History comes alive for students as they develop immigrant personas and become immigrants who make the journey from Europe to the United States. Throughout this process, students analyze primary source data to create multimedia portfolios that illustrate their experiences. Once on American soil, they participate in a simulation of the Ellis Island immigration station. Students then assume the roles of their immigrants and share their experiences with the class. This exercise in creating historical fiction, based on actual documents, photos, and records, enables students to understand the motivations of immigrants and the challenges they faced. This can be part of a larger immigration unit where students also study the experiences of other immigrant groups, or look at immigration during different time periods or to different countries.
View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the Destination America: Our Hope, Our Future Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, and products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle.
Prior to Instruction
Compile resources on European immigration to the United States from 1870 through 1930. Select primary source materials to help students uncover patterns and trends as they study the “push” and “pull” factors that influenced immigration. Resources might include government records, economic reports, newspaper articles, ships' registries, diaries, and oral histories. Use a social bookmarking Web site to share resources with students.
Discuss the Essential Question, Why take the risk? Engage students in a discussion about experiences in their lives or other people’s lives that have motivated them to take a big risk. What were the results of the risk? Was it worth it? This can also be done as an online discussion or using an online whiteboard tool if students have their own computers. They can share and comment on each other’s ideas.
After a discussion, have students individually reflect on the question in journals.
Introduction to the Unit
Discuss the question, Who is an American? As a group, come up with an operational definition of American. To illustrate the rich heritage in the classroom, compile a list of all the countries students represent ethnically. Locate and mark the countries on a world map. This can be done with online maps. Students can also conduct surveys in the school and display the data in maps and charts.
Explain that between 1870 and 1930 approximately 30 million immigrants came to America from all over the world. Many of them were fleeing poverty, oppression, or disease in their native countries. Tell students that they are going to assume the role of a European immigrant who came to the United States during this time.
Share the project, explaining that students will choose an immigration group and use primary source data to research the group’s immigration experience, come up with a research question, and collect data to answer their questions. Tell students that, based on their research, they will create an immigrant portfolio, which may include the immigrant’s profile, diary entries, letters home, and artifacts to demonstrate why the immigrant left his or her country and describe experiences in the United States. This can be done as a multimedia presentation, a wiki, or a Web site, for example. Provide choices for students throughout the project. During the course of the project, all fictitious immigrants participate in a simulation of an immigration station.
Show an interactive timeline of different waves of immigration at The Peopling of America* Web site. Focus students on the waves of immigration that occurred during the nineteenth century. Looking at the data, discuss the patterns that they see and what may have caused these. Introduce the idea that migration has two parts—emigration (leaving a place) and immigration (entering a place).
Discuss how the factors that influenced migration in the latter half of the nineteenth century included pushing factors (such as economic depression; climactic conditions, such as drought; social unrest; and overpopulation), and pulling factors (such as government incentives, personal opportunity, and free expression).
Have students begin thinking about the country of origin they would like to study. Introduce students to the human face of immigration through Seymour Rechtzeit's story at Scholastic's Immigration Page* or other stories at Family Histories* on the Ellis Island Web site.
To begin exploring the Unit Question, Why do people immigrate? have students interview someone with direct or indirect (such as second generation) experiences as an immigrant. Students may be able to interview family members or coworkers of family members. You may be able to arrange interviews with a local immigrant group advocacy organization. Interviews can be by phone or web conferencing if interviewees are not local. When arranging the interviews, ask interviewees to bring any artifacts related to their immigration experience. During the interviews, students should find out as much as they can about the person’s origins and record the responses in journals. Questions might include, Where did you/your ancestors come from? When did you/they come to this country? Why did you/they leave their country? How did you travel here?
Students can practice interviewing peers before the immigrant interviews. Also prior to the interviews, have some sample artifacts on hand to demonstrate how to collect data from artifacts. Use the Artifacts Analysis Worksheet*, from the National Archives, to conduct a mini-lesson. Explain that artifacts are qualitative data, and they can include items such as photographs, war medals, old letters, and documents. As students examine the artifacts, they can uncover information about someone’s life and the past as they group, sort, and classify the information.
After the interviews, have students share information and compare for similarities and differences.
The Research Process
Have students, individually, in pairs, or small groups, select a national origin. Encourage them to choose national origins from which they descended or would like to learn more about. Choices may include German, Irish, Scandinavian, Hungarian, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Russian, Czech, Slovak, or Polish.
Provide time for students to conduct exploratory research on their immigration group to generate questions and choose a research question(s) before uncovering more details about the immigrants’ experiences. Example research questions include, Why did Turkish immigrants come to the United States? Or, What was it like to be an immigrant from Ireland?
Provide the following Web sites as good places for students to start gathering immigrant information:
See Resources for a list of other useful Web sites to get started.
Once students establish the questions they want to answer, they need to determine what types of data will give them the information they need to draw meaningful conclusions.
Guide this process by sharing the types of data that students can consider, and point out the advantages and disadvantages of different data sources. Data may include original records, government reports, photographs, diaries, newspaper articles, oral histories, maps, and birth certificates, for example. Data may also include secondary data that has been collected and compiled by others, such as government reports, ship records, or museum collections. Emphasize to students that they should use a variety of primary and secondary sources so they can get different perspectives.
Before students begin their data collection, discuss how they can collect, analyze, and interpret data. They can consider the following questions:
Distribute the Data Collection Plan to help students begin planning how they conduct their research. Once students have figured out the type of data they are going to use, they can seek answers to their questions with the appropriate data sources. For example:
Kind of Data
Where to Find It
As students conduct research, they will keep a Research Log to track the data they use and how they use it. Reinforce specific research skills. This can be done with mini lessons or modeling. For example, when students are reading immigrant diaries or looking at other primary source data, they should think critically about the source and reliability of the data, by asking questions such as:
As students collect data, they formulate an individual immigrant’s experience based on actual experiences of that particular immigrant group. Notes may be collected in a journal or on the Research Log. The Research Log may be created and accessed as an online collaborative document.
When students collect data, they look for trends in order to create a portfolio that represents a typical immigrant from a particular immigration group. Since students will primarily use qualitative data, teach them how to code and categorize the data to help with their interpretation of the data. As they analyze data, they can look for common themes in order to best represent a typical immigrant’s experience. Demonstrate the following techniques.
Analyzing Qualitative Data
Students will undoubtedly come across maps in their immigration research. You may want to review map-reading strategies with a mini lesson. Showing an immigration map, explain the LLLP Strategy to read a map: Legend, Labels, Location, and Patterns. Maps may be theme-based, such as a type of map that shows the number of immigrants from a particular area. With these types of map, students can identify patterns and see how the maps support or contradict other information from their research.
Photos are another useful primary source that can provide information. Using a photo from the American Memory collection*, demonstrate how to analyze photos to get information. Use the Photo Analysis Worksheet* from the National Archives to explain how to observe, ask questions, and draw inferences from photos. Students can compare photos in order to make generalizations based on commonalities of the photos.
Once students have researched and collected data on an immigrant group, they are ready to synthesize their research by creating a fictitious immigrant’s experience. Based on prevailing trends, they create a portfolio of a typical immigrant’s experience. The portfolio may include:
Have students combine their work into an electronic portfolio about their immigrant’s immigration experience. The portfolio may be presented as a multimedia presentation, a Web site, or a wiki for example. The student example shows a portfolio as a wiki. The portfolio can be used to support an oral presentation, in which each immigrant dresses in character and tells his or her personal immigration story, based on their research. These can be recorded and turned into podcasts, displayed on an interactive online map, or shared on a blog, for example.
Once the different immigrant groups have been represented, students can draw comparisons by classifying and displaying information visually in graphs, tables, or charts across immigrant groups, identifying similarities and differences. For example, categories may include: push and pull factors, challenges, types of jobs, and so forth.
Immigration Station Simulation
Through this simulation experience, students learn about European immigrants’ first stop in America—Ellis Island—through a simulation. Because this takes quite a bit or organizing, you may choose to teach about the Ellis Island experience without doing the simulation. Many Web sites provide a detailed look at the immigration station, including the following:
In preparation for the simulation, ask other adults to act as immigration inspectors. Set up a room with different areas, such as a waiting room, medical inspection area, interrogation area, detaining area, money exchange booth, and cafeteria.
Be sure that each student is familiar with the character he or she will be portraying. Explain to students that they will be going through a mock physical and psychological medical inspection where a doctor will look for medical and physical defects, and for signs of disease. Students will be interrogated by a legal inspector. If granted permission to enter the United States, the students will be administered the Loyalty Oath, or they will be deported.
Have students revisit the Essential Question, Why take the risk? and respond in their journals based on their research and experiences.
English Language Learner
Karen March participated in the Intel® Teach Program, which resulted in this idea for a classroom project. A team of teachers expanded the plan into the example you see here.
Background: From the Classroom in California, United States
This unit is aligned to Common Core State Standards for Social Studies.