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Lesson Plan

This lesson is designed for social studies classes, grades 9-12

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will:
  1. Articulate opinions and support them with reasons, facts, and examples.
  2. View a video to learn more about why students succeed in a Manhattan high school.
  3. Explain how the American Dream motivates many of these students.
  4. Analyze the barriers to the Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School students' success, and explain how they and the school work together to overcome the barriers.
  5. Understand the immigrant experience from an adolescent's point of view.
  6. Research the subject of immigration and countries from which immigrants come.
  7. Write a persuasive essay or letter to the editor and/or a comparison/contrast essay.

Related National Standards

U.S. History
Standard 31:
Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States

Level IV (Grade 9-12)
  • Benchmark 2: Understands how recent immigration and migration patterns impacted social and political issues (e.g., major issues that affect immigrants and resulting conflicts; changes in the size and composition of the traditional American family; demographic and residential mobility since 1970)
  • Benchmark 5: Understands major contemporary social issues and the groups involved (e.g., the current debate over affirmative action and to what degree affirmative action policies have reached their goals; the evolution of government support for the rights of the disabled; the emergence of the Gay Liberation Movement and civil rights of gay Americans; continuing debates over multiculturalism, bilingual education, and group identity and rights vs. individual rights and identity; successes and failures of the modern feminist movement)
Behavioral Studies
Standard 4
Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions.

Level IV (Grade 9-12)
  • Benchmark 8: Understands how various institutions (e.g., social, religious, political) develop and change over time (i.e., what is taught in school and school policies toward student behavior have changed over the years in response to family and community pressures), and how they further both continuity and change in societies.
  • Benchmark 9: Understands how changes in social and political institutions (e.g., church, school, political party) both reflect and affect individuals' career choices, values, and significant actions
  • Benchmark 10: Understands that the decisions of one generation both provide and limit the range of possibilities open to the next generation
Standard 12
Understands the patterns of human settlement and their causes.

Level IV (Grade 9-12)
  • Benchmark 5: Understands the physical and human impact of emerging urban forms in the present-day world (e.g., the rise of megalopolis edge cities, and metropolitan corridors; increasing numbers of ethnic enclaves in urban areas and the development of legislation to protect the rights of ethnic and racial minorities; improved light-rail systems within cities providing ease of access to ex-urban areas)

Estimated Time to Complete Lesson

Three 45-60 minute class periods.

Materials Needed

Backgrounder for Teachers

According to the Office of Immigration Statistics, just over one million people were admitted to the United States in 2002. Of these, nearly 190,000 were children under the age of 16. In addition, an estimated seven million illegal immigrants were residing in the United States in January 2000. (For complete data, see the 2002 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

While a large number of immigrants come to the United States from Mexico and other Latin American countries, many others come to the U.S. from Asia and the Middle East. While the American tradition of immigration adds richness to communities and schools, from an education perspective, such diversity proposes significant challenges for schools. According to a recent EDUCATION WEEK article, almost 10 percent of K-12 students in the U.S. have limited proficiency in English. In fact, these students combined speak approximately 460 other languages! (See English Language Learners from EDWEEK.)

Immigrant students are also making important contributions, and are becoming the nation's top math and science students, as noted in a recent news piece, Immigrants' Kids: Nation's Brainy Superstars.

The No Child Left Behind Act is based on the idea that the educational needs of all students in America will be appropriately served. (See Debating No Child Left Behind for more detail.) This lesson profiles the efforts of the Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School to meet that mandate with nontraditional students, including those from immigrant families and students who struggled in mainstream public school classrooms. As students track the efforts of several people who attend this school, they will touch on themes related to immigration, the American Dream, the value of education, factors that influence academic success, and more.

Assumed Student Prior Knowledge

Students should be generally familiar with the fact that many immigrants come to this country each year, from all over the world, and for many different reasons. This lesson would be an excellent conclusion for a unit on immigration in a U.S. history, government, or current events class.

Teaching Strategy

Part One:

1. Announce to students that you are going to start the class with a short listening exercise and then follow it by several questions. Students are to listen carefully to the reading and then answer the questions. Tell them they may take notes, but may not talk during the reading or answer period. You may wish to announce that this exercise carries a significant point value; choose one that is significant enough to affect their overall grades.

a. Read the paragraph, "El Sueno Norteamericano" aloud if you are comfortable doing so. Alternatively, you may play an audio version. When you finish, students who can speak Spanish will feel they have an advantage and everyone else will be frustrated.
b. Now read the follow-up questions in French, or play the audio version. This should leave almost everyone in the class confused and frustrated.
c. Finally, give the class a chance to explain how they feel about your lesson so far. What problems did they have? Was this a fair test? How did they feel? How would they feel if you did this every day? What would their grades be like? How would they feel about themselves and their chances for success?
d. Conclude by reassuring students that this exercise does not count towards their grade. Explain that you began the class this way to help them understand how non-speakers of English might feel in an American school.
2. If this is not part of a unit on immigration, you might give students some background on how many immigrants come to the U.S. each year (see Backgrounder for Teachers above), and point out that most of them are from non-English-speaking countries. Many are young; many not only speak other languages, but also come from countries where they may not have had the opportunity to get an education at all. Introduce the video and explain that today the class is going to learn about four students who attend a high school in Manhattan that works primarily with immigrant students and those who have dropped out of traditional schools.

3. Break students into four groups, with each group assigned to pay particular attention to one student profiled: Rilda from Cape Verde Islands, Yusuf from Sierra Leone, Kelly from Nigeria, and Zhaolin Ma from China. Instruct groups to take notes on how the student behaves, what they learn about his or her home life, how well he or she is succeeding in school, what the student's daily life is like, and any other topics that they deem interesting and relevant.

4. Show the video to the end of Act One, "And for some, the chance may be more than they can bear…As you're about to see."

5. Distribute the Student Profile handout and use the remainder of the period for students to discuss their focus student with fellow group members and develop a brief report for the next day on what they have learned.

6. Homework: Research the country of the focus student: location, culture, economy, politics. How does what you learn help you to understand your focus student? See Related Resources for Web sites for research.

Part Two:

1. Give each group about five minutes to finalize their reports using the Student Profile handout.

2. Allow each group time to share their report on the focus student with the rest of the class.

3. Discuss: In the yearbook, which of these students would most likely be voted "Most Likely to Succeed"? Why? What factors made some students more successful, others less so?

4. Explain that over the years the phrase "the American Dream" has been a common one to describe how both immigrants and native-born Americans envision what they might become in this country and what the country itself might turn out to be. The phrase has been used as the title of such disparate works as an Oscar-winning film on a strike at a meat-packing plant, a CD from the group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, a feature series by Dan Rather on CBS News, a book of interviews by Studs Terkel, and a U.S. History textbook. Elicit discussion on what elements might be part of "the American Dream."

5. Ask each group to compose a paragraph defining "the American Dream" from the point of view of the focus student they have been studying. What does each student seem to want most?

6. Allow groups time to share and discuss their paragraphs.

7. Homework: Write a paragraph or essay about your own vision of "the American Dream."

Part Three:

1. Allow students to briefly share some of their paragraphs completed for homework. Then ask students: What are the barriers that might prevent someone from achieving "the American Dream" that they wrote about the night before? How did each of the focus students overcome these barriers?

2. Introduce the second part of the video by telling the class that they are now going to learn about another student who is having some trouble achieving his dreams. They will also find out more about the students that they have been discussing.

3. Show the remainder of the video.

4. Discuss:

a. Why does William seem to have more trouble than some of the other students in the video?
b. What actions, if any, should the school take to help him now?
c. Of all the students that you learned about, whom did you admire most? Why?
d. What did the successful students seem to have in common?
e. What does the "No Child Left Behind" law mean in your school? (See Backgrounder for Teachers for more information on this law.) Does the phrase mean the same thing to the teachers at the Manhattan Comprehensive school?
f. Could (or should) other schools in this country adopt some of the policies of the Manhattan school? How could such changes affect your school?

Assessment Recommendations

  1. Give credit for the completion of written assignments for this lesson.
  2. Have students write a persuasive essay or a letter to the editor of the school or local paper, suggesting ways that their own school could better serve struggling students.
  3. Give students a handout of the poem, "Indian Blood" by Mary TallMountain (Source: THE LANGUAGE OF LIFE: A FESTIVAL OF POETS BY BILL MOYERS). Have them write an essay comparing and contrasting TallMountain's experience when she moved from her Athabascan home to a new school with that of the immigrant students at Manhattan Comprehensive.

Extension Ideas

1. The DREAM Act is a bi-partisan bill introduced in the Senate by Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Richard Durbin (D-IL). which would allow immigrant students with no legal documentation to continue their education in the United States and pursue legal status here. It affects young people who were brought to this country by their parents before the age of sixteen and who have been here at least five years. Have students research this bill and debate its merits and weaknesses. The Thomas service of the Library of Congress gives an update on the bill and some official comments on it at In addition, there are numerous (and sometimes emotional) responses to it elsewhere on the Web, including these sites:

2. Have students research the status and problems of immigrants in their own community and find out what projects they might become involved in. This would be especially useful for students who are working on Student Service Learning projects.

3. Have students interview classmates who have come to this country as immigrants to learn more about their experiences. Plan interview questions as a class ahead of the actual interviews.

4. The issue of bilingual education is an important one. Have students research the arguments for and against bilingual education. For background on this issue, students might start with the article "English Language Learners" in EDUCATION WEEK.

5. Have students research how schools in other countries might be different from their own. The Peace Corps' Coverdell World Wise Schools has readings and lesson plans that explore this issue. For example, in the story "Cross Cultural Dialogue," Roz Wollmering writes about her experiences teaching as a Peace Corps volunteer in a school in Guinea-Bissau in West Africa. She tells the story from her own point of view and then from that of her students. A lesson plan accompanies the story. For younger students, there is a lesson on rural and urban schools in Paraguay. You may also use a reading on the difficulties women face in education in Zimbabwe.

6. "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be," wrote Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson valued education so highly that he ordered that the inscription on his tombstone include his founding of the University of Virginia, while omitting his two terms as president. Have students write an essay in which they define the relationship between education and democracy. Is Jefferson's quotation still valid today, two centuries after his presidency?

Related Resources

Below are some sites that provide useful information related to this lesson's topic.

1. For researching the countries of origin of the students in the video, the U.S. State Department Background Notest or the CIA Factbook may be useful. A helpful resource on African countries is provided by the University of Pennsylvania's African Studies Center

2. The Pennsylvania Ethnic Heritage Studies Center maintains a Web site that contains a unit of excellent lesson plans about immigration entitled "Globalization and the New Migration." While some of the lessons are Pennsylvania-specific, others are more general and provide good background on the subject of immigration. The unit includes lessons on the American Dream and the history of immigration.

3. For additional reading, Maxine Hong Kingston's novel, THE WOMAN WARRIOR, is a fascinating look into growing up as a Chinese American girl, with excursions into Chinese history and myth. DONALD DUK by Frank Chin explores the life of a Chinese American boy in an unusual, slightly oddball, but appealing novel.

4. Students who would like to find out about when their own relatives came to the United States might want to try the Ellis Island Web site's American Family Immigration History Center . The Web site also describes historical changes in immigration patterns. The Ellis Island Museum maintains a Web site at that gives background about the reasons why immigrants came, what the passage was like, how the inspection process worked, and more.

About the Author

Eileen M. Mattingly has recently retired from a long career of teaching English and social studies, most recently at McDonough High School in Pomfret, Maryland. She holds a B.S.F.S. degree in International Studies from Georgetown University and master's degrees from St. John's University and the Johns Hopkins University. She has published several curriculum guides on multicultural literature for the Center for Learning. She is now helping to develop the curriculum for a new high school in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

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