Lesson 2: A Living Tree

Grade Level



History, Social Studies, Humanities, Language Arts


During this lesson, students will:

  • examine notions of individual identity and the intersecting categories that shape identity;
  • understand connections between broad historical events and individuals/groups who respond to, and further influence, historical events.
  • reflect on the immigration experiences for Jews and on the experiences of other immigrants to the United States

Estimated Time Required

Two-three class sessions for discussion and activities.



Prior to viewing clips from THE JEWISH AMERICANS, Night Two, ask students to reflect on their family’s immigration stories. If applicable, spur the discussion by referring to family photos students contributed during lesson 1 (part of “Further Discussion Questions”).

« Watch this video clip

Remind students that THE JEWISH AMERICANS summarizes trends and presents the stories of several well-known Jewish Americans against the backdrop of U.S. history. The immigration stories of the families of all students—Jewish or not, newcomer or long-settled—will add to an understanding of the struggles and rewards of emigration, adaptation, and assimilation. Using their journals, direct students to write 3-5 facts about their family’s immigration story.

Among the topics students can address are:

  • The political/economic situations of their homelands at the time of emigration
  • The reasons for leaving their homelands
  • The journeys that brought families to the U.S.
  • Details about the family members who made the trip

(Note: Native American students are able to share in much of this conversation. Encourage reflections about participation, contribution, change, and assimilation.)



Direct students to combine their immigration stories and create a class “living tree” using the family tree print out at www.pbs.org/jewishamericans/share/tree_of_life.html. Students begin with the facts they recorded in their journals. Instruct students to research family members for additional information and continue to welcome them to post copies of family photos. Recommend students contribute at least six entries. Among the entries students might decide to include are:

  • Dates of arrival to the United States
  • Birth and/or death dates of family members
  • Dates of important events such as marriages, graduations, citizenship, service in the armed forces
  • Dates with personal significance such as first home purchases, and family  reunions

In addition to family entries, direct students to include entries that reflect their cultural heritage. Among the entries students might decide to include:

  • Immigration figures for a particular period
  • Key political and economic events in the countries from where their families  emigrated
  • Important contributions of persons with the same heritage; include politicians, athletes, scientists, writers, artists, and entertainers