The Covid-19 global pandemic disrupted the education of millions of children, and forced numerous teachers to adopt new online instructional practices. While the turmoil created by the pandemic underscored the importance of adaptability and ongoing teacher development, it also put the issue of homelessness under the critical spotlight.

In 2021, Ritwika Mitra noted that more than 1.7 million people were living on the streets of India. In the UK, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government recently reported that almost 70,000 households were either homeless or threatened with homelessness. Clearly, homelessness is one of the world’s most pressing social problems and something that can affect people in both developing and developed nations. Most commercially-produced English language textbooks and digital resources have units that focus on housing and household duties. Unfortunately, many of these teaching and learning resources totally ignore the growing problem of homelessness.

The activity that follows can supplement a typical textbook housing unit or can be used as a stand-alone activity. It can be integrated into a traditional face-to-face classroom or an online environment (eg a Zoom session). The lesson requires the students to adopt a role and share their ideas in a town hall meeting. Many teachers erroneously perceive roleplay activities to be time-consuming tasks that must be spearheaded by a ‘drama expert’, as well as something that does not work well with lower-proficiency or lower-motivated students. In reality, roleplay is a versatile pedagogical strategy that can be used in a wide variety of learning contexts and one that can foster the students’ creativity and critical thinking skills.

The activity

In the first class, the students examine key terms and definitions that are used when talking about homelessness. They then view three video clips which highlight different types of homelessness (ie street people, car/van nomads, net café refugees). These videos act as a launch pad to get the students to discuss questions and examine perspectives that may be quite different from their own. During the third part of the lesson, the students randomly select one of the following roles: mayor, net café refugee, homeless person and car/van nomad. They are given a profile card to complete before the next class. Lastly, they are introduced to the town hall meeting format.

During the next class, the students are first divided into groups based on their roles. Thus, a student who has been assigned a homeless person role will meet with other homeless characters to compare profile cards and improve their questions.

Once this sharing session is finished, the importance of staying in character is emphasised and the students are reminded about the town hall meeting guidelines.

The second part of the lesson requires the class to be divided into groups of four students, each group containing a mayor, a net café refugee, a homeless person and a car/van nomad. The students then take part in two different town hall meetings, each lasting 20 minutes.

Finally, the class come together to debrief and share ideas that were generated during the town hall meetings.

You will need a board, smartphones, tablets or computers with internet access; a projector; lesson handouts and role cards (see below); a stopwatch or timer.

The activity will require approximately 120 minutes of class time (+ homework) and around ten minutes for preparation.

The preparation

Before class, make copies of the handout, the town hall meeting guidelines and the four role cards. These are shown at the end of this article, and can also be downloaded as full size role cards below. If you are teaching online, upload the pdf files to a learning management system or email them to your students before the first class.

The procedure

Lesson 1

Part 1

  1. Put the students into groups of three or four and distribute the handout. Give the groups ten minutes to match the terms in Activity 1 with the correct definitions. While the students are working, write the 12 terms from the chart on the board with a line afterwards
    (eg a poverty bank – ________). When the time is up, ask each group to write their answers on the board. Answers: a–2, b–3, c–10, d–9, e–1, f–11, g–7, h–6, i–8, j–5, k–12, l–4)
  2. Provide corrective feedback and check comprehension (eg People are often asked to donate ‘non-perishable’ items to food banks. Can you give an example of a non-perishable food?).
  3. Tell the students that they are going to watch three short videos that examine different types of homelessness (Activity 2). The first is a trailer for the film Nomadland. It’s about an American woman who lives in her van after her husband dies and she loses her job. Many people in the movie are real-life car nomads. The second clip looks at people who live in a net café in Tokyo, Japan. The third highlights the problem of homelessness in Los Angeles, USA.
  4. Project the videos on a screen or have the students access them on their smartphones.
  5. Get some volunteers to read the Discussion questions aloud. Check comprehension and answer any questions that arise. Tell the class that they have 20 minutes to discuss the seven questions in their groups.
  6. When the time is up, bring the groups together. Get some volunteers to share their answers. Give out the town hall meeting guidelines and ask some students to read out the instructions for the roleplay activity (Activity 3) and the guidelines.

Part 2

  1. Remind the students of the town hall meeting guidelines and point out the four character roles.
  2. Divide the class into groups of four. Ask one student from each group to write the numbers 1–4 on four small pieces of paper. Tell them that each number represents one of the four roles. Thus, a student who selects number 4 will play the role of a car nomad.
  3. Distribute the role cards accordingly.
  4. Get volunteers to read out each of the role cards. Tell the students that they have to create an original profile for their character and three questions for each of the other characters. At the end of the class, remind the students that they must complete their profile cards for homework and bring them to the next lesson.

Lesson 2

Part 1

  1. Make sure the students have brought their profile cards and that these have been completed.
  2. Divide the class into small groups based on their characters, ie the mayors will meet with the other mayors.
  3. Tell the students that they have 15 minutes to share their character profiles and the questions they have created. Students can use this time to change or improve the questions that they will ask the other characters.
  4. Divide the class into groups of four. Each group must have a mayor, a homeless person, a net café refugee and a car nomad.
  5. Give the instructions for the town hall meeting. Emphasise that this activity requires the students to do the following:
    • play the part of the character they created, using the information on their role cards; (Note: This is not a reading exercise.)
    • decide the order of the opening statements, eg by means of a ‘scissors, rock, paper’ contest;
    • decide who will act as the timekeeper: this person will use their smartphone (or watch) to time the three different parts of the town hall meeting;
    • debate and ask each other questions during the open forum (provide them with an example, eg I see what you mean, but I disagree with what you just said); make brief notes.
  6. Tell the class that they will have 20 minutes for their first town hall meeting.
  7. Walk around the class and make a mental note of things that are going well and items that need improvement.
  8. When the time is up, bring the groups together. Tell the students they will now participate in a second town hall meeting with new students. Point out the positive things you observed and any items that the students can improve during the second meeting (eg Remember you can jump into a conversation during the open forum and debate ideas).
  9. Divide the class into new groups of four students. Again, each group must have a mayor, a homeless person, a net café refugee and a car nomad.
  10. While the second town hall meeting is going on, write the following questions on the board:
    • What did you find most interesting or surprising during the town hall meetings?
    • Which character had the most challenging life? Why?
    • Would you like to be the mayor of a city with a homelessness problem? Why or why not?
  11. When the time is up, bring the groups together. Ask a student volunteer to read the questions you have written on the board.
  12. Divide the class once again into small groups. For this, it is not necessary to organise the groups according to roles.
  13. Tell the students that they have ten minutes to share ideas and discuss the questions on the board.

The options

  • This activity can be modified to suit different proficiency levels. For example, lower-level students may need more time and guidance to create their questions. They could develop their questions in a small group instead of individually at home.
  • More advanced learners could write a ‘letter of concern’ after the town hall meeting that highlights the difficulties that one of the characters experienced as a result of being homeless. These letters can be shared in small groups during the next class.

I would like to thank Anji Miyauchi for contributing her drawings to this lesson plan.


Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Statutory homelessness: July to September (Q3) 2020 (Revised): England January 28 2021

Mitra, R ‘Women pushed to the fringes of homelessness due to COVID-19 induced lockdown’ The New Indian Express March 22 2021

NBC News ‘Inside Los Angeles’s homeless crisis’

Searchlight Pictures ‘Nomadland: Official trailer’

WorldUp ‘Net café refugees: Japan’s disposable workers’


Sean H Toland is currently an Associate Professor at The International University of Kagoshima in Kagoshima, Japan. His research interests include technology-enhanced learning, materials development and critical thinking. He is a PhD candidate at Lancaster University in the UK, studying e-research and technology-enhanced learning.

Town hall meeting: Homelessness

1 Key terms

Work in a small group. Match the words/phrases with their definitions. Write the appropriate number next to each word or phrase, a–l.
Use each number only once.

Word or phrase


a poverty

1 a person who does not own or rent a home and sleeps in a 24-hour internet café or comic café

b town hall meeting

2 the state of being extremely poor, with not enough money to provide food, clean water, shelter and clothing

c underemployment

3 a public meeting in which people with different interests are given an opportunity to debate, ask questions, respond and share opinions

d car/van nomad

4 a place where basic food items are given to people with no money or home

e net café refugee

5 a collection of tents that are set up to provide temporary shelter for homeless people or refugees

f homelessness

6 a place where free meals are served to people with no money or home

g unemployment

7 a term that describes people who are trying to work but are unable to find a job

h soup kitchen

8 a person who is elected or chosen to lead a city or town

i mayor

9 a person who does not own or rent a house but lives in a car or van

j tent city

10 when an employee does not have enough paid work or when an employee is working at a job that does not value their education, experience and skills (eg a qualified doctor working in a factory

k non-perishable food

11 the state of having no home

l food bank

12 food that can be stored for a long time at room temperature

2 Video viewing and discussion questions

Work in a small group. Watch the three videos below and discuss the questions.

Video 1: Nomadland:

Video 2: Net café refugees:

Video 3: Inside Los Angeles’s homeless crisis:

Discussion questions

  1. Would you give money to a homeless person? Why or why not?
  2. What do you think can be done to help the homeless people in your city or town?
  3. Should homeless people be allowed to live in tents on city streets? Explain your answer.
  4. Would you like to live in a net café or comic café? Why or why not?
  5. It is estimated that 5,000 people in Tokyo live in a net café or comic café. Why do people end up living like this?
  6. What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a car or van?
  7. Would you be interested in volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen? Why or why not?

3 Roleplay activity

Your teacher will give you a profile card, assigning one of the following roles to you: mayor, homeless person, net café refugee or car nomad. Read the card and imagine that you are this person. Your task is to participate in a town hall meeting with the other three characters. You will introduce yourself, describe your living conditions and ask the other participants questions. Before the town hall meeting, you will meet with the other students who have been assigned your role to brainstorm ideas and create nine questions (three for each of the other characters). You need to complete your profile card before the next class.

Full size versions of all the role cards can be downloaded from: etp-137-onlineresources_homelessness.pdf