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Ali’s Story

Posted on February 12, 2017 by kierandonaghy

This ELT lesson plan is designed around a short animated film for the BBC and the theme of refugees. Students practise vocabulary related to refugees, speak about refugees, watch a short film, empathise with refugee children and write an account of a refugee child fleeing their country.



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Language level: Upper Intermediate (B2.2) – Advanced (C2)

Learner type: Teens and adults

Time: 90 minutes

Activity: Vocabulary work, speaking, watching a short film, and writing

Topic: Refugees

Language: Vocabulary related to refugees

Materials: Short film and vocabulary sheet

Downloadable materials: ali’s story lesson instructions     refugee vocabulary sheet

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Step 1

Write “refugee” on the board. Elicit or explain that a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. Explain that according to the United Nations a refugee “has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.”

Step 2

Give students the refugee worksheet. Ask them to connect the ten words related to refugees with the ten definitions.


Step 3

Check their answers and help them with pronunciation.


Step 4

Ask your students to discuss the following questions in small groups:

  • What’s the difference between a refugee and an immigrant?
  • What problems do refugees bring to the countries they go to?
  • What benefits do refugees bring to the countries they go to?
  • What rights and benefits should a country give to refugees?
  • What do you think it’s like to flee your country and end up in a detention centre or refugee camp in another country?


Step 5

Hold a plenary discussion based on the questions from the previous stage.


Step 6

Tell your students they are going to watch but not hear a short film about an Afghan boy called Ali who is a refugee.

Show the film with the sound off twice.


BBC Learning: ‘Seeking Refuge’ Series – Ali’s Story from Freedom from Torture on Vimeo.


Step 7

Pair your students and ask them to retell Ali’s story to each other.


Step 8

Get the whole class to retell Ali’s story.


Step 9

Tell your student’s that they are now going to watch the film with sound. As they watch and listen they should try to understand what Ali says. Show the film with the sound on twice.


Step 10

Hold a whole class discussion based on what they happened to Ali and his family.


Step 11

Put your students into small groups. Ask them to discuss how they could welcome children like Ali and help them settle in their country.


Step 12

Hold a whole class discussion on how they could welcome refugee children and help them settle in their country.



Ask your students to try and imagine how they would feel in Ali’s situation and write an account in the first person singular based on their experiences.

I hope you enjoy this ESL lesson.

Support Film English

Film English remains free and takes many hours a month to research and write, and hundreds of dollars to sustain. If you find any joy or value in it, please consider supporting Film English with a monthly subscription, or by contributing a one-off payment.

Monthly subscription

One-off payment

18 thoughts on “Ali’s Story

  1. This is a very good topic to work with.
    Could I get from you the manuscript of the film?

    Thank you

    • Hi Nadia,
      I’m glad you like the lesson. I haven’t got time to transcribe the film. If you want the transcript, I’m afraid you’ll have to transcribe it yourself.
      All the best,

    • Dear Berta,
      Yes, it is quite difficult to understand, that’s why it’s suggested for students between B2.2 and C2. I’ve used it with two groups of C1 students and they understood it reasonably well. Lots of other teachers have been in touch with me to tell me it’s worked well with their students. I think any teacher should be able to understand it without too much difficulty. If it’s too difficult for you and your students, I obviously wouldn’t recommend using it.

    • Dear John,

      It obviously goes without saying that you’re entitled to your opinion, but the way you express your opinion comes across to me as both rude and disrespectful. You comment on another teacher’s website without the common courtesies of saying hello or using the name of the person who has written the lesson. You may have noticed that I’ve addressed you by your name out of politeness and respect, something I do with all the comments on my website. Then you comment “No clear objectives?”; I think the objectives are perfectly clear: to raise awareness of issues related to refugees, to introduce and practise vocabulary related to refugees, to talk about refugees, to watch a short film about a refugee child and write the story the film shows, and then to put themselves into the shoes of a refugee and write a narrative in the first person singular describing their experience. I would say that these objectives are crystal clear. Next you write “Differentiation?”. I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean. Perhaps you could clarify. You end your comment with “Must do better.” I understand by this that you mean I must write better lesson plans. If this is what you mean, I’d have to say, without wanting to sound arrogant, that I’m proud of the lesson plans I write and I think they are of a high pedagogical standard. Film English has won a British Council ELTons award for Innovation in Teacher Resources, the most prestigious prize in English Language Teaching. The ELTons judges said the following:

      “A great resource for teachers which is organised extremely well. The lessons do promote critical thinking in the language classroom, and do encourage learners to reflect on values while learning a language.”

      Film English has also won the MEDEA award for User-Generated Educational Media, the most important media and education award in Europe. One of the MEDEA judges said the following:

      “Film English is a highly engaging language learning resource website which uses short films critically and creatively to not only support language teaching but also to promote cineliteracy in the language classroom. It’s easy to use. There are plenty of materials that teachers can take straight into the classroom, lesson plans written for specific causes and so on. I think that students will love to learn English using this entry!”

      Film English also won the English Speaking Union President’s Award Runner-up prize in 2014. The ESU judges said this:

      “Film English is brilliantly designed and makes excellent use of the opportunities provided by the internet today. Its films are very current and the fact that these can be continuously updated is a useful feature. It is instant, readable and engaging, with highly accessible lesson plans.”

      I mention the comments of judges, not to blow my own trumpet, but to illustrate that the lesson plans at Film English are highly regarded within the world of English Language Teaching. The lessons are also very popular; there are over 37,000 subscribers to the site and teachers from around the world view over 10,000 pages a day so I imagine that a lot of teachers must get something from the lessons.

      With regard to your “Must do better.” comment, I find it very condescending and completely lacking in any kind of empathy. Is this how you give feedback to your students? Ironically, one of the main objectives of the lesson is to promote empathy so perhaps you could learn something from it.

      I don’t know whether you are a classroom teacher, a director of studies, a teacher trainer, a materials writer, an academic or a plenary conference speaker, but whatever you do I think you should show more respect, courtesy and empathy to another teacher. I spend a lot of my time on creating the lessons and they are completely free. You can use them or not as you see fit. You are very welcome to comment on them, but I suggest that if you comment on this website or any other teacher resource site or blog, you do so in a more polite, constructive and empathetic manner.



      • Well respected. Your resources and work are appreciated. I am in Mexico and make a visit at least once a week to your website as well as other articles I’ve seen you in about online teaching. Thank you sir for your hard work and obvious dedication to your craft.

        • Hi Marcos,

          Thanks a lot for taking the comment and for your kind words. It’s great to know that you find the lesson plans useful.

          All the best,


    • John,
      I don’t normally comment on other people’s comments, but I have to say I think your comment is very rude and disrespectful. In my opinion, Kieran’s lessons are always engaging, rigorous and well-organised. I’ve been using them for over 5 years and my students love them and get a lot from them. If you don’t like a lesson and want to comment on it, I think you should do so in a more respectful and less dismissive way. Kieran puts a lot of work into these lessons and provides them free of charge. If you don’t like them, don’t use them.

      • Hi Sally,
        Thank you for commenting and for your support. I’m perfectly happy for people to comment and make constructive criticism, but I’m getting really fed up of people leaving comments such as “Where is the transcript”, “There are no subtitles”, “I can’t understand this”, and “This is too difficult for my students”.
        All the best,

  2. Hi Kieran,
    Thanks very much for another great lesson on a theme which is sadly very topical. My B2 students were really moved by Ali’s story and loved the lesson. They got a lot out of the discussion about refugee children and created great stories when they put themselves into the shoes of a refugee child.