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Human Migration


Some conditions of the human experience persist through time and across cultures. Students study migration events in American history, such as the pilgrims' departure from England. Students also examine relocation events in their personal and family histories. The Visual Ranking Tool helps students compare and discuss ideas to answer the question, Why do people migrate?


Curriculum-Framing Questions

  • Essential Question
    How has human experience changed over time?
  • Unit Question
    Why do people migrate?
  • Sample Content Questions
    What is migration?
    What are the major population migrations that have occurred throughout history?



This project idea makes use of the Visual Ranking Tool. Examine the Visual Ranking Web site and familiarize yourself with the tool.


During your study of migration, you may look at different scenarios such as; the settling of the American colonies or westward movement. Revisit this theme throughout the year and revisit the purposes of migration.


To begin, the class discusses the Essential Question: How has human experience changed over time? focusing on factors that have influenced the movement of people through time.


Each group is assigned a different perspective and studies a different migration event in American history, such as the pilgrims' departure from England or the Irish immigration during the potato famine. In groups students create a timeline of their assigned migration period, recording the reasons for the movement. Students then examine relocation events in their personal and family histories, and create a parallel timeline. As an option for students who don’t know their family histories they can choose someone they know, or someone famous to do a timeline about. Students share their timelines with the group.


Pose the Unit Question: Why do people migrate? to the class. As students reflect on past learning and experiences, have them share different reasons for moving, such as family, adventure, health, freedom from religious persecution and/or racism, and opportunity. Record these factors on the board in a list to analyze comparisons and differences from past to present times. This list will be used to populate the Visual Ranking activity below.


Use the Visual Ranking Tool

Students use the Visual Ranking Tool to discuss and rank the most important reasons why people migrated during their assigned migration period. Using the comment feature of the tool, students explain their reasoning, recalling prior learning to support their claims. While students are involved in this activity take anecdotal notes on their discussion and decision-making skills. Using the comparison feature of the tool, show students how to compare lists produced by different teams.


Ask questions to guide the students' interpretations, such as: In what ways do these groups agree? Where are their ideas farthest apart? Students ask questions of each other as well. For example: Why did your group rank that factor like that? Why do you think opportunity means more than money?


Use of Visual Ranking may not lead to definitive class agreement, but represents students' thinking in a visible, discussable form, and serves as the basis for lively conversation.


Revisit the Essential Question: How has human experience changed over time? Students record their thoughts and ideas using examples from their research on American history and their own family history.


Use a rubric or scoring guide to assess the timelines on the following criteria:

  • Accuracy of dates
  • Correct information
  • Validity and number of resources
  • Organization
  • Explanations for migrations
  • Understanding of content
  • Quality of work

Use anecdotal notes to assess discussions and take advantage of both the teacher/student comment feature and the individual comment boxes in Visual Ranking to assess student thinking.


Examine the Visual Ranking Activity

The Visual Ranking workspace below represents one team's ranking on this project. The view you see is functional. You can roll over the white icon to see the team's comments and click the compare button to see how different teams ranked the items.


Project Name: Migration of People (Click here to set up this project in your workspace)
Question: Why do people migrate? Rank the potential reasons by their level of importance to those immigrating, according to your assigned perspective.


Explore an interactive demo.


Human Migration
Human Migration

At a Glance

Grade Level: 3-5
Subject: Social Studies
Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Decision Making, Interpretation
Key Learnings: Migration, Change over Time, Compare and Contrast
Time Needed: 40 minutes for 4 days