Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Immigration: Belongings

Last week I stumbled across an excellent photo article from the New York Times about immigrants to New York City and the objects they choose to bring with them. This is the lesson I created based on the article, but it is full of other possibilities too. I hope you find it useful, and I look forward to hearing what you decide to do with it.

Immigration belongings screenshot

I started off with the powerpoint presentation below. I displayed it on the interactive whiteboard, but you could print off the pictures and put them around the room instead. First, students were asked to speculate on what is in the pictures, and naturally they focus on the objects. Next, I asked them what links the pictures together, accepting any suggestions. I then told them that these were objects which immigrants to New York City brought with them. I then asked them to make notes about their thoughts on the gender, nationality, age, job and family of the owners of each object.

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

I then gave the students the texts and asked them to read quickly to match each text to the photos. Some of them needed quite a lot of persuading to skim read and not try to understand everything!

You can find the correct answers by looking at the original article online. The students then had to check their predictions about the people by reading the text in a bit more detail. When a colleague reused the materials, she added a worksheet with a table with spaces for each item of information, which worked better than the notes which my students made.

In the penultimate step of the two-hour lesson, I divided the ‘stories’ up around the class, so that each pair of students had two people to read about. They had to create three to five questions about each person, not including the information we had already talked about (nationality, job etc) and write them down.

Finally, they mingled and asked the other students their questions.

For homework, I asked them to choose a story from the comments board, take notes on it and bring them to class the next day to tell the other students about.

A couple of days later I was working on relative clauses with the same class, and created the following gapfill to help them practise which relative pronoun to use:

The texts could also be used to practise narrative tenses, reported speech, time phrases and much more. You could also use it to lead into a discussion on immigration.


Comments on: "Immigration: Belongings" (16)

  1. Hi Sandy

    Great idea and use of a photo-resource 🙂

    You are teaching in the UK, aren’t you? Why don’t you ask your students to take some photos of things they have brought to the UK and then get them to upload them to a class blog or Flickr photostream. The students could then use the images to talk about their lives in general using some prompts like – why did you bring this object, what does it mean to you etc etc. other possibilities might include a class photo exhibition or even a competition where all the students and staff can vote.

    I’ve spent a lot of time on projects like this and always been amazed at the insight it gives you into the lives of the learners and indeed the stage the personal images it gives the learners to speak (and write if you wish)

    Best wishes


    • Great ideas – thank you Richard. I can’t do that with these students as about half of them have left now, and we’re starting something new next week, but it’s definitely something I would do if and when I repeat the lesson 🙂


  2. Great idea Sandy. Here are 2 similar sites I’ve used in the past:



  3. I wish I’d seen this earlier or rather I wish you’d posted this earlier 🙂 I had a lesson on immigration a month or so ago with a group of upper-int students. They would have loved this. We also read two articles on the immigration issues in the UK and France as a jigsaw reading. And I finished off with a song – Pet Shop Boys “London”. It has very meaningful – IMHO – lyrics which beautifully tie in with the theme and I designed a simple worksheet for it. Come to think of it, perhaps I should write a post about it!


  4. Hi Sandy!

    As an educator and person who absolutely loves everything around culture, diversity and the daughter of Greek immigrants to Canada, this post has really grabbed me and I love it as an idea of a lesson plan!

    First of all, it rang a bell, because I thought of something I couldn’t leave any country without – my books : ) It was great to see what counts as personal and important to each person – a great topic of discussion to share with the students. I also liked the practice after that, with the relative clauses.

    Fantastic ideas Sandy!



  5. Really interesting lesson, thanks for sharing.


  6. […] jQuery(“#errors*”).hide(); window.location= data.themeInternalUrl; } }); } – Today, 5:12 […]


  7. Nice one. Enjoyed reading about your lesson idea.Immigration is a huge deal here too, as you can imageine.


  8. Sandy,
    As a regular reader of this blog it is a real pleasure to see how once again you combine awareness of social issues, or senstitivity to others, with your goals of teaching English.
    Great Post!


  9. Great idea Sandy.

    There was a similar podcast or radio show from BBC R4 (From our own Correspondent, I think) about what refugees had brought with them to the UK. Fairly uselessly lost the link (before I started tagging and saving links online) but students were really into the unimaginable concept of eg just a toothbrush or a wrinkled old photo – and the story that came attached.

    Keep it up!


    • Thanks very much Jim. I guess the BBC one is probably gone, as for a lot of the programmes (and I think that’s one of them) you can only download things during the week after broadcast. If you do manage to find the link in the future though, it would be great to have it here.


  10. shoesuntyd said:

    Hi there, thanks so much for posting this–it’s a great idea! I’d love to use this in class this week, but can’t figure out how to copy the text from here or from the original website. Do you have any suggestions, or do I have a lot of typing ahead of me tonight? 🙂 Thanks.


    • Hi Joanna,
      You should be able to download everything from Slideshare – the are instructions under the presentation at the top of the post. I think you have to log in, but it’s completely free. I had to type it myself, but hopefully noone else will need to!
      Let me know how it goes 🙂


  11. […] Immigration: Belongings – practising relative clauses using stories of immigrants to New York. […]


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