The Many Faces of Global Migration

Use photographs of human migration to introduce students to the scope and complexity of this pressing global trend.

Last Updated: September 18, 2018

Migration is one of the most pressing global trends today. War, economics, persecution, and the desire for opportunity in a new place are among the reasons prompting hundreds of millions of people around the world to move. Many students have experienced migration themselves or have family members or classmates who have. Many others are likely familiar with stories of global migration through the media. They may have heard or read news stories about Central American migrant families separated from one another at the US–Mexico border. They might be aware of the genocide of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group that has been persecuted by members Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and forced to flee to overcrowded refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh. They may also know about the men, women, and children fleeing drought and famine in Somalia, the political and economic chaos in Venezuela, the civil war in Syria, or the extreme violence of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. Regardless of which of these stories students have heard, they may not understand them as part of a worldwide pattern.

According to the United Nations’ 2017 International Migration Report, there are currently 258 million migrants worldwide, over 60% of whom live in Asia, Europe, and Northern America; however, only a fraction of this growing population’s stories are covered in today’s news cycle.1 While horrific images and stories may capture the attention of viewers and readers, another global event or domestic crisis shifts the media’s focus elsewhere, leaving countless individuals forgotten.

The following teaching idea uses images to help students connect emotionally to the experiences of individuals and groups who choose or are forced to leave their homelands and who place their well-being and safety into the hands of others. The activities also help students consider the scale of global migration and invite inquiry and opportunities for them to engage with and interpret the news about global migration today. Facing History and Ourselves will continue to provide teaching ideas, resources, and strategies to help you explore this topic in more depth throughout the year.

  1. Reflect on Personal Connections to Migration
    Begin by asking students to reflect on their own connections to the phenomenon of migration. Give them a few moments to respond to the following prompt:

    Have you, members of your family, past or present, or anyone you know migrated from one place to another? What do you know about it? What questions do you have?

    Give students the opportunity to share some of their responses briefly using the Think, Pair, Share strategy.

  2. Create a Global Migration Gallery Walk
    Using images from the Global Migration image gallery, create a “Global Migration Photography Exhibit” in your classroom that students explore in a modified gallery walk to help them begin to understand the scope and complexity of global migration today. Depending on your class size, print and post 3–5 copies of each image around the classroom. So that students can examine the images without relying on the titles or descriptions, we recommend that you cut and paste each image caption onto the back of the image.

    (Note: If you can’t make color copies of the images, use black and white instead. Alternatively, you can choose some of the images to project rather than print. Have students do a See, Think, Wonder for each one and then discuss the students’ observations in small groups or as a class.)

  3. Invite Students to Analyze an Image In-Depth
    Invite students to tour the “Global Migration Photography Exhibit” and then choose one image to bring back to their desks for a see, think, wonder reflection. Pose the following questions one at a time so that students take time to examine the image:

    • What do you see? Make a list of details that stand out to you.
    • What do you think is happening in this image? What makes you say that?
    • What does this image make you wonder?
  4. Students Discuss Observations and Share What They Have Discovered
    Time allowing, use the Jigsaw teaching strategy to debrief by first having students meet in “expert” groups comprised of students who analyzed the same image. At this time, invite them to read the caption on the back of their image and share their see, think, wonders, adding to their notes and discussing how the description extends or complicates their understanding of the photo. Then have students move into “teaching” groups to learn about the other images in the exhibit. Alternatively, you can project each image and have students share from their reflections with the class.

  5. Generate Questions to Guide Future Learning
    Conclude the activity with a "question blast". Have students write as many questions as they can about global migration that their image or the exhibit raises for them. Use the Wraparound teaching strategy to have students share their questions. Keep circling around the room until all of the questions have been shared. Invite students to add questions that they find interesting to their own question blasts.

Extension Activities


  1. Research Questions Generated in Class

    For homework, ask students to find an article or another resource (video, image gallery, podcast, etc.) that helps them answer one of the questions from their question blast. They can complete a written reflection about how the resource helps them answer (or start to answer) their question or present the information in an upcoming class period.

  2. Start a Bulletin Board to Collect Information and Ideas
    Create a global migration bulletin board in your classroom where students post articles and reflections about global migration topics they follow over the course of the school year. If you post a world map in the center of the bulletin board, students can use push pins and string or yarn to connect the resources they find and their reflections to the countries of origin, helping to visually capture the scope of global migration today.

  3. Explore Global Migration with Reimagining Migration
    Reimagining Migration is an organization dedicated to helping teachers and students understand migration as “our shared experience as humans.” Visit their website for a variety of resources to help you explore global migration more deeply with your students.

For more resources on global migration, view our Migration Explainer or our Teaching Current Events: Global Migration collection.

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