Lives on the Line: Listening to Voices from the Borderlands

Grade Level: 9-12 
Subject Areas:  Language Arts or History
Time Required120 minutes
Prepared by: Kimberly G. Kim; San Juan Capistrano, California
Keywords: border, borderlands, narrative, legislation, storytelling, monologues, poetry, migrant, immigration, identity, native american, stories, storytelling

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Andy Gorvetzian

Kimberly G. Kim, is an upper school English Teacher and debate coach at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School. She received her B.A. and M.A. in English Literature at James Madison University. She also has a M.A.T. in English secondary education from JMU. Kimberly has been teaching high school English for the past 15 years in a variety of school types and settings. Constantly tweaking and adjusting curriculum to meet the needs of her students, a single year is never the same in Kimberly’s English class.

Curriculum Vitae


The packet of enclosed narratives contains a variety of different perspectives on the issues of immigration and border security. A weaker lesson would be one where the teacher provided narratives that are representative of only one side of the debate. Therefore, it is strongly encouraged that you provide your students with multiple perspectives to allow them, as future thinking and educated voters, to listen and decide for themselves what to think. This is not a persuasion piece, rather, it is a lesson designed to help students realize the deeper complexities that exist in any debate.

I have selected (for your convenience) several stories each from groups who are deeply involved with the borderlands. Those groups are: Border Patrol Agents, Legislators, Migrants, Native Americans, and General Residents of Border Towns. If you wish to add more variety, you can look at narratives from the vigilante Minuteman Project ( and activist groups such as No More Deaths ( or Humane Borders ( These groups are on the more extreme ends of the debate and have done things that have pushed and even violated the law, thus I chose not to include them. However, they do play a role in the overall debate and would merit a lesson on its own about civilian activism.  

The following lesson is designed to help students identify and understand difference in identity, culture, and perspective via the primary narratives of people from a region that is full of a complex and rich history. The land where the U.S. meets Mexico is a meeting place of several cultures. It is a place where differences and similarities become unavoidable and tangible realities. For students, particularly students from the U.S., it provides an opportunity for them to gain a sense of their place in the international community, and even more, help them understand that they are not alone.

My hope in this lesson is that students gain an understanding and empathy for people outside of their own world. Additionally, I hope to use the power of storytelling to bridge the socially manufactured divides of race, economics, ability, and gender. It’s important that students have time to reflect on their experiences with the primary text. If you have the time, it would be beneficial to add a reflection activity (such as guided discussion questions) for groups as they discuss, or build in time to float around from group to group to prompt students to go deeper in their engagement with the text.







1. Who lives in the borderlands?

2.Who is affected by the border?

3. What do people who live at the border think about policy that is made about them?

4. Why are migrants willing to face such extreme hardship to come to this country?

5. How do different identities intersect at the border?

6. How is the government working to deal with problems at the border?

7. What is the power of poetry to express the feelings of a person?

8. Why are the stories of the borderlands important to all people in the Americas?





Students will read and discuss stories from a variety of people groups in the borderlands.

Students will make inferences about what they read in those stories.

Students will synthesize either a poem or monologue based on their reading.

Students will work in groups to share what they learned from the reading.

Students will work in one group to share what they learned through discussion of the reading in another group.

Students will take time to reflect on what they learned from the reading.

Students will discuss the material as a whole class to help them further process their experience with the text.

California Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Key Ideas and Details:

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.

Craft and Structure:

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging.
Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literary nonfiction at the high end of the grades 11-CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.






The following activity can be done either electronically on a device or on paper.

  1. Narratives and Assignment Sheets

  2. Copies of the readings

  3. Pen or pencil

  4. Paper








Take time to go over essential questions with students. What do they know about the border? Who lives there? Why are their stories important?

Invite students to reserve judgement in the reading of their narratives. Practice a few techniques of mindful listening before beginning the activity

Divide students into groups of 3-4. They will be participating in a jigsaw grouping activity to read and discuss the material. The following procedures will guide you through this type of group activity.

Each group of students will be given a set of primary narratives. Thus one group will have four different Border Patrol narratives, another will have four different Migrant narratives, another will have four different legislators speaking on this issue, and so on, and so forth. Within each group, each student should chose one narrative to read. They will become the “experts” about the type of people group they read.

As students read, they should be encouraged to annotate important passages in the margins.

Each individual student will create a found poem with their individual stories to share with their initial group.

Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems. In this case, the students will be using the text they have been assigned and ONLY that text to build their poem.


Sample Poem taken from Mario’s narrative: Mario


in Honduras

Friends and family

Very normal.

A very special person,

My grandmother,

Playing guitar and singing.

One day,

Worst news


See us

Asked big.

I don’t want to

Go back.

I am afraid


Was not easy,

Was strange.

News that hurt

Grandmother died

Funeral by video.

Looking to the future

In my country

In my country

My favorite country

Within their groups, students will discuss what they read individually and share their poems.

Sample Discussion Questions

1.    What words and phrases did you find repeated throughout the text?

2.    What seemed really important to the speaker?

3.    What surprised you about this narrative?

4.    In what ways does this story show that your person is a human being? Where do you see flaws? Emotions? feelings?

Once students have had time to discuss and share their poems, reorganize the groups. In the new grouping, there should be one student each representing a different type of narrative. Whereas previously each group contained only one type of narrative, the second grouping will have a variety of narrative types. For instance, each group should have one border patrol, one legislator, one migrant, and one native american person.

After rearranging in their new groups, students will have a discussion about what they learned about their person from their narrative. Here are a few discussion questions that you can use to help facilitate going deeper:

Discussion Questions

1.    What stood out to you about the reading?

2.    Did the narrative you read challenge any preconceived ideas you had about that type of person?

3.    Did the narrative affirm any preconceived notions?

4.    What feelings or emotions did you experience while reading the piece?

5.    In what ways can you relate to your person?

6.    Are there any common themes between the narratives in your group?

7.    What differences did you notice?

8.    Discuss why you think those differences or similarities exist?

9.    What do the narratives say about life on the border?

As a group, the students will collaboratively write a new poem combining lines from their individual found poems. The new poem must incorporate two lines from each group member’s first poem and the group must collaboratively compose at least two lines to tie the whole thing together.

Read each group’s new poem aloud to the class.

As a class, have a discussion about the things students learned in the activity. What differences did they see between the different poems? What similar themes? How could this inform the problem of multiple and sometimes contrasting narratives that exist about the borderlands?





This lesson could be adapted to be a Document-Based Question (DBQ) in preparation for an AP History exam or used to build a synthesis essay for an AP Language and Literature course.

You could also use these narratives to do a classroom debate on this issue.



The following will be assessed in this lesson:

  • Student annotations of the reading (optional)
  • Personal found poem written by the individual student
  • Group found poem written by the final group (after groups are redistributed)


Annotations can serve a variety of purposes, however, I prefer to use them as a means of making thinking visible while a student is reading. Thus, I train students to make note of the following:

  • Clarifying questions for stronger comprehension
  • Questions that attempt to find deeper meaning that look at such concepts as power, gender, social class, and stylistic choices made by the author.
  • Definitions of unknown words.
  • An attempt to understand the deeper meaning of figurative language.

Grading Poetry

Evaluating poetry can be difficult. I usually have a minimum number of lines that students need to write. Between 10-15 lines is usually a nice size.

Poem 1: Individual poem

Since this is a found poem, I will grade based on how well the poet represented the primary text. If the student misrepresented the text due to a weak reading, they receive a lower grade. Additionally, I would score a poem higher if the student managed to manipulate word order or syntax to improve the overall flow of the piece. Creative elements such as repetition, pun, juxtaposition of ideas, use of irony, and paradox are also encouraged and looked for in evaluation.

Poem 2: Group poem

For this assignment, the assembled lines of poetry have to come together in a coherent fashion. I allow students to add words if necessary to facilitate better flow in the overall poem.  

Generally, I did not include very tight guidelines or expectations for the group poem vs. the individual poem because the group poem is more about getting students to engage with the ideas of mixed narratives. This is inherently a very difficult task for students to process and then synthesis an analysis of their discussion, so I focus more of the grading on the individual activity.



This lesson relies on two groupings, so if you do not have time to complete it all in one day, you will have to accommodate for the fact that some students will be absent for the second grouping. If this happens, then you can either just continue doing the lesson minus one or two voices, or you can collect all poems at the end of one day so that you can still provide the absent students’ poem for the final even if they are not present.

If you have a reader that needs additional time, you can shorten the selection or pick a reading for them. The ones I provided are of varying difficulties and lengths. You also could pre-assign the reading so that students have ample time to complete the reading. For students who wish to have more of a challenge, you can have them find their own narratives and run this as a research project.








This lesson can also be done with novels. Here are some suggestions:

  1. The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

  2. The Fabulous Sinkhole by Jesus Salvador Trevino

  3. The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands by Margaret Regan




Catapano, Jordan. “The Jigsaw Method Teaching Strategy.” <>. Accessed on 7/23/19. “Found Poem: Poetic Form.” <>. Posted 9/13/04. Accessed 7/23/19.





Audience is a powerful motivator. I’ve done similar projects in the past with my students and the knowledge that others will see and experience their creations will often times drive them to work hard to create quality work. My role is as practice audience and friendly critic. I will frequently give specific feedback and encourage them to do several rehearsals. It’s best to give more feedback early and frequently in the project and then back off later. The feedback is also helpful in getting them motivated for the project.




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