Energy of a Nation
Publication date – November 2004 (second edition)
Developed by – The Advocates for Human Rights

Aims, objectives, and intended audience

This curriculum is intended for audiences ranging from eighth graders to adults. The materials thoroughly cover all aspects of immigration, from history to policy to public impacts to personal experiences. The materials note how they connect to Minnesota State High School Standards but also are more broadly applicable.

Broad structure and key educational methods

Energy of a Nation contains eleven lessons; they may stand alone or be used in conjunction with other materials. The approximate total time for the eleven lessons is four to six weeks (35 class periods). The lessons are organized into three units: 1) Immigration: Assumptions and a Historical Perspective; 2) Immigration Today – Family, Work and Freedom; 3) Immigration Dialogue and Projects.

Key educational methods include a timeline, videos, role-play activities, and dialogue. The materials often prompt participants to make predictions based on their own understandings and then provide data to either counter or further expand upon those predictions.

Key topics or themes by module

Unit 1. Immigration: Assumptions and a Historical Perspective

1. Lesson One: Identifying Commonly Held Assumptions (1-2 class periods)
This session begins to build participants’ immigration-related vocabulary. Participants share news stories related to immigrants and/or refugees and decipher some of the messages and opinions they have heard from the media. This lesson closes by having participants brainstorm a list of the common assumptions, perspectives, and beliefs related to immigration and immigrants. The ensuing discussion then begins to disentangle accurate assumptions from those that are misinformed.

2. Lesson Two: Historical Perspective (4-5 class periods)
This lesson includes five activities. The first breaks down the words immigration and migration and includes a discussion on human migration, notably how it has changed over time, and how common the migration experience is. The next activity invites participants to share stories of their family members who immigrated. Participants are asked to compare and contrast these stories from those illustrated in a video. This is followed by a reflection activity where participants journal some of the information they have learned thus far in this course. In activity #4, participants examine the historical trends of immigration to the U.S. by studying a timeline and data. Supplemented by a worksheet, this activity emphasizes immigration trends and the push/pull factors underlying these waves of movement. The closing activity prompts participants to give 7-10 minute presentations on one immigrant group and their immigration wave. Participants use the first person voice to emphasize the human experience, from the personal decision to emigrate, to what the journey itself was like, to the perceptions and experiences associated with settling in the U.S.

Unit 2. Immigration Today – Family, Work and Freedom

3. Lesson Three: Overview of United States’ Immigration Policy (3-4 class periods)
This lesson brings the course’s immigration discussion to present day. Through four activities and numerous handouts, participants are exposed to U.S. immigration policies and the goals of those policies. The material also covers the effects of both legal and undocumented immigration, as well as the main reasons why immigrants come to the United States.

4. Lesson Four: Family-Sponsored and Employment-Based Immigration (1 class period)
Building on lesson 3, this lesson examines family-sponsored and employment-based immigration in greater depth. Participants consider data related to these two reasons for immigrating and engage in a creative writing exercise that highlights some of their earlier assumptions about immigration (from lesson 1) and contrasts those with the immigration policies that mandate what categories of people are invited to enter the U.S.

5. Lesson Five: Refugees and Asylum Seekers (4-5 class periods)
These five activities open with data on refugees and asylees worldwide. In order to better understand the plights of refugees and asylees, students engage in a role play exercise and complete applications for asylum in a language that is at least moderately unfamiliar to most, Pig Latin. Then, following a historical look at Refugee and Asylum Law, participants read asylum case stories and follow this reading with a discussion, a presentation, an art project related to the stories, or a viewing of the PBS documentary, “Well Founded Fear.

6. Lesson Six: Undocumented/Illegal Immigration (1-2 class periods)
Participants begin this lesson by filling out a worksheet that prompts them to make predictions regarding the lives of undocumented immigrants; this is followed by the review of a fact sheet designed to debunk myths. The class discussion then turns to the push/pull factors that influence the immigration decisions of the undocumented. Participants then watch two films, “El Norte” and “The Legacy of Shame,” read a series of news articles, and reflect on the challenges facing the undocumented.

7. Lesson Seven: The Impact of Immigration (1-2 class periods)
Similar to the previous one, this lesson opens by having participants answer a series of questions related to what they perceive are the impacts of immigration. Then, divided into small groups, participants receive handouts on immigration-related topics such as public benefits, the economy, naturalization, and “unity in diversity” (i.e., citizenship, homeownership, culture, and English language acquisition). Each group presents the material they were assigned and the whole class then reflects on any information that they found surprising or interesting.

8. Lesson Eight: Assessing the Validity of Commonly Held Assumptions (4-5 class periods)
The opening activity revisits the assumptions compiled in the first class session and invites participants to compile data that supports and refutes those assumptions. The ensuing discussion prompts participants to consider how the media and the nation’s political climate affect these issues. The next activities focus on the challenges faced by cities and states with large immigrant populations and delve into the “us” vs. “them” polarization that often emerges when new immigrants enter an area. Questions center on the reception of newcomers and their acculturation process, as applicable. The closing activity from this lesson examines how “pull” factors have affected the “us/them” dichotomy with respect to Jewish immigrants (on a historical timeline from 1885-present) and Muslims in America post-9/11.

Unit 3. Immigration Dialogue and Project

9. Lesson Nine: An Immigration Dialogue (1-2 class periods)
After clarifying how dialogue differs from other forms of communication, this lesson is devoted to having participants practice engaging in informed dialogue on immigration. Using quotations as opening prompts, pairs of participants practice adopting each side of the issue presented, engaging in role play to support and refute the arguments their partner presents. After some practice, participants share their dialogues with the class and engage in both self- and peer-assessments of their efforts.

10. Lesson Ten: An Immigration Project (2-5 class periods)
This lesson is devoted to preparing and presenting a project that reflects and/or expands upon what participants learned throughout the course. These presentations can take numerous forms, and generally connect with the larger community, including performances, exhibits, or gatherings. Participants are also encouraged to consider how they can make a positive impact on the issues they have studied through advocacy, outreach, and other forms of awareness raising.

11. Lesson Eleven: Emerging Immigration Issues: Focus on Minnesota (6-8 class periods)
With a focus on the ramifications of September 11, 2001 in mind, the activities in this lesson focus on cycles of nativism throughout U.S. history. Topics explore discrimination, stereotypes, biases, and biases with an eye toward post-9/11 Islamophobia. A final activity focuses on Minnesota and the U.S. Supreme Court case involving Minneapolis resident Keyse Jama.

Additional information

The first edition of Energy of a Nation was released in 1997.  Following the 2004 edition, The Advocates for Human Rights compiled a document that updates the data found in the curriculum.

Curriculum acquisition information

This curriculum and numerous supplemental materials (e.g., PowerPoints) are available as a free download 

The Advocates for Human Rights
330 Second Avenue South, Suite 800
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Phone: (612) 341-3302
Fax: (612) 341-2971
hrights@advrights.org