Syria Today: What It Means to Be Syrian

Students think about the idea of "home" and what it means to be a refugee, learn about the refugee crisis in Syria, and hear the voices of Syrian refugees. 


Students will:

  • Talk about the idea of home and what makes them feel "at home"
  • Create a refugee web and define the word refugee
  • Share what they know about Syria
  • Listen to and discuss a BBC podcast about how Syrians see their country

Social and Emotional Skills:

• active listening
• recognizing and naming feelings in oneself and others
• empathy

Materials needed:

• today's agenda on chart paper or on the board
• chart paper for refugee web
• download of the following podcast (or access to the internet for streaming):
• Chart paper to list feelings 



Ask students to think about the idea of "home" and what makes them feel "at home."  Is it an actual place or people? Is home about smells, tastes, views, a way you feel, or something else entirely?  Instruct students to not to limit their senses as they consider what it Is that makes them feel "at home."  

If your class is big, ask students to share their responses in small groups of four.  In their groups each student will have about a minute to share.  Time them and let them know when to move to the next person.  At the end of the four minutes, bring students back together as a large group to get an overall sense of what makes your students feel "at home."   

Summarize what students shared by touching on similarities and differences you hear.

Check Agenda and Goals

Explain that in today's lesson students will be exploring the Syrian refugee crisis.  The goal is to learn more about the conflict that's overtaken the country in the past two and a half years, but to learn also about what is beautiful about Syria and what refugees from this conflict miss about their country - their home.



Refugee Web

Tell students that we'll start by trying to define what a refugee is.

Write the word REFUGEE in the middle of a piece of chart paper and ask students to free associate, sharing any words, thoughts, or images that come to mind when they hear the word "refugee". There are no wrong answers. As students share their responses, chart them, eventually drawing lines from "refugee" in the middle to the students' associations, thus forming a web.

Continue as long as interest remains high. When you come to a stopping place, ask students to pause for a moment and look at the web. Ask, what their observations, comments, and thoughts are about the web.  Next ask students:

  • What other word is contained in the word refugee? Point out the similarities with the word refuge.  
  • What does the word refuge mean, and what is its connection to the word refugee? 
  • Based on the web we've created, would someone like to try to come up with a definition for the word refugee? 

According to Merriam Webster, the definition of a Refugee is "one that flees; especially :  a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution."

What it Means to be Syrian

Syria has been in the news a lot in recent weeks.  Ask students to share what they know about Syria and why it's been in the news.   Elicit and explain that Syria is a country located in a region of the world known in the West as the Middle East.  Officially known as the Syrian Arab Republic, it is a country with a religiously and ethically diverse population. Over the past two and half years, Syrians have been embroiled in a brutal conflict, with the forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and his regime fighting those seeking to oust him.   

As a result of the intense violence, the lack of safety, and the destruction of many villages, towns and city blocks, millions of Syrians have fled their homes in search of safety and refuge.  Some Syrians have relocated to other parts of the country, others have fled their home country for neighboring countries and beyond. Currently, four million Syrians are internally displaced and two million have left the country altogether.   

Ask students to listen to the following podcast by BBC chief international correspondent Lyce Doucet, who has reported extensively from Syria since the start of the war.  The piece starts in a refugee camp in Jordan. This camp includes most of the refugees from the town of Dara'a, where the war started over two years ago. (See the TeachableMoment lesson plan Syria Today: Diplomatic vs. Military Responses.) The piece ends in Damascus, the Syrian capital.  

As they listen to the podcast, ask students to pay attention to:

  • How the refugees remember Syria
  • How the people in the capital Damascus talk about Syria

Instruct students, if they feel comfortable, to close their eyes as you play the podcast so that they can better focus on their listening.   Another way people enhance their focus when listening is to find a focal point on the floor or wall. 

Students may also keep a notebook ready to write down questions and things that stand out for them about the piece.  

Small-group and whole-group discussion

At the end of the piece, ask students to get into small groups (the same groups as before, if you used them for the earlier discussion of "home").  

Ask students to discuss first their general thoughts and feelings about the piece. Can they answer for themselves any questions they have about the segment?

Next, ask students to discuss how Syrians, both in and beyond Syria, talk about their country.  What experiences and stories did the Syrians in the podcast use to describe their home?   

Bring students back to the full group. Ask them what general thoughts and feelings their group had about the piece.  Next, elicit the experiences and stories that the Syrians in the podcast used to describe their home.  Consider asking the questions below:

  • What stories and experiences stood out for you?  Which resonated?
  • What surprised you?
  • How would you describe how Syrians feel about their country?  (List the feelings on the "refugee" chart paper.)  
  • How do the Syrians in the piece feel about having been forced to leave?
  • How did the podcast make you feel?  Why?

Also elicit any questions students have about the piece or Syrian refugees in general. These can be assigned to different students as a homework assignment that builds on today's lesson.

Students may want to act on their concern for Syrian refugees. Here is CNN's list of organizations providing supplies, shelter and medical care for people displaced by the crisis in Syria.    


There is plenty of negative news coming out of Syria these days. Ask a few volunteers to share one positive thing they learned about Syria today.