Who Is an Immigrant?

In this lesson, students examine themselves within various contexts—including family, culture and community—as a means to better understand who they are as individuals and who they are in relation to people around them.
Grade Level

  • Students will explore how immigration influences identity.
  • Students will write pen-pal letters to a character in “Julia Moves to the United States.”
  • Students will create cereal-box suitcases containing items that represent who they are.
  • Enduring Understandings:
    • Where you are from is part of who you are, but it does not fully describe you. This is true for other people too.
    • You can feel good about your identity without making someone else feel bad about theirs.
    • Sharing your unique characteristics with others and giving others an opportunity to share about themselves can help you get to know others.
Essential Questions
  • Does where I am from make me who I am? What about others?
  • How can I be proud of who I am and celebrate others?
  • How do I learn about people? How do I share myself with others?




accentak-sent ] (noun) a way certain people, groups or regions pronounce words

arrive [ uh-rahyv ] (verb) to come to or reach a place after traveling

culturekuhl-cher ] (noun) a way of living that is passed down through generations—includes food, religion, language, family and gender roles, and beliefs

escape [ ih-skeyp ] (verb) to get away from a dangerous place or situation

experience [ ik-speer-ee-uh ns ] (verb) doing and seeing things

identity [ ī-den-tə-tē, ə- ] (noun) the qualities, characteristics or beliefs that make a person who they are

immigrantim-i-gruh nt ] (noun) a person who moves to a country from somewhere else

mischiefmis-chistrf ] (noun) trouble caused in a playful way

pen palpen pal ] (noun) a person to whom you write letters and from whom you receive letters

refugee [ ref-yoo-jee ] (noun) a person who flees for safety, especially to a foreign country, during times of political trouble, war or other danger

strugglestruhg-uhl ] (verb) try very hard to do something that is difficult



Identity Venn Diagram

  1. At the start of the lesson, tell students that they will be learning about their identities and the identities of others. Explain the meaning of identity, and brainstorm a list of different things that shape our identities: roles in our families, religious and nonreligious beliefs, race, nationality, gender, hobbies, special interests, and physical attributes, among others. Highlight the idea that people can be from many different places and that where we are from forms one part of our identity, but not our entire identity.

  2. Have students work in pairs to complete a Venn diagram (the “Me, You, Us” handout) identifying at least three things that are similar to and three tings that are different from each other. Encourage students to identify where they were born (city, state and country) as one of their similarities or differences. Younger students can illustrate their responses. Once the activity is completed, partners can share their responses with the class. Later in the lesson, students will complete another Venn diagram.



  1. Tell students that they are about to read a story called “Julia Moves to the United States” by Sean McCollum. Before reading the text, have students predict what the story will be about based on the title. Have students discuss their predictions.
  2. Read an excerpt of “Julia Moves to the United States” aloud.

  3. Ask students to make inferences about Julia and her identity based on these questions:

    • How might you describe Julia?
    • According to the text, who and what are important to Julia?
    • From where does Julia move to the United States?
    • How does the author describe the home and family Julia is leaving?
    • If you were in a similar situation to Julia what would you miss most about your country?

  4. After reading the story and sharing responses, introduce students to what it means to be an immigrant. Explain that people who voluntarily move from one country to live in another are called immigrants. Draw a distinction between immigrants and people who were involuntarily moved from one country to another (enslaved people) and people who leave their countries to escape dangerous circumstances (refugees). Explain, too, that some groups of people stayed in the same place, but their countries’ borders changed around them. (Note: Review “10 Myths About Immigration” to build your own background knowledge.)

  5. Invite students to identify why Julia and her family came to the United States. (Students can find the answer in paragraph eight.) Discuss why Julia considers herself an immigrant while others might consider her a refugee. Allow students to ask questions and clarify as needed.

  6. Have students visualize the place Julia Alvarez called home, the Dominican Republic, through the medium of photography. View Amy S. Martin’s image gallery entitled “Dominican Life” during whole class instruction and discuss the questions below. For older students, you can print out the images individually and assign groups of students to discuss the images and then present their answers to the class.

    • How is the Dominican Republic similar to where you live?
    • How is it different from where you live?

  7. Have students complete another Venn diagram (the “Me, Julia, Us” handout), this time listing similarities and differences they have with Julia’s character.


Wrap Up Questions

  • How can you find something in common with someone or someplace that is different than what you know?
  • How can we all work together to be part of a community and include everyone?




Extension Activity

Do Something

Option One: Cereal-box Suitcase

  1. Have students think about Julia again. Reread the first five paragraphs if needed.

  2. Ask students what it was like—according to the story—for Julia to be “that new kid in that new place.” Have students point to direct examples from the text or items in “Me, Julia, Us” Venn diagram. Allow students time to share their thoughts.

  3. Next, remind students that Julia’s family could bring only “a few suitcases of clothes,” and ask them what special items they would bring if they could only bring one suitcase with them to move to a new country.

  4. Using an empty cereal box, have students pack their personal suitcase. Encourage students to include items that reflect aspects of their identities, such as culture, religious and nonreligious beliefs, family, friends, traditions, neighborhood, language, music or books. Students can print pictures, use magazine cutouts or include small toys. Note: This project should be assigned as a take-home project so that the child may receive extra help from people outside of school. The completed projects can be displayed around the classroom or school.

  5. Assess the assignment using the Cereal-box Suitcase Rubric.

Option Two: Pen-pal Letters

  1. Review or introduce the parts of a letter and letter formatting and have students write a letter to Julia before her trip. Create a template or write the following list of required information on the board for student reference:

    • Where the student lives (city, state, house, apartment)
    • Language(s) the student speaks
    • Fun activities the student enjoys
    • The student’s favorite food
    • Places Julia should visit in the United States
    • Two or three original questions from the letter writer to Julia

    Younger students can draw pictures answering the questions for Julia or create a shared writing.

  2. Assess the assignment using the Pen-pal Letter Rubric. 
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