From Unit Plan: Celebrate Your Heritage

There are so many paths to follow when you're choosing resources for a unit on cultural diversity. Because I focus on teaching how people from cultures all around the world have come together as Americans, I use several professional resources on immigration. I also choose reading selections that highlight varying ethnicities, cultures, and customs.

Here a few suggestions for building your multicultural library:

  • Look for books that show people from other cultures in contemporary roles. Avoid books that stereotype cultures or characters as well as those that elevate the status of one culture over another.
  • Look for books that talk about ways that different cultures have influenced American culture.
  • Try to balance your library among many cultures. Don't stay away from a book simply because the culture is not reflected in your classroom. That's all the more reason to introduce it to your class.

Professional Resources

Great American History Games
by Lorraine Hopping Egan, Louise Spigarelli

These fun and engaging games, activities, and puzzles offer a great way to add excitement to history topics. Subjects range from Colonial America to Immigration to the Civil War, and more. Includes reproducible game board, activity sheets, map, and a full-color poster.

Classroom Tip: I use these games at independent workstations to reinforce taught concepts.

The Scholastic Big Book of Holidays Around the Year
by Susan Dillon

This complete holiday resource is packed with hands-on activities, ready-to-go reproducibles, read-aloud fast facts, pictures, literature and Web links to make learning about any holiday fun and connect it to every teacher's curriculum. From the Fourth of July to the Chinese New Year, this book includes more than 70 celebrations of all kinds — educational, cultural, religious, and civic!

Classroom Tip: I use this resource not only for this unit, but all year long. Most comprehensive resource I've found on holidays from all cultures.

Ellis Island (1892–1954): An American History Mini-Book
Scholastic Printables

Classroom Tip: I've become a huge fan of the mini-book across the curriculum. Students read these before they build them, during, and after. By the time the book is complete, most students know the material very well.

Books for Whole Group Instruction, Read Alouds, and Our Classroom Library

Chicken Sunday
by Patricia Polacco

After being initiated into a neighbor's family by a solemn backyard ceremony, a young Russian American girl and her African American brothers determine to buy their Gramma Eula a beautiful Easter hat. But their good intentions are misunderstood, until they discover just the right way to pay for the hat that Eula's had her eye on.

Classroom Tip: The fantastic illustrations and story teach your class about true family ties. Patricia Polacco has many, many books that teach about families and diversity.

Coming to America: The Story of Immigration
by Betsy Maestro; illustrated by Susannah Ryan

A succinct history of U.S. immigration for students of all levels. Beautiful watercolor illustrations capture the emotions of the successive waves of immigrants looking for a better life.

Classroom Tip: I open up my unit using this book. It is a wonderful way to introduce your students to the concept of coming to America to find a better way of life.

If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island
by Ellen Levine; illustrated by Warren Parmenter

Vivid full-color illustrations and a question-and-answer text bring to life traditional life, customs, and everyday worlds in this series covering a rich range of historical events, eras, and peoples. Meticulous research, accuracy of detail, and facts told from a child's perspective convey what it was like to live in another time.

Classroom Tip: The question-and-answer format of this book works very well when leading discussions about the Ellis Island era with your class.

Immigrant Kids
by Russell Freedman

In the late 1800's and early 1900's, immigrant kids sold newspapers, hauled firewood, worked in sweatshops, and did many other kinds of work. They played, fought in gangs, and became integrated into the life of America. Illustrated with 50 authentic and fascinating photographs.

Classroom Tip: The photographs in this book intrigue my class year after year. The turn-of-the-century immigrant experience is brought to life for my students as the stunning photos show school-aged children working, playing, and going to school under very different conditions.

Books for Guided Reading Groups and Literature Clubs

Esperanza Rising
by Pam Muñoz Ryan

When Esperanza and Mama are forced to flee from their home in Mexico to a Mexican farm labor camp in California, they must adjust to a life without the fancy dresses and servants to which they were accustomed on Rancho de las Rosas. Now they must confront the challenges of hard work, acceptance by their own people, and economic difficulties brought on by the Great Depression.

Classroom Tip: This book is best suited for those students reading at an independent level of grade 4 or higher.

Grandfather's Journey
by Allen Say

Through compelling reminiscences of his grandfather's life in America and Japan, Allen Say gives us a poignant account of a family's unique cross-cultural experience. He warmly conveys his own love for his two countries, and the strong and constant desire to be in both places at once.

Classroom Tip: This book is a wonderful read aloud resource. After reading, we follow up with a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the benefits each country holds for Grandfather.

Molly's Pilgrim
by Barbara Cohen; illustrated by Daniel Mark Duffy

As Molly nears her first Thanksgiving in America, she doesn't find much to be thankful for. Her classmates giggle at her Yiddish accent and make fun of her unfamiliar ways, and now her mother embarrasses her with a doll that looks more Russian than Pilgrim.

Classroom Tip: This title is best for instructing those students working at a reading level of 3.5 or higher.

The Keeping Quilt
by Patricia Polacco

A homemade quilt ties together the lives of four generations of an immigrant Jewish family, remaining a symbol of their enduring love and faith.

Classroom Tip: I use this book as a read aloud then have children design a four square quilt in their journals.

One Grain of Rice
by Hitz Demi

A reward of one grain of rice doubles day by day into millions of grains of rice when a selfish raja is outwitted by a clever village girl.

Classroom Tip: This is a wonderful cross-curricular way to bring another culture into your math instruction.