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A Cold Reception: Anti-Immigrant Sentiment in the United States
Lesson Overview

(Click here for a printer-friendly version of this lesson.)

Grades 7-9

Two 45-minute class periods

Social Studies, American History

This media-enhanced lesson plan will use clips from Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s PBS series FACES OF AMERICA to explore the hostile reception immigrants have often received from anti-immigrant “nativists” in an America not always eager to accept them and the change they represent.

An Introductory Activity will introduce students to the larger historical patterns and forces of immigration throughout American history, as well as anti-immigrant sentiments manifested in contemporary America. In the Learning Activities, students will learn about the history of anti-immigrant sentiment directed towards Germans, Irish, Chinese, Japanese and other ethnicities from the mid 18th to early 20th century by analyzing images, music lyrics, and video segments from FACES OF AMERICA. As a Culminating Activity, students will write letters to hypothetical immigrants to America from the top ten immigrant-sending nations, in which they will both welcome the newcomers, warn them of the anti-immigration sentiment they may experience, and offer advice on how they might best avoid it.

This lesson is best used as an introduction to a unit on immigration, or as a stand-alone educational experience to enhance viewing of FACES OF AMERICA.


Students will be able to:

• Describe the major patterns and forces of immigration throughout American history;
• Analyze the origins and motivations of ethnic stereotyping of immigrants;
• Define major pieces of congressional legislation which affected immigration policy throughout American History;
• Detect parallels between the current immigration debate and the history of various anti-immigration movements throughout American history.

Standards available online at:

Historical Thinking Standards for Grades 5-12

Standard 1
The student thinks chronologically:

Therefore, the student is able to

Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration in which historical developments have unfolded, and apply them to explain historical continuity and change.

Standard 2
The student comprehends a variety of historical sources:

Therefore, the student is able to

Read historical narratives imaginatively, taking into account what the narrative reveals of the humanity of the individuals and groups involved–their probable values, outlook, motives, hopes, fears, strengths, and weaknesses.
Appreciate historical perspectives–the ability (a) describing the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their literature, diaries, letters, debates, arts, artifacts, and the like; (b) considering the historical context in which the event unfolded–the values, outlook, options, and contingencies of that time and place; and (c) avoiding “present-mindedness,” judging the past solely in terms of present-day norms and values.
Draw upon the visual, literary, and musical sources including: (a) photographs, paintings, cartoons, and architectural drawings; (b) novels, poetry, and plays; and, (c) folk, popular and classical music, to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narrative.

Standard 3
The student engages in historical analysis and interpretation:

Therefore, the student is able to

• Consider multiple perspectives of various peoples in the past by demonstrating their differing motives, beliefs, interests, hopes, and fears.
• Draw comparisons across eras and regions in order to define enduring issues as well as large-scale or long-term developments that transcend regional and temporal boundaries.


Era 4, Standard 2: How the industrial revolution, increasing immigration, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed the lives of Americans and led toward regional tensions

Era 6, Standard 2: Massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity

Era 10, Standard 2: Economic, social, and cultural developments in contemporary United States



FACES OF AMERICA, selected segments

Clip 1: A Colony of Aliens
This segment reveals Ben Franklin’s objection to German immigrants in colonial Pennsylvania.

Clip 2: Who’s White?
In this segment Queen Noor learns of her Syrian ancestors’ legal claim that for naturalization purposes they should be considered white rather than Asian.

Access the streaming and downloadable video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.


“The Peopling of America”
An interactive from the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation exploring immigration patterns and the forces behind them throughout American history.

“Anti-Irish Cartoons”
An archive of captioned 19th century anti-Irish cartoons from the Center for History and New Media.

“Anti-Chinese Songs”
Annotated transcriptions from Columbia University of two popular anti-Chinese songs of the 19th century.


For the class:
• Computer, projection screen, and speakers (for class viewing of online/downloaded video clips)
• “The Peopling of America” student organizer answer key (download here)

For each group of 3-5 students:
• Computer with internet access
• “The Peopling of America” student organizer (download here)

Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video segments and websites used in the lesson.

Download the video clips used in the lesson to your classroom computer, or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Bookmark the websites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal ) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

Print out a copy of “The Peopling of America” student organizer for each group of 3-5 students and one answer key for your own use.

Next: Proceed to Lesson Activities

Lesson plans for FACES OF AMERICA were created by the LAB@Thirteen, Thirteen’s Community and Educational Outreach Department.

  • Diane

    The link at the top of the PBS webpage that should lead to the printer-friendly version of this lesson plan is broken, and results in an empty webpage.

  • Diane

    Both “The Peopling of America” student organizer answer key and “The Peopling of America” student organizer links are broken. I need this material for class Friday evening 2/19. Can you please fix the broken links, so I can download these materials before class? Thanks!

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