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TeachNet 2008 Grant Winner       << Back to all Grant Winners
Welcome to America

Subject: Language Arts, Social Studies, Media Technology, and Arts

Grade Level: Grades Two through Four

Materials: The following trade books are touchstone texts: Coming To America: The Story of Immigration by Betsy Maestro, illustrated by Susannah Ryan (Scholastic, New York) ; The Statue Of Liberty by Lucille Recht Penner, illustrated by Jada Rowland (Random House, New York); At Ellis Island: A History in Many Voices by Louise Peacock, illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop (Athenium Books, New York); computers with Internet access; a word processing application; world maps; paper; push pins; string; colored pencils; colored markers; a networked printer for downloading photographs

About: Through a study of a variety of resources including texts, web links, archival photographs, maps, and family folklore, students learn about immigration to America in the past and in the present. The unit enables them to have a heightened sense of pride of their own ethnic backgrounds as well as an appreciation of the contributions of all immigrants to our city and nation. Students work as researchers and historians as they consult websites, strengthen their writing skills as they compose interview questions and create historical fiction pieces, view archival photographs critically, and express what they learn using poetry, song lyrics, and original drawings. Lessons include role playing of immigrants and immigrant officers so that students have an emotional as well as academic response to the experience of immigrants.

A collaboratively written and illustrated "book" about immigration, entitled Welcome To America, with chapters on the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Castle Island, and Immigrants Yesterday and Today. celebrates the completion of this project. Another culminating activity is a special performance for parents and others in the school community in which the students read the text of their book, have illustrations projected from a laptop onto a slide screen, and if they compose an original poem or song, they may present that as well.

Immigration is an important topic in our nation today, and this project allows teachers to focus on the salient points. The use of the Internet and media technology is particularly well suited to this study because it opens up a cyber-window for students to view the topic in a unique and exciting way. Print resources are useful, but pale in comparison to the richness of websites that are suggested in this project. Students feel empowered by the use of the Internet and are able to "tour" museums such as the Lower East Side Tenement Museum without leaving the keyboard. Role playing, examining archival photos, and writing historical fiction letters from immigrants inspires students to have a greater appreciation, both intellectually and emotionally, for the contributions immigrants have made to our city and nation. This project is ultimately a community-building one as it encourages students to understand the value of a multi-ethnic, culturally diverse society, and it builds a stronger sense of pride in family and ethnic heritage. It also offers a framework within which students can begin to build individual concepts of U.S citizenship and begin to appreciate that all Americans are, in the end, immigrants, as every group can trace their heritage to points in time of the past and places from around the world.

Since the topic of immigration contains so many aspects, this project offers a port to embark on a unit with young students who need to understand the concept of immigration and its implications. Every web link, resource, and lesson plan may be modified to suit individual student populations and teacher preferences. Regardless of the final direction a teacher chooses to take, a necessary starting point would be an outreach to parents. If parents are notified at the outset, whether through a teacher- or student-generated letter, they may be extremely helpful in generating enthusiasm for this project. The use of maps to locate countries of origin and photographs and/or other artifacts and documents such as passports are excellent starters as well. Teachers should read the touchstone texts and explore the suggested websites thoroughly as a way to prepare for the unit and take notes for their preparations for instruction.

Students will learn about patterns of immigration from the late nineteenth century until the late twentieth century.
Students will learn about basic issues of immigration to the United States today.
Students will learn how to access relevant websites, search for specific information, and report facts in an appropriate format.
Students will examine archival photographs and be able to identify attributes of the photo that reveal facts about immigrants.
Students will learn information from at least four trade books and use as inspiration for creative writing.
Students will write historical fiction letters from immigrant characters they create and follow the steps of the writing process, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing on the computer.
Students will write interview questions for immigrants.
Students will illustrate their historical fiction letters with original drawings of immigrants or with other original designs such as "freedom coins" -- abstract symbols of peace and liberty within a circular shape.
Students will publish a collaboratively written book.
Students will create a collaboratively written poem or song for possible inclusion in a performance of a book reading for parents.

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum has excellent online opportunities to view photographs and artifacts contained in the apartments of 100 Orchard Street in New York City. The apartments show, with utmost historical accuracy and detail, how early immigrants lived from day to day.
Scholastic's "Immigration: Stories of Yesterday and Today" home page offers a number of opportunities for students to learn more about contemporary immigrants as well as immigrant children in the past. It also offers an excellent cyber-tour of Ellis Island and graphs and charts with historical facts.
http:// teacher.scholastic.com/activities/immigration
The National Park Service's Ellis Island Monument offers outstanding information about the Statue of Liberty, including the significance of the seven spikes on the Statue of Liberty's crown.
The Ellis Island Foundation's "Ellis Island Passenger Arrivals" is the ultimate source for a chronicle of immigrants who arrived by ship to the island.
Castle Garden has a fascinating history as it has undergone many transformations from its early days as a military fort to its use as an entertainment venue. This site offers excellent information about the years when it served as a replacement for Ellis Island.
The Museum of the City of New York site offers many opportunities to learn about history and current events and may be easily navigated for information about immigrant contributions.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage is one of the relatively new museums in New York City, and its website offers much information about Jewish immigrant history.
A Guide to Primary Resources for US History & Immigration Impact is a site designed for teachers to visit and implement for immigration studies. Although it may have more appeal for teachers of older students, there are features elementary school teachers may find useful to employ.

Students read, write, listen, and speak for information and understanding, and locate and use library media resources to acquire information, with assistance.
Grades 2 - 4
English/ Language Arts
Students read, write, listen, and speak for critical analysis and evaluation; use effective vocabulary in expository writing; and role play to communicate an interpretation of real or imaginary people or events.
2 - 4
English Language Arts
Students state a main idea and support it with facts, and explain the reasons for a character's actions, considering the situation.
2 - 4
Language Arts
Students read, write, listen, and speak for literary responses and expression; use a computer to create, research, and interpret literary texts; and develop original literary texts.
2 -4
Language Arts
Students identify cultural and ethnic features in literary texts.
2 - 4
Language Arts
Students write original text using pre-writing, drafting, revising, proofreading, and editing.
2 - 4
Language Arts
Students share the process of writing with peers and adults.
2 - 4
Language Arts
Students gather and organize information about traditions transmitted by various groups living in their neighborhoods and communities, and recognize how traditions and practices were passed from one generation to the next.
2 - 4
Social Studies
Students interpret simple time lines, conduct interviews with family members, and collect memorabilia such as letters, photographs, and keepsakes.
2 - 4
Social Studies
Students know the roots of American culture, its development from many different traditions, and the ways people from a variety of groups and backgrounds played a role in creating it.
2 - 4
Social Studies
Students list analytical questions to guide their investigations of historical documents, pictures, diary accounts, artifacts, and other records of the past.
2 - 4
Social Studies
Students imitate experiences through pantomime, story telling, and role-playing to communicate ideas and feelings.
2 - 4
The Arts

Day 1:
Students will better understand that all Americans may be proud of their ethnic heritage and culture, and that ultimately all of us are descended from immigrant groups, including African Americans and Native Americans, whether or not we were born in another country.
Students will learn the value and use of a world map.
Students will exercise critical listening skills.
Students will work cooperatively in groups.
Students will critically analyze an archival photograph.
Large world map, preferably with the Western Hemisphere in the center for display on a cork bulletin board
six (or enough for no more than four students per group) archival photographs of immigrants
pushpins and string or yarn
paper (4" x 2" prepared with a line for a 1" margin on the left) and pencils
Display the world map on a cork board and discuss its features. Compare and contrast it to a globe.
Locate New York in the U.S. and place a push pin on the spot.
Encourage students to share the country or countries of their ancestry (ideally, students have already discussed this with parents as part of a pre-unit activity).
As students report the origin of their ancestry, place a pin on the country (or countries) on the world map, and place a pin on the place where the family arrived in America.
Connect the pins with string. Naturally, some students may have more than one set of pins and string.
Give students strips of paper cut long and wide enough to print their names. If some students claim ethnic heritage from more than one country, they will need more than one strip of paper.
Have them fold the paper along the left-sided margin line. Invite each one to come up to the map and place their name strip on the string that connects their nation of ancestry to the U.S.
When all are done placing their strips on the map, discuss the complex design of the strings and point out how all of us living in America together create what is very much like a beautiful intricate web.
Ask students to offer questions they may have about reasons why family members in the recent or distant past decided to come to America. Tell them to keep these questions in mind as they examine (in small groups) archival photographs of immigrants.
Each group reports and shares the questions they have written collaboratively about the immigrant in the photograph. The teacher writes the questions on a chart and notes which are repeated.
The day's lesson is followed up with an assignment. The most frequently asked questions are to be used for a short interview with a family member who is best able to answer them -- either personally or about an ancestor. The assignment should be completed within two or three days.
The student is able to identify his ethnic heritage and culture by nation or nations throughout the world and is able to submit questions and answers about the immigrant experience for at least one individual in his family.

Day 2:
Students will learn the historical significance of Ellis Island.
Students will learn that immigrants were either approved or rejected for entry into America.
Students will role-play either an immigrant or official at Ellis Island to better understand the entry process.
Students will participate in a class discussion about the role-playing activity to summarize and synthesize what they have learned.
Students will be able to use the lesson as a pre-writing activity for creating an original historical fiction immigrant character.
The book Coming To America: The Story Of Immigration by Betsy Maestro (with particular reference to the pages that illustrate the immigrant experience of sailing into New York Harbor and and the processing that took place on Ellis Island). In addition, photographs downloaded from relevant websites may decorate the room so that it takes on the atmosphere of the Great Hall on Ellis Island.
Name tags that can be worn by students by suspending with string or yarn. The tags should indicate one of each of the following: medical examiner, medical specialist, government inspector; five tags for Inquiry Board Member, two tags for Detainment Officials, and the rest labeled "Immigrant." Ideally, these assignments were given to students the day before so that they can be prepared to be "in character" and perhaps practice speaking with a foreign accent or using foreign-language words.
Question sheets for Inquiry Board members that state the following: What is your name and your age? What country are you from? What language do you speak? What kind of work do you do? What will be your address in America? and/or any other questions the students have previously determined are important.
Several "props" for role-playing the immigrant experience, which may include a small suitcase, old-fashioned hat or jacket, doctor's bag or toy stethoscope for Medical Examiner and Medical Specialist, and yellow legal pads and pens for Inquiry Board members. These can be collected several days in advance.
Have students set the stage for role playing by arranging themselves in special areas of the room according to their character assignment.
Direct half of students to the Inquiry Board for interviewing. Those who pass may go on to the Medical Examiner. Remind the students who role-play Medical Examiner and Medical Specialists that it will be important to reject some immigrants for health reasons and to pass others.
Direct the other half to the Medical Doctor for examining, and those who pass may go to the Inquiry Board.
"Immigrants" who do not pass the Inquiry Board Member's approval must go to the Detainment Officials.
Those who do not pass the medical exam must go on to see the Medical Specialist.
Those who do not pass the exam given by the Medical Specialist must go to the Detainment Official.
When the "immigrants" have completed role-playing the experience on Ellis Island, give them five minutes to talk quietly with each other about how they felt "in character. "
Invite students to gather together in a meeting space and share their thoughts about the role-playing activity. Write their responses on a chart, and label these at the top on one-half "Immigrant" and the other half "Ellis Island Officials".
When done writing responses on the chart, invite children to summarize and synthesize their comments. How does an immigrant feel who was told he/she must remain on Ellis Island as opposed to one who was released? Strive to make other comparisons and contrasts.
Finally, ask students to return to their desks and tell them to list the ways in which the day's lesson may have helped them begin to create an original historical fiction "immigrant" character.
Write a description of an immigrant character that arrived at Ellis Island. Include fictitious name, age, country of origin, physical appearance, possessions, family members who may have also traveled, and hopes and dreams for a future in America.
Students writing of immigrant character descriptions should include essential attributes named above.

Day 3:
Students will understand the historical significance of the Statue of Liberty as an icon of hope for immigrants as they sailed into New York Harbor.
Students will learn historical facts about the Statue of Liberty including its designer, Frederic Bartholdi, and how it was a gift from France.
Students will listen carefully for information as it is read to them.
Students will work in small groups on computers to access and download information about the Statue of Liberty.
Students will share information learned in small groups in a whole class discussion.
One copy of the book The Statue of Liberty by Lucille Recht Penner and illustrated by Jada Rowland
world map for display and a chart and marker for writing
one copy of the Emma Lazarus poem "The New Colossus"
computer with Internet access and a printer
Show students the cover of the Penner book, a small simply stated paperback book that covers the main points of the Statue's history. Discuss the meaning of the word "liberty" as another word for "freedom."
Point to the spot on a national or world map where New York Harbor is located.
Ask students to offer comments and ask questions about the design and features of the Statue.
Tell students that the seven spikes on the Statue's crown represent the seven continents of the world. Point to each continent or invite a student to point them out on the world map.
Tell students that the statue was a gift from France, and ask a volunteer to find France on the continent of Europe.
Tell students that the statue was finally set in New York Harbor in 1886, and that in 1996, New York City celebrated its centennial. Ask them to consider ways in which New York was different in 1886. Write their responses on a chart.
Read the short book in its entirety, and then write the names Frederic Bartholdi and Joseph Pulitzer on the chart. Ask why these men are important in the history of the Statue of Liberty.
Add the name Emma Lazarus to the chart. Tell students that she was a Jewish immigrant who wrote a poem that is now associated with the Statue of Liberty. Then read the poem "The New Colossus". Note: This poem is not easy for younger students to comprehend, but they can understand its theme of offering hope and comfort to weary immigrants who traveled across the seas for a better life in America.
Divide the class in small groups so that some are working together on computers to access and download information on the Statue of Liberty websites and others are collaboratively writing a Statue of Liberty poem that, like Emma Lazarus's, conveys a spirit of welcome and comfort to all who seek to live in our land. After 15 or 20 minutes, groups should switch activities.
Students gather together to receive instructions for their homework.
Write seven facts about the Statue of Liberty and seven sentences or poetic phrases that the Statue of Liberty would say if it could speak to immigrants arriving in America today. A bonus assignment: write the names of the seven seas that in addition to the seven continents are represented by the seven spikes on the Statue's crown.
The successful completion of homework indicates that students were able to use the Internet to comprehend facts about the Statue and infer its significance in our society.

Day 4:
Students will understand the immigrant history of Ellis Island is revealed in individual immigrant stories.
Students will use Ellis Island websites to access and download relevant information.
Students will read text as partners to comprehend and make inferences about immigrants speaking in the first person.
Students will work in small groups cooperatively on alternate activities.
Students will share what is learned and discovered as a way of preparation for homework assignment.
At Ellis Island: A History In Many Voices by Louise Peacock, illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop, a lavishly and evocatively illustrated book with paintings and historic photographs with text that reveals the voices of real immigrants
single copies of 10 to 12 excerpts from the book for students to read as partners
computer with Internet access and a printer
paper and pencils for student writing
Show students the book cover and ask them to speculate on who the girl is standing on the bow of the ship. How old is she? From what country is she sailing? Is she alone? Why is she coming to America? Ask if they recognize that she is gazing at Ellis Island on the horizon ahead.
Explain that the book contains the voices of real immigrants that tell personal stories: their suffering in steerage, their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, and their journey through the Great Hall on Ellis Island. Explain that they are not fictional voices, but that they may help us create fiction characters for immigrants.
Flip through the pages of the book, stop for particularly beautiful illustrations or interesting photographs, and tell them that we will be looking for similar photographs on the Internet.
Distribute copies of excerpts from the book (which teacher has selected and prepared in advance) and assign each one to partners.
Explain that together they should read these excerpts and write ten facts and/or conclusions they are able to make from the text of the immigrant's voice. In addition, they should write at least two questions they have about the immigrant.
While some students are working in pairs with the immigrant voice text, assign others in small groups for computer research on the Ellis Island website with a specific search for immigrant memoirs, stories, narratives, or immigrant tales.
Students who are successful with research on the websites may download and print the information they discovered.
Students who are finished with the writing piece and/or website research should switch activities.
Gather all students together to share either their written responses to excerpts from the book and/or Internet information.
After time spent sharing, explain the homework assignment for today's lesson.
Write in the "voice" of a fictional immigrant character. Encourage this writing to build on and include some of what was written for previous assignments about immigrant characters.
The writing assignment will reveal that students do not simply know "facts" but are able to have an emotional response to the struggles as well as joys experienced by immigrants.

Day 5:

Doris Meyer


P.S. 158
1458 York Avenue
New York, NY 10021

Doris Meyer has been teaching in Manhattan's P.S. 158 since 1987. Over the years, she has taught grades two through six, and, most recently, has been the school's teacher assigned to the library. Before deciding to become a teacher, Doris worked in the children's book department at Doubleday Books. Children's literature, folktales and folklore, and storytelling are among her passions. She finds it especially gratifying to see how enthusiastic and motivated students become about learning when they are encouraged and guided to gain insight and discover information in unique and original ways. She is happy to have the honor and privilege of sharing her lessons about the wide topic of immigration with other educators through Teachers Network.


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