Bring Immigration and Citizenship to Life in the Classroom
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
A special event occurred in our classroom last month. We welcomed a new American citizen to our classroom with our very own naturalization ceremony. I’m always looking for a real-world experience to put a concept into context for my 2nd graders, and this activity provided the opportunity we needed to learn about the complex topics of immigration and citizenship.
October and November are great months to talk about immigration and citizenship. Constitution Day was in September, and Veterans Day and the presidential election will be upon us very soon. It’s the perfect opportunity to explore these topics.
My Mini Unit on Immigration and Citizenship
A Little Background Information
In my classroom, I have two stuffed bears that are very important to my students. One of these bears, Journey, has been a part of my classroom for more than a year now and has traveled thousands of miles outside the country. He is always traveling with friends or relatives and my class learns about the world by visiting the places he does through pictures, books, and Google Earth.
Setting the Stage
Our new bear, Resa, joined us this year. She is Journey’s "cousin" from Sweden. During language arts, as we read stories about immigrant children experiencing life in America and becoming citizens, I announced that Resa had decided she wanted to become an American citizen. That got my students’ attention! If you are doing this with a primary class, consider using a character from the classroom to be the immigrant. It raises their level of engagement when there is a familiar personality involved. Plus, it's interesting, and that is what learning is all about!
Before starting the unit, research the requirements for becoming a naturalized American citizen and make a list that is appropriate (not too complicated) for 2nd graders.
Classwork During the Unit
Introduce the Constitution — Read the preamble and discuss the meaning of the words. Briefly, talk about when and why it was written. I do this on Constitution Day.
Study for the Civics Test — Discuss the answers to the questions asked on the civics test. My students realized they would have to answer the questions for Resa since she doesn’t talk. They took this very seriously, and, by working together, they could answer every question. My purpose was to expose them to the concepts on the test — not to grade them. (A portion of the test focuses on reading and writing sentences correctly in English. This could become an assignment for students motivated to do their best because they are helping the "immigrant.")
Download your copy of the civics test questions and answers by clicking the thumbnails below.
Test With Answers
Sing a Song — Hand out lyrics to Neil Diamond’s song “America” and play it for them on your iPod or MP3 player. Song lyrics are easy to find on the Internet and great for developing fluency. The message of this song is applicable to the unit.
Have a Discussion — Talk about what the immigrant will leave behind (loyalty to a former king or country, seeing friends and family, etc.) and what he or she will keep (culture, traditions, etc.).
Plan the Ceremony — What songs will you use? What order should the music, test, Pledge, Oath, and reception line take?
Click the image below to download a PowerPoint that can be used for the ceremony. It includes the test questions, the Oath of Allegiance, and patriotic pictures to use during the songs.
The Naturalization Ceremony
Decide who will hold the flag and who will carry the immigrant.
1. Play "America" as your students gather for the ceremony.
2. Read the 20 test questions to the class and allow different students to answer for the immigrant.
3. Stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance.
4. Play the "Star-Spangled Banner."
5. Read the official Oath of Allegiance to the class.
6. Read the 2nd-grade version of the oath with the class.
7. Play "America the Beautiful."
8. Have students line up for the reception.
9. Have sudents walk by, shake hands, and congratulate the new citizen.
Because of the amount of active participation in this unit, my students learned so much about becoming a citizen.