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They’re Coming to America: Immigrants Past and Present
Lesson Activities

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1) On the whiteboard or chalkboard, write the word “immigrant.” Ask your students to brainstorm a definition for the word, and jot down their ideas. Ask your students to share their ideas on what exactly an immigrant is. Jot down your students’ ideas on the board; guide students to realize that an immigrant is a “person who leaves the country in which they were born to permanently settle in another country.”

2) Tell your students that it has often been said that if you “scratch anything that’s American, and you’ll find something that’s foreign.” Ask your students what they think this means. (Accept all student answers.) Tell students that they are going to take a short quiz (which won’t be graded!) that examines how other countries and cultures have contributed to what we think of as “American.”

3) Ask your students to find a partner. Distribute the “Where Did It Come From?” quiz to your students. Give your students 10 minutes or so to complete the quiz. Using the “Where Did It Come From?” Answer Key, review student answers and correct answers. Ask your students what the quiz reveals about the United States. (Much of the United States’ culture, language, and tradition is “imported” or adapted from other countries and cultures around the world.) Ask your students what this has to do with immigrants. (Immigrants brought things like their food, language, and traditions with them to the United States, and they became part of American culture).

4) Tell your students that everyone in your class has an immigrant somewhere in their background or family history. Even Indian tribes migrated to North America tens of thousands of years ago from Asia. Ask for a handful of students to reveal their nationalities, backgrounds, or countries of origin. Assure your students that it’s not unusual to have multiple backgrounds (for instance, a student could be part Puerto Rican, part German, and part Italian).

5) Ask your students to log on to the National Geographic Map Machine. When they arrive at the site, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to either a) identify the location of one of their countries of origin, or b) identify the location of one of the countries listed on the “Where Did It Come From?” Quiz. The choice is theirs. Students should not only locate the country on the website, but be prepared to identify where it is on the world map at the front of the room. They may need to “zoom out” on the website in order to identify their country’s location relative to the rest of the world.

6) While your students are working with the website, distribute a sticky note or flag to each of them. After they identify their country’s location on the computer, they should come to the front of the room and place their sticky note in the corresponding location on the map. Allow all students to place their notes on the map, assuring them it’s fine if the notes “pile up” on top of each other. Once all students have placed their sticky notes, ask students what they can observe about the class, based on the distribution of notes on the map. (Student answers will vary based on the make-up of your class.)

7) Ask your students if they remember who the first European immigrants to North America were. (Students may identify English colonists at Jamestown in 1607 or the “Pilgrims” in what became New England in 1620. However, the first European immigrants to North America were the Spanish, settling in Florida in 1565.) Explain to your students that though immigrants have been coming to North America, and later, the United States, for centuries, the biggest wave of immigration happened in the 19th and 20th centuries.

8) Distribute the “Waves of US Immigration” organizer to your students. Explain to your students that historians agree the major periods of immigration can be divided into a series of waves: from 1820-1860, from 1860-1890, and from 1890-1910. Subsequent waves in the twentieth century occurred from 1910-1970, and from 1970-present. Explain to your students that the first wave, from 1820-1860, was largely comprised of immigrants from Western Europe, and specifically from the countries of Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany. Have them complete this information in the chart on the organizer. As a class, log on to the New York Times Immigration Explorer website.

9) Explain to your students that this site shows where foreign-born groups settled in the United States during different periods of time. Click on the “Show Number of Residents” button on the upper-right side of the screen. Explain to your students that the bubbles on the map represent the percentage of foreign-born groups in each county during particular years, based on census data. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and test your students’ ability to read and interpret data from the map: with the slider of years at the top of the map positioned in the Year 2000, ask your students from which area of the world the most (or the majority) of foreign-born residents in the Unites States immigrated from? (According to the key on the map, the majority of foreign-born residents in the United States in the year 2000 came from Latin America, denoted by the reddish bubbles on the map.) Show your students that by clicking on the “Show All Countries” button on the upper-left hand side of the site, they can see the names of the countries which fall into the “Latin America” classification. Those countries are Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador.

10) Ask each student to work with a partner, and provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students to utilize the website to complete the rest of the chart on the “Waves of US Immigration” organizer. Explain that for the “1860-1890” data, students will have to use the website to retrieve information from 1880-1890 only. Give your students 10-15 minutes to complete this task.

11) Review your students’ findings about the immigrant groups represented in each “wave” of immigration to the United States, using the “Waves of Immigration” Answer Key. Remind your students of the traditions, foods, and languages they examined in the “Where Did It Come From?” Quiz. When would they guess those items were introduced to American culture, based on their examination of this website?

1) Remind your students that in the Introductory Activity, they learned that immigrants from around the world have contributed to the culture and traditions of the United States, and immigrants have come to this country for hundreds of years from all over the globe. Ask your students why they think so many immigrants have come to the United States for so long. (Accept all student answers.)

2) Tell your students that there is a series on public television called FACES OF AMERICA, in which a variety of well-known guests learned about the experiences of their immigrant ancestors. As a class, they will be watching some segments from this program to understand common reasons why immigrants decided to come to the United States during its various “waves” of immigration.

3) Explain to your students that one of the FACES OF AMERICA guests is Stephen Colbert, the comedian and host of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. Some of Colbert’s ancestors came to the United States before it was its own country and independent from Great Britain. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to identify possible motivations for Stephen Colbert’s seventh-great-grandfather to immigrate to Pennsylvania from Germany in the early 1700s. Play Clip 1, “Opportunity Beckoned in the New World.” Check for comprehension, and ask your students what may have motivated Stephen Colbert’s ancestors to move to Pennsylvania from Germany. (William Penn published pamphlets advertising opportunities in the New World that were distributed in Europe; Pennsylvania “plantations” offered opportunities to men from a wide variety of professions, and an opportunity to “improve their livelihood.”) Clarify for students that the use of the word “plantation” in this segment refers to the colony of Pennsylvania. Ask your students to sum up, in single words or short phrases, what they think made Colbert’s German ancestors move. (Possible student answers could include: “work,” “opportunity,” “money,” or “security.”) Write their one-word answers on the chalkboard or whiteboard.

4) Explain to your students that another “branch” of Stephen Colbert’s family tree came to the United States from Ireland during the early part of the 19th century. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to identify possible motivations for his early 19th century ancestors to immigrate to the United States. Play Clip 2, “Tenant Farmers.” Check for comprehension, and ask your students what may have motivated Colbert’s early 19th century relatives to leave Ireland. (People in Ireland were prohibited from buying land, practicing their faith, holding public office, or even owning a horse.) Ask your students to summarize reasons why Colbert’s early Irish ancestors sought out a new life in America. (Possible student answers include “freedom of religion,” “opportunity,” “money,” ”more land,” or “security.”) Write their answers on the chalkboard or whiteboard.

5) Tell your students that still others of Stephen Colbert’s ancestors left Ireland for another reason. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to identify what caused massive casualties among the Irish population, and led many people to leave Ireland, in the 1840s and 1850s. Play Clip 3, “A Very Sad Period in Irish History.” Check for comprehension, and ask your students what caused so many people to leave Ireland in the 1840s and 1850s. (There was a famine in Ireland, which caused many people to starve. There was not enough food.) Ask your students to summarize why Colbert’s ancestors may have left during this particularly terrible time. (Possible student answers include: “food,” “freedom from fear,” “hope,” “safety,” and “respect.”) Write their answers on the chalkboard or whiteboard.

6) Remind your students that, as they discovered in the Introductory Activity, immigrants came from all across Europe, and not just Ireland and Germany. Chef Mario Batali’s ancestors came to the United States from Italy in the early part of the 20th century, and settled in Montana. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to identify possible reasons why the Batalis came from Italy and chose to go to Montana. Play Clip 4, “Pioneers of the American West.” Check for comprehension, and ask your students to identify possible reasons why the Batalis left Italy and went to live in Montana. (His great-grandmother’s family was already living in Butte, Montana; there were jobs for stone workers in Butte.) Ask your students to summarize why Batali’s family may have gone to Montana. (Possible student answers include “family,” “jobs,” “money,” “other immigrants from northern Italy.”) Write their responses on the chalkboard or whiteboard

7) Tell students that they will be examining the story of one more immigrant. Figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi’s grandfather moved from Japan to Hawaii (which was not yet a state) in the early part of the 20th century. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to identify reasons why Tatsuichi Yamaguchi may have left Japan. Play Clip 5, “To Hawaii From Japan.” Check for comprehension, and ask your students for potential reasons why Tatsuichi Yamaguchi may have left Japan. (He had no chance for inheriting the family farm because he had so many other brothers.) Ask your students to summarize why Tatsuichi Yamaguchi chose to leave Japan. (Possible student answers include “money,” “land,” “opportunity.”) Write their responses on the chalkboard or whiteboard.

8) Review with students the reasons why Stephen Colbert’s, Mario Batali’s, and Kristi Yamaguchi’s ancestors chose to immigrate to the United States (or what would eventually become the United States). Are there similarities in their reasons for coming? How so? Are there common themes across countries and time periods? (Students should see that there are several commonalities between the different immigrants profiled in the video segments.) Ask students if they think these motivating factors are similar for immigrants coming to the United States today. Why or why not? Ask your students to record the motivating factors they’ve summarized on the board in their notebooks.

1) Explain to your students that they will now be exploring the experiences of immigrants who came to the United States at various points in the last 100 years. Divide your students into five groups. Distribute the “Immigrants: Past and Present” organizer to your students. Assign each group one of the following five immigrants: 1) Seymour Rechtzeit from Poland, 2) Li Keng Wong from China, 3) Kauthar from Kenya, 4) Virpal from India, and 5) Quynh from Vietnam. Ask each group to circle their assigned immigrant on the organizer.

2) Have your students to log on to the Scholastic: Stories of Immigration website, and to find the area pertaining to their assigned immigrant (Seymour Rechtzeit and Li Keng Wong are buttons directly off of the main page; the three recent immigrants’ stories are reachable via the button that reads “meet three kids who have arrived recently”).

3) Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to examine these immigrants’ stories, and complete the “Immigrants: Past and Present” organizer as they do so. Ask your students to concentrate specifically on the following questions:

• When did their assigned immigrant come to the United States?
• Why did the immigrant (or his or her family) decide to come to the United States?
• How are their experiences similar to or different from the immigrant stories explored in FACES OF AMERICA?
• What feelings or emotions did the immigrant experience during their immigration to the United States?

4) Explain to your students that they will have 20-25 minutes to complete this task. Each group should be prepared to share their findings about their assigned immigrant’s experiences with the rest of the class. If they finish their online research early, they can take the “Interactive Tour of Ellis Island” on the Scholastic website.

5) After your students have had an opportunity to explore their assigned immigrant’s experiences, review each group’s findings in a class discussion. As you discuss, ask your students for similarities and differences they see between the immigrants’ experiences. What patterns emerge across different locations and time periods?

1) Ask your students what they have learned about immigration over the course of the lesson. (Student responses should include: the United States is a country of immigrants, a fact which is even reflected in your classroom; immigrant groups have contributed to the culture, language, and food of the United States; immigrants have come to this country in a variety of “waves,” with groups coming from certain regions at certain points in history, and patterns of motivation, rationale, and experience emerge in immigrant experiences from a wide range of locations and time periods.)

2) Distribute the “A Letter Home” template to your students. Explain that as homework, they are now assigned to create a letter from an imaginary immigrant to the United States to a friend they have left behind in their country of origin, detailing their experience coming to a new country. It’s up to students to decide when and from where their hypothetical immigrant came to the United States. However, students should tap into their knowledge built during the lesson, and make the letter as accurate as possible, including:

• A country of origin and time period that aligns with the historic “waves” of immigration;
• A motivating factor for immigration that is supported by the immigrant experiences examined in the lesson;
• Period-appropriate transportation to the United States;
• The emotions of their hypothetical immigrant, inspired by the immigrant experiences examined in the lesson.

3) Students should be encouraged to revisit the websites and video segments used in this lesson as they create their letters. They may also wish to complete additional online or hard-copy research on the country of origin they select to ensure the accuracy of their letter.

4) Collect and review student letters as an assessment of the lesson.

Next: View Video Segments

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

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