The American Mosaic
"Remember, remember always, that all of us... are descended from immigrants and revolutionists."
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Have you ever had to move to a new town or met someone who has just moved to your hometown? Moving can be both an exciting adventure and a scary experience. When the journey involves moving to a new country, it can also be the beginning of a whole new way of life.
View Teacher Notes
Between 1892 and 1954, over 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island on their way to becoming part of America's "melting pot". Even though the trip was very difficult, people still considered America the land of opportunity. What made America seem so good? When the immigrants arrived there were many things they needed to do including learning the language and American customs. Did Americans always welcome immigrants? How would the answer to (Europe) that question make life in America easier or harder?
You and your classmates are going to become a poor immigrant family traveling from the Old World to the New World in search of the American dream. To keep track of this momentous change in your life, you are going to create a portfolio. The portfolio will contain: (1) a journal of your travels, activities and thoughts, and your new life in America; (2) a list of items (a bundle of belongings) that you will bring to help you start your new life in America, (3) a recipe from your country of origin, and (4) a map of the United States showing where most of the people from your country settled. The journal must include: (1) an account of the trip to America, (2) your impression of your first view of the Statue of Liberty and what it meant to you, (3) the process of going through Ellis Island, and (4) the establishment of your new life in America.
Your teacher will divide the class into "families" which may consist of several generations. For example, there may be a grandmother, a mother, a father, a teenage son and a young daughter. It depends how many people are in your group. Each person will write their portion of the journal from their character's point of view.
Step 1 - Brainstorm. What do we know? Think about and record all of the things you know about the immigrants who came to America from 1892 to 1945?
- What countries did they come from?
- Why did they come to America?
- Were they welcome here?
- What did they do when they arrived? Where did they live? Jobs? Housing?
Keep a copy of your brainstorm sheet and see what you can add to it at the end of this activity.
Step 2 - Vocabulary. Look up the definition of each of the words below. Keep the list of the words and definitions near your computer.
- detention center
Step 3 - Focus questions. What do we need to know? Develop the questions you need to answer in order to complete this project. Here are some sample questions, but you will probably have more.
Step 4 - Find out why immigrants left their home country. What things and customs did they bring with them? Many immigrants could only bring a small bundle of belongings with them. What will you take with you and why? If your bundles could only have as many items as would fit inside a modern-day grocery bag, what would you bring? Something to remind you of your homeland? Something to remind you of your family? Something to entertain you on the voyage? Something you think will be useful to you in America?
Make a list of the items you plan to include. Remember that they must be items that would have existed back then. Be prepared to share and tell why you included these items.
Step5 - Find out about the Statue of Liberty. What did it represent to new immigrants? How did they feel when they first saw it?
Step 6 - Why were immigrants processed through Ellis Island? Follow the steps that the immigrants took through Ellis Island. Relate the emotions felt by new immigrants at Ellis Island.
Step 7 - How did they begin new lives in America? Did they stay in New York City or move to other areas of our country? What kind of housing could they find? What kind of jobs did they do? What elements of their old life did they keep (food, holidays, games...)? Did they make any significant contributions to the American way of life?
The American Immigration Home Page
- Students at Academy for the Advancement of Science and Technology created this page. It contains information on the reasons for immigration, who the immigrants to the U.S. were, peaks/waves of immigration, methods of transportation and ports of arrival, process of entering the U.S., destination/places where they settled, treatment/reception by other Americans, effects/impact on America (positive and negative), opportunities for and success of immigrants, degree of assimilation, what did immigrants find distinctive about America, and laws restricting immigration.
California Museum of Photography
- A wonderful collection of historic photographs of Ellis Island.
- The History Channel devotes the following images, text, and sound files to a celebration of the immigrant experience, from the ordeal of Ellis Island to the crucible of New York, gateway to the American Dream.
Ellis Island: through America's Gateway
- Provides an introduction to the Ellis Island Oral History Project. It contains links to interviews of immigrants from the early 20th century. It contains links to a historical overview, the journey of the immigrants, processing at Ellis Island, Ellis Island today, a cookbook, and the oral history project. Throughout the site are interviews of people from the oral history project.
Ellis Island Photos
- Contains photos of Ellis Island from the 1970's prior to its restoration.
Immigration at the turn of the 20th century
- Provides two excellent articles written about immigration. One deals with the changing character of immigration and the other gives a colorful and descriptive account of what life was like for the immigrants who made their way to the United States. It has a chart of what each immigrant earned on the average, broken down by national origin.
Immigration of Ethnic and Religious Groups
- Brief immigration summaries about dozens of ethnic and religious groups as well as addresses of contacts and sources. Sift through the commercialization of this huge site to access other useful information on genealogical research.
Liberty State Park
- Information about Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty is contained on this commercial park site.
Statue of Liberty Facts, News and Information
- Contains facts, news and information about the statue.
- Visit two apartments as they appeared at 97 Orchard St., NYC in the 1870's and 1930's.
Multicultural Peoples of North America Video Series, Schlessinger Media. 15 vol. Set 30 min. each. Applicable titles are: German Americans, Greek Americans, Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, and Polish Americans.
You will be working as a "family". Just like in a real family, everything you do (or don't do) impacts everybody else. It is important that you do your part to help the family. Everyone must contribute. Keep all your notes and materials in a folder or binder so that you do not lose anything. If you are having trouble finding what you need, ask your "family" for help. Try brainstorming possible solutions as a team. If you run into trouble ask: "What other methods/materials could we try? Did any other team run into that problem? How did they solve it? Who could we ask? Who is good at doing that?" Use as many resources as possible - information comes in many shapes and forms.
Each group will produce a portfolio containing:
Cooperative Learning Group Participation
Immigrants are still coming to America today. Since World War II nearly 9 million immigrants have come to America to find a better life for themselves and their children. In this search, they encounter the same problems and hardships that faced those who entered through Ellis Island at the turn of the century. In the future, it may be up to you to decide whether we keep the welcome mat out or lock the doors.
Grade/Unit: Grade 8, Unit 12
Purpose: Students will learn about the immigrant experience in America during the late 19th and early 20th century. They will explore our country's pride in its multicultural heritage and its historical ambivalence toward immigrants and immigration in general.
Students should be able to:
Information Literacy Skills:
1.Locate information from a variety of resources to obtain historical data
2.Consider multiple perspectives
3.Draw upon diverse sources for historical learning
4.Formulate questions to focus the inquiry
5. Access information presented in images, documents, and oral interviews
Length: 3 weeks approximately 11/2 hrs. per day
8.12 Students analyze the transformation of the American economy and the changing social and political conditions in the United States in response to the Industrial Revolution, in terms of:
Divide the class into "families" of between four to six students. Each student will assume the character of one of the family members. The families may be multi-generational and extended. Each family will be responsible for turning in a portfolio. Families should come from one of the major immigrant groups of the time: Scandinavian, Irish, German, Polish, Italian, Greek, or Russian (Jewish).
Team members should work in pairs or individually to find one or two elements of the assignment information ("Jigsaw" - to see a description of this learning method go to http://www.jigsaw.org/ or http://volcano.und.nodak.edu/vwdocs/msh/llc/is/cl.html.) The team can then share all the information that they have found to individually create their journals and bundles.
Special needs students will be accommodated throughout this unit because they will be working team. The gifted/talented student will be challenged and probably assume leadership role, while academically average, learning disabled and LEP students all will
have their role to play. A student weak in researching skills (due to language barrier or to learning disability) still can gather information with teacher assistance and teammate
assistance. The assignment could be further modified for the LEP student who is, in fact, a recent immigrant, by having him/her chronicle the family's own immigration experiences.
America has been described as a "nation of immigrants" because, everybody (except for Native Americans) came to this country from somewhere else. Research your own family and construct a family tree that traces your ancestry back to 1900 (or as far as you can). Did anyone in your family emigrate to America during the 20th century? If so, find out where they entered the country and what type or inspection or interview they had to undergo. How does their immigrant experience compare to the Ellis Island experience?
Research the history of our immigration laws, then write an essay in which you compare anti-immigrant sentiment to the debates over illegal immigration taking place today. Explain the dichotomy of America priding itself on being a "melting pot," and its long history of opposing immigration to the United States?
Interview a recent immigrant to our country. Compare their experience with that of immigrants of 100 years ago.
Create a "mosaic" collage of images that depicts some aspect of the immigration experience.
Our multi-ethnic culture has been referred to as the "American Mosaic". Create a "mosaic" collage of images representing the various ethnic groups that immigrated to the U. S. during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
- Portfolio is adequate but is missing some elements of organization or neatness.
- Information in the journal and items selected for bundles reflects some content knowledge and adequate research.
- Shows some synthesis and integration of historical resources and concepts.
- Portfolio needs minor reinforcement or revisions.
- Information in the journal and items selected for bundles reflects weak content knowledge and research, misinformed inferences, hypothesis and conclusions.
- Shows little synthesis and integration of historical resources and concepts.
No project completed
Back to top