The Refugee Crisis: A mini-unit using political cartoons to address a Global Challenge


Although I hadn’t planned on addressing the “Défis Mondiaux” theme with my AP students until later in the year, I just felt this topic couldn’t wait.  Here’s a quick mini-unit I created to introduce the plight of the Syrian refugees to my French 4/5 students.

Day 1: In order to ensure that my students had adequate background knowledge on the basic facts regarding this crisis, I began the lesson by showing these two videos: 1)    2) . We watched them as a class, and I paused the videos frequently in order to ask questions to ensure comprehension. Following the video/discussion, I assigned this comprehension guide over this article to provide further information on the refugee crisis.

Day 2: I began the second day of this mini-unit by showing this video ( ), which depicts the conditions aboard one of the boats used to transport refugees from Turkey to Greece. Again, I used the video as a springboard to class discussion, rather than as a formal listening assessment.    It’s a powerful video and the students remained engaged throughout the viewing.  They used the remaining class time to finish the reading activity they began on Day 1.

Day 3-4: Now that my students have some basic information about the causes of the crisis, the challenges faced by the refugees, and how some European countries are reacting to the situation, I wanted to create an opportunity for my students to engage in some interpersonal communication related to the topic. Because I have a Syrian immigrant in one of my AP classes, I wanted to avoid any type of role play or debate that may have (even inadvertently) resulted in insensitive comments. Furthermore, due to the limited time I had for this unit, I did not want to assign a significant amount of reading, which would no doubt be somewhat laborious based on the topic. So, instead of assigning additional reading to provide stimulus for a discussion, I curated a series of political cartoons that the students will first discuss and then present orally to the class. Here are the steps to this part of the mini-unit:

  1. For homework on Day 2, I asked the students to look at this Google Presentation ( )   containing 20 political cartoons related to the refugee crisis and to select the one they would be most interested in discussing. They then typed their name next to the corresponding slide number on a separate Google Doc I created to serve as a sign-up sheet. Note: I wrote my own name next to #1 and #2, as I will use them to the model the activities.
  2. On Day 3 (tomorrow), I will project the first cartoon and guide the students in a discussion, using the same questions included in the comprehension guide . Next, I will project the 2nd cartoon and have the students fill out a copy of the comprehension guide , which we will then discuss as a class. After this preparation, I will either pass out Ipads or a photocopy of his/her selected cartoon to each student. The students will then orally discuss their cartoons with a partner  (first one partner’s, and then the other’s) as they each complete the comprehension guide for both of the cartoons in their dyad. For homework, the students will practice presenting their cartoon to the class, giving the information they filled in on the comprehension guide.
  3. On Day 4, each student will present his/her cartoon (which I will project) to the class, who will fill in a note-taking guide with the types of information included in the comprehension guide. Students will earn a presentational speaking grade for this activity.

Day 5: On day 5, students will begin a short assessment over this topic. For the Interpretive reading, they will read this article (p. 1p. 2p. 3p. 4) and complete this interpretive reading assessment . In order to replicate the format of the AP test, the questions are multiple choice and require both literal and inferential comprehension. The students will also complete this listening assessment  (Note: the URL for the first video is incorrect.  Here’s the correct URL: ) over two additional 1jour1actu videos. Although these videos are quite simple, the results on my first IPA demonstrated that my new level 4 students aren’t yet proficient enough to interpret specific details from more complex recordings.  I may add a short writing assessment, in which the students would present an unfamiliar political cartoon in writing, based on a prompt which includes the types of information included in the comprehension guide.

Although this topic isn’t “fun,” the interest my students have shown in the videos and their enthusiasm in choosing their cartoons lead me to believe that they will be engaged by this brief unit on an important current event.

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