Immigration: Stories of Past and Present

By Angela Bunyi on February 25, 2011
  • Grades: 3–5

The state of Tennessee is going through several aggressive legislative bills right now and this includes immigration reform modeled after Arizona (as well as removing collective bargaining rights for teachers). Regardless of your position on immigration reform, it's really important to step back and review the history of immigration in our country. My standards require a study of the large influx of immigrants to America, which we supported through an incredible virtual tour of Ellis Island and a project that required students to interview and share the story of someone who immigrated to America. I have included three videos and four printable resources that can support an early and current immigration study in your classroom. I also hope this post makes you think about hearing and recording the stories of your family. 


Immigration: It's About You and Me

So many of our great minds and productive citizens didn't start out calling the United States home. How wonderfully diverse it is to live in the United States! It makes me think about my husband's family who moved to Tennessee from the Philipines, and their account of the lengthy process to do it legally. And then there is the story of my grandfather, where all of his history is virtually unknown and untraceable (he came from South America and passed away quite unexpectedly when my father was young). He left behind no papers, records, or history to track. It makes me sad to think this part of my history is gone forever, but so many others are willing to share their stories, and my students had the opportunity to hear them.

After listening to the recorded stories of 23 immigrants coming to America (see bottom of post on how we conducted this project), I felt tremendous pride for what our country has come to represent for so many. Maybe we were lucky, but each and every story shared with us demonstrated great determination and desire to succeed and create a better life: a place for freedom and opportunity; a place where anything is possible, if you put your mind to it. Like many others, my family came here (from South America and Spain) for the great opportunities present. I hope this post will inspire you to record the story of someone in your family, while allowing the opportunity for students to do the same. 

Let's Go Back: Taking a Virtual Tour of Ellis Island

Last year I, like many other travelers to New York, made my voyage to Ellis Island. I am sure I captured
nothing short of a million photos while I roamed the halls, hoping to share this valuable information with my students upon return. Most interesting to me were the large rooms filled with political cartoons and articles found in newspapers. A quick glance around the hall lets one know that the immigration debate has been around for a long time. 

One of the things I enjoyed on my tour was this jar of jelly beans that represented 11,747 immigrants who were processed at Ellis Island on April 17, 1907.


Photo: Two political cartoons that demonstrate the long-standing questioning of immigration; a sign reads "How many immigrants were processed on April 17, 1907?"

 But why settle for jelly beans when you can watch a video clip of immigrants landing on the island?

Immigration Search: Web Assessments

Now, Scholastic may have neglected to capture those incredible political cartoons, but they missed very little with their detailed virtual tour of Ellis Island. In addition, you can explore stories of yesterday and today through interviews and charts, graphs, and maps.

If you do not have the time to explore Scholastic's virtual tour of Ellis Island as a class, then you may want to consider a few of these other resources available to help guide students independently through the site:

Picture 19

Download The Ellis Island Experience_repro.


Picture 18

Download Immigration_Facts_and_Faces_repro.

Coming to America: Student Reporters

My husband moved to America in the third grade from the Philipines. I have often asked him to share his story of arriving in Tennessee: the story of his first photograph taken as he needed one for a passport; his impression of food; his memories of school and learning the structure of our language ("Pencil, may I sharpen?"). I thought I had exhausted all of the stories, but one of my students had the opportunity to interview my husband and help me learn even more through this class project. 

Students were given two weeks to locate, interview, and present the story of a citizen who moved here. From a Holocaust survivor of Aushwitz to aging family members, I found this project to be extremely significant. With so much being taken for granted, it really helps to hear what others are willing to give up to start a new life in the United States. So, if you are interested in completing this project in your class, the work is already completed for you. I recommend at least two weeks for this project and two class periods for sharing interviews. 

And you never know where this project might lead you. We have a Skype video conference planned and are arranging for a Holocaust survivor to visit our classroom. 

Immigration Letter

Picture 13

 Download this "Immigration Project Letter" for Parents (PDF)

Immigration Rubric

Picture 14

 Download this "Oral History Rubric" for assessing presentations (PDF).

Sample Oral History Presentations

Take a second to listen to some of our clips. 

An Interview with our school counselor, Ms. Filtness, who moved here from England.

An interview with a student's grandmother who remembers her family immigrating to Texas after landing at Ellis Island.





Oh my goodness. I am not sure you will ever return to read this, but somehow I didn't receive notification of a blog comment.

To make short of this, yes and no on using it. I started the year with it but became overwhelmed with the task of teaching a new grade level. I will revisit it this summer. I believe it to be a good resource and worth the time looking into.



Angela Have you been using calkin's units of study for reading this year? What are your thoughts? I just got the writing ones and they look really god, but I will need summer to delve in. I'm only one doing RW at my school, so it seems to be a good resource.


Yes, there is a company that sells this product- Our local Parent-Teacher store also keeps them in stock, so it might be helpful checking your local store out.

Also, I will check with our tech. team, but the video works on both a PC and Mac on my side for audio. I tried Safari and Chrome myself.

I hope that helps!


I am interested in this class assignment - my daughter many years ago had an assignment to interview a family member, and then write a book (a small bound empty book was used.) It is a great example for teachers and students. Do you know if there is a place to publish this type of teaching aid? Thanks, Mary McGee P.S. The sound is not working on your video on my computer.tjrw8f

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