In this lesson, students consider how the nation’s changing demographic profile relates, if at all, to social justice and equality in the United States.
Grade Level


Students will:

  • Illustrate challenging vocabulary words from the central text.
  • Closely read and annotate important information about social inequalities from the central text using specific markers called thinking notes.
  • Retell one or more stories from the central text from a specific point of view.
  • Conduct an oral history of a first- or second-generation immigrant to learn about his or her experiences in the United States.
Essential Questions
  • Should someone’s legal status in the United States have an impact on their human rights?
  • How do day-to-day experiences of immigrants compare to the experiences of people born in the United States?
  • How does the evolving U.S. identity relate to inequality between those who have a path to citizenship and those who may not ever have a path to citizenship?
  • Poster board
  • Art materials
  • Highlighters
  • Tape or video recorders

This lesson is part of a series called “Changing Demographics, Changing Identity, Changing Attitudes.” The series focuses on how the American identity has and will continue to change as we move toward a plurality nation, how the nation responds to that evolving identity, how changing demographics relate to issues of equality, and what we can do to promote equality for all people living in the United States.

Central Text

“I’m an Illegal Immigrant at Harvard,” Anonymous, The Daily Beast, November 27, 2010


Word Work

Graffiti art can be a great strategy to learn challenging vocabulary words! Here’s how.

  1. With a partner, choose one of the words from the list below.
  2. Using a piece of small poster board or construction paper, draw the vocabulary word using bubble letters.
  3. Write a description of the term, using your own words. Then, using a dictionary, write the actual definition.
  4. Draw at least three images that represent the word.
  5. Present your poster to the class, explaining how the images relate to the word.
  6. Hang all of the posters together to simulate a graffiti wall.

Graffiti vocabulary words: equality, undocumented, discreet, amnesty, respite, rhetoric, discourse, purgatory, penance, lieu, bifurcates.

Close and Critical Reading

  1. Read and annotate the central text using thinking notes--a strategy to help you closely read and make connections within the text. As you read:
  • Highlight anything that you think represents an everyday experience of the author.
  • Write a plus sign next to each everyday experience that helped the author feel “equal” to U.S. residents who were born in the United States.
  • Write a negative sign next to each everyday experience that prevented the author from feeling “equal” to U.S. residents who were born in the United States.
  • Highlight and write one question mark (?) next to anything that raises an important question about equality.
  • Highlight and write two question marks (??) next to anything that is confusing or unclear to you.
  • Highlight and write two exclamation points (!!) next to anything that you liked or identified with from the article.
  • When you are finished, determine what you believe to be the theme or main point of the article.

Community Inquiry

In a small group, retell one or more parts of the central text from the perspective of one of the following characters. After you retell the story from the character’s point of view, share your personal feelings and thoughts about the character’s perspective and what story that perspective tells us about the experiences of immigrants. 

  • the author
  • the immigration lawyer
  • the author’s father
  • the elderly woman on the bus

Write to the Source

The central text illustrates how people living in the United States who were not born here can have a unique experience about everyday experiences that those who were born here may not share. Understanding that experience is important as we consider how to expect the same human rights for everyone who lives here. how to achieve social equality for all people living in the United States.

In this writing activity, you will conduct an oral history to learn about and record a first- or second-generation immigrant’s life experiences and how those experiences may—or may not—shed light on . You will then write a narrative that describes one or more of the interviewee’s experiences in the United States.

  • Identify someone in your community who has immigrated to the United States from another country or whose parents have immigrated to the United States from another country.
  • Determine a goal for your interview. Do you want to learn about their experiences when they first immigrated, how they feel they are treated now, current experiences at school or work, etc.?
  • Develop a series of interview questions that will help you learn about your interviewee’s experiences since coming to the United States. Do not rely on yes or not questions but instead focus on open-ended questions. You can use the central text as a guide.
  • Get a video or tape recorder to capture the interview.
  • Schedule the interview. Make sure you let the interviewee know how long the session will last and that you will be recording. Make sure you are on time. Your interviewee may want to see a list of questions first.
  • Conduct the interview.
  • Write a narrative that reports the experience(s) of your interviewee.

[Note: Have students share the narratives with a larger audience than their class. Encourage students to determine with whom.]

Do Something

In April 2013, the Associated Press dropped the term “illegal immigrant" from its influential AP Stylebook, saying that the term is “inaccurate.” In a statement explaining the decision, Kathleen Carroll, AP's senior vice president and executive editor, said the news agency is “trying to eradicate reductive labels (such as calling someone an illegal alien or illegal immigrant) and push its writers to use more specific, and therefore accurate, descriptors instead.” For example, instead of a reporter calling John Doe an illegal immigrant, the new guidelines might require a reporter to say that John Doe came to the United States on a travel visa and it expired. The revision says that writers should not use the word "illegal" when describing a person. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus called the decision a "great move forward." In small groups, brainstorm immigration-related terms that may be considered dehumanizing. Then, come up with a campaign to reduce the use of one or more of these terms in your school or community.


This activity addresses the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

CCSS RI.9-12.1, RI.9-12.2, RI.9-12.4, RI.9-12.6, RI.9-12.8, W.9-12.1, W9-12.2, W9-12.3, W.9-12.4, W.9-12.7, W.9-12.9, SL.9-12.1, SL.9-12.2, SL.9-12.4, SL.9-12.5, L.9-12.4, RH.9-12.1, RH.9-12.4, RH.9-12.8, WHST.9-12.2, WHST.9-12.7

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