Discover the history of immigration in America and take an interactive tour of Ellis Island with this interactive unit. Hear the stories of recent immigrants, explore the interactive historical timeline of immigration, and delve into data about immigration patterns over the last 200 years.
- Develop an understanding of the concept of immigration
- Compare and contrast immigration stories of the past with stories of the present
- Create a class quilt
- Create an immigration wall of honor
- Immigration: Stories of Yesterday and Today online activity
- Whiteboard or chart paper and markers
- Interactive whiteboard, tablets for student use, or a computer and projector to display the online activity
Create a Class Quilt
- 8-inch squares of white or light-colored construction paper
- markers or collage materials (such as photographs or recipes)
- Hole puncher
- Optional: Sheets of cardboard for reinforcing squares
Create an Immigration Wall of Honor
- Large map of the world
- Pushpins, double-sided tape, or another way to temporarily attach photos to the map
Depending on the grade level and maturity level of each class, activities can be facilitated as independent work, collaborative group work, or whole-class instruction.
Step 1: Explain to students that everyone living in the United States has an immigrant past, with the exception of Native Americans. Over the last few centuries, millions of people have made their way to America. Some people, like slaves, came unwillingly. But most immigrants were drawn by the promise of greater freedom and opportunity.
Step 2: Explain how immigrants to this country created a unique community of many races, cultures, and religions. This community is sometimes called a "melting pot."
Step 3: Write the word "immigration" on the board or a piece of chart paper, as well as its definition. Give students various examples of immigration. Use personal stories if possible. Invite students to share their own examples, ideas, or questions about immigration. Allow students to share information about their own families' countries of origin and write all responses on the board or chart paper.
Step 1: Return to students' ideas from the day before. Write "Ellis Island" on the board and explain how it is an important part of the history of American immigration.
Step 2: Display the Interactive Tour of Ellis Island on the interactive whiteboard, tablet, or computer screen. Ask students the following questions as you progress through the online activity together:
Stop 1: The Passage. How would you feel if you were boarding a ship to travel across the ocean? Excited? Scared? Why?
Stop 2: The Arrival. Have you ever seen the Statue of Liberty? The statue is a symbol of America. Do you know what a symbol is? What are other symbols of America?
Stop 3: The Ellis Island Baggage Room. If you were moving to a new country and could only take a few things, what would they be?
Stop 4: The Stairs to the Registry Room. Immigration officials used buttonhooks to check immigrants for trachoma, a contagious eye disease. What kinds of tools are used now to find out if people are sick?
Stop 5: The Registry Room. Close your eyes and imagine you are in the Great Hall of Ellis Island. Soon you will have your interview and find out whether you can come to America or go back home. How are you feeling? What are you thinking about?
Stop 6: The Medical Exam. Would you be scared going through a medical exam at Ellis Island? Why or why not?
Stop 7: The Legal Inspection. Have you ever been interviewed, or given a test where you had to answer questions aloud? What is that experience like? What do you think immigrants were feeling while they were being interviewed?
Stop 8: Detainees. Why were sick people kept on Ellis Island? Do you think that it was the right thing to do? Why or why not?
Stop 9: The Stairs of Separation. Imagine you're an immigrant who has just passed all the medical exams and the legal inspection. You have a few bills from your native country to exchange. You hand over your money and get: two ten-dollar bills, two quarters, a dime and a nickel. How much money do you have to start your life in the United States? (Answer $20.65)
Stop 10: The Kissing Post. You have arrived in America! What is the first thing you are going to do?
Step 1: Gather your students for a wrap-up discussion about immigration and Ellis Island. Ask students how they think immigration is different today.
Step 2: Have students explore the Meet Young Immigrants portion of the activity to learn more about kids who have recently immigrated to the United States.
Create a Class Quilt
Celebrate your students' cultural backgrounds with a class quilt. Distribute 8-inch squares of white or light-colored construction paper. Using markers or collage materials, have students create an image on their square that represents their family culture. Encourage students to use diverse materials, such as photographs or recipes. Reinforce the squares with cardboard if necessary. When all the squares are ready, use a hole puncher to make holes around the edges. Lace the quilt panels together with yarn. Display the finished quilt and invite students to explain their panel to the class.
Create an Immigration Wall of Honor
Display a map of the world in your classroom. Ask students to bring in photos of any family member that may have immigrated to the United States. If the student is an immigrant, have her bring in pictures of herself in her home country. (If no photographs are available, have students create a piece of art representing their family.) Have students post the photos on their country of ancestral origin.