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Lesson plans for ages 15-18 in Language & Literature: The Depiction of Refugee Experience in Literature

Teaching Tools, 14 March 2007

LESSON 1: "Concerning the Label Emigrant" by Bertolt Brecht


Print copies of the text of Bertolt Brecht's poem Concerning the Label Emigrant and Misganaw Worknehe's short story All tomorrows are the same.
For full references, see the Unit Plan.

Ask the students to read about Bertolt Brecht in an encyclopaedia or from the internet.


To encourage dialogue and a free flow and exchange of ideas and opinions between the students, have them seated in a large circle. Give out copies of the poem at the beginning of the lesson.

The teacher or a talented student reader should read the poem aloud to the class.

The teacher may choose to handle the Comprehension questions verbally or as a written task.

Through the Discussion questions the students are encouraged to relate the perhaps rather remote experiences of German refugees from Nazism in 1933 to their own feelings. As the questions are deliberately personal, to draw out an empathic response from the students, the teacher should lead the discussion with tact and sensitivity.

The library research question provides a link to the next lesson.

Comprehension questions

  • To what was Brecht referring in the phrase "the shame which now defiles our land"?
  • What do you think Brecht meant by the simile "we ourselves / Are almost like rumours of crimes, which escaped / Over the frontier"?
  • Who could have been the "they" who gave the label 'emigrant'? Is the narrator complaining that the label is derogatory, or is he is complaining about something else?

Discussion questions

  • In this poem, what seems to be the attitude of the 'emigrants'? Where are their thoughts?
  • Does this poem form a connection between those of us who have and those who have not known what it is to be an exile or a refugee? Have you ever had a sense of exile? What happened to cause you feel like this?
  • Do you know anyone who has parents or grandparents who came to this country as refugees? What can you tell us about their story?


  • Library research: Ask the students to give some examples of countries who have opened their doors to refugees. Where did the refugees come from, and when did this happen?
  • In preparation for the next lesson, the students should also be asked to read the short story, "All tomorrows are the same" in Tilting Cages