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3 Digital Tools for Helping Students Gain Perspective on Immigration

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By Erin Wilkey Oh, Common Sense Education 

As the debate over U.S. immigration policy continues to divide voters across the country, more and more online resources are popping up to help us understand this complex, emotionally charged issue.

For young people without a personal connection to an immigration story, these websites, games, multimedia news pieces, and more, can help put a human face on an abstract debate. For students with first-hand knowledge of the immigrant experience, they can find validation of their stories and/or those of their friends and family.

The three tools below give teachers a few ways to approach the topic of immigration in the classroom. While none of these resources offers a complete picture of the situation on its own, they can help students step back for a big-picture, historical perspective on U.S. immigration, as well as zoom in for the details of the lived experience.



American Panorama

With American Panorama’s foreign-born population map, students can analyze migration patterns for the whole country over time as well as zoom in on a specific year or location to see detailed data on countries of origin. This unique interactive resource can be a valuable supplement to a lesson or unit about U.S. immigration.


NPR: Borderland

This collection of 12 multimedia stories as well as 22 podcasts offers an illuminating, intimate visit to the U.S.-Mexico border. Students can read or hear first-hand accounts of life on both sides of the border along with stories of crossing -- some successful, others not. Teachers can use Borderland for whole-class discussion and exploration, or give students time to experience these powerful stories on their own.

Papers Please

Papers, Please

Put students in the role of an immigration officer in this mature simulation game that forces tough ethical choices and explores the grim systems underpinning border control. Players approve or deny someone entry to a fictional country, basing their decisions on an ever-increasing number of virtual documents they must read and analyze. Teachers can help students contextualize their experiences with the game by facilitating extension activities, class discussion, research projects, and writing assignments focused on real-world border and immigration issues.

Erin Wilkey Oh is executive editor of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Go to Common Sense Education for free resources, including full reviews of digital tools.