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This free ESL lesson plan on refugees has been designed for adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

Today, there are more than 80 million people in the world who have been forced to leave their homes to escape violence, conflict and other crises. Very often, these refugees have to live in cramped conditions in refugee camps, or they are forced to relocate to other parts of their own country. Refugee crises from Syria to Venezuela to Afghanistan make the headlines and cause international outcry for a short time, but quickly we forget about them unless the headlines are about refugees trying to make it across our borders. Some people born in refugee camps live to old age having never been anything but a refugee their entire lives. In this ESL lesson plan on refugees, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as why people become refugees, how refugees can be helped and some of the myths and perceptions associated with refugees.

This lesson plan could also be used with your students to debate these issues for World Refugee Day, which takes place in June. For more lesson plans on international days and important holidays, see the calendar of world days to plan your classes for these special occasions.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.


Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

Huffington Post | The Truth Behind Seven Myths About Asylum Seekers

The article explores common myths and perceptions about asylum-seekers in the UK including that they are supposed to claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in, that the UK receives more asylum-seekers than other European countries and that they come to the UK just to claim benefits. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was said? Can they think of any ways they might disagree with the content of the article?

Video activity
To save time in class for the conversation activities, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below and answer the listening questions in Section 3 of the lesson plan at home. There are intermediate listening questions and advanced listening questions so teachers can decide which would be more appropriate for their students. Check the answers in the class.

The video for this class is called “What does it mean to be a refugee?” by TED Ed which explains the definition of a refugees and some common causes that force people to flee their homes.


The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means and if they agree with it. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including the difference between a refugee and a migrant, current refugee crises in the world and whether there are any refugees in the students’ countries.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with refugees such as refugee camp, internally displaced person and asylum-seeker. This vocabulary has been chosen to boost the students’ knowledge of less common vocabulary that could be useful for preparing for English exams like IELTS or TOEFL. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the listening questions. Before checking the answers, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about refugees. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as why refugees leaving their country tend to be men, whether there is a connection between refugees and terrorism and why governments around the world are reluctant to take in refugees.


After the class, students will write about their opinion of refugees. This could be a short paragraph or a longer piece of writing depending on what level the student is at. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise and improve their grammar with the feedback from their teacher. For students who intend to take an international English exam such as IELTS or TOEFL, there is an alternative essay question to practise their essay-writing skills.


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