When the word “immigration” comes up, it tends to be in the context of political debate or social stereotypes. Our students have, no doubt, been exposed to this heated topic outside of the classroom. This should not be the case in the classroom. We want our students to walk away with a better understanding of the makeup and diversity of our classroom and of the United States of America.
All of the activities in this post were inspired by the much-anticipated virtual field trip to Ellis Island that many of the classes at our school plan to take on March 29. The ideas can also be used to tie immigration into several different standards.
It's necessary to introduce some key vocabulary words before getting started with any of the other activities. Here is a list of the words that we feel are essential:
In an earlier post, we outlined different ways to introduce vocabulary words. We find that drawing pictures and making real-life connections works best, no matter what strategy you use.
We used the book The Arrival by Shaun Tan to invite students to use their imagination to place themselves in the shoes of a frightened immigrant. This wordless book tells a beautiful story about a man who leaves his family to journey to a foreign place. The moment we began sharing this story with our students, they were extremely engaged, and they had an amazing conversation about it. On one level or another, many of our students were able to make a connection with the story.
We asked students to imagine that they had to move to a faraway place. If they could only take three things in a suitcase, what would they take and why? Of course, we had the few students who, without a doubt, weren’t leaving town without their PSP, but many others wrote about taking a family photo, a watch, a map, or a teddy bear.
Living where we do, nearly 75% of our student population has either a parent or grandparent who migrated to the United States, usually from Mexico. We send home a “family tree” project. Parents fill out simple questions about where they were born, languages they can speak, and traditions they have. Students can bring in family items and pictures to share with the class. Yes, we even let them bring in family members to share stories! You can have students fill out a family tree as far back as they can go.
We then graph all of the countries our families came from and mark them on our world map. It was exciting for the kids to see we had families from Canada and Italy. Last year we had a family come and share their Native American artifacts and dances with us! You never know where in the world this activity will take you.
The 3rd grade team at our school had the idea to take a “virtual road trip” to Ellis Island. Their goal is to reach Ellis Island via Google Earth and Google Images by March 29 for the live Web cast.
Students learn information about each state they travel through and must record state facts and other information, like the number of miles traveled, in their travel journals.
This activity is all about writing the perfect sentence and uses higher order thinking. We choose a picture from the book The Arrival and have students think about the following questions:
1. Who is in the picture?
2. What are they doing?
3. When is it happening?
4. Where are they?
5. Why are they there? Or, why are they doing it?
We chart all of their ideas into columns. Then we build different sentences based on their suggestions. After making as many sentences as we can, we choose another picture and have each table group fill in their own chart and share with the class.
For a variety of real-life interviews, an interactive time line, and a tour of Ellis Island, you will want to come back and explore the new immigration site that is set to launch on March 21, 2012. You can also visit the Ellis Island Web site, which, among other things, tells the stories of people from all over the world.