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Created by:
Doug Cervi
Oakcrest Highschool

Vince Sera
Oakcrest Highschool

19th Century Immigration

Grade Level:
9 to 12


The purpose of this lesson is to enable students to identify the major phases of immigration to the United States and the significant problems faced by these immigrants once in America. In addition, students will have the opportunity to explore their family's journey to the United States.

Historical Context

Over the past 400 years people have immigrated to the United States in three major phases of immigration. The total number of people that have immigrated to the US over these years is over 73 million people.

These phases of immigration have been divided into three waves: 1st Wave 1820 to 1840 (Western and Northern Europe), 2nd Wave 1880 to 1924, (Southern and Eastern Europe) and 3rd Wave 1970 to the present (Asia, Central and South America). The reasons for leaving their countries are as varied as the immigrants themselves.

This lesson asks students to identify some of the major similar reasons why these people left their countries and came to the United States, perhaps even some of the students' own relatives who eventually settled in New Jersey. Some reasons for immigrating that have been documented include: to escape poverty, to earn a higher standard of living in a developed country, unemployment, natural disasters, education, medical needs, civil unrest, and overpopulation.

Most first wave immigrants came to the US for economic opportunities. Second wave immigrants, the largest of its kind in human history (23 million people), came to the US to escape poverty and political turmoil, find economic opportunity, and gain political and religious freedom. The more recent immigrants that have come to the US have come primarily for political and economic opportunities that are not afforded them in their home countries.


Ellis Island,immigration, prejudice, racism, bigotry, American culture, assimilation and pluralism

Goals and Objectives:

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

1. Identify the major reasons for foreign immigration to the United States from 1880 to the present.

2.Identify the major problems that immigrates faced once in the United States.

3. Examine primary documents from Ellis Island on the immigrant experience.

4. Explore their personal family history of immigration to the United States.

5. Examine the present day procedure for contemporary immigrants to become naturalized citizens.

6. Take the immigrant and naturalization test.

7. Compare and contrast the immigrant experience of the New Immigrants to contemporary immigrants.

8. Interview several recent immigrants on their experiences once in the United States.

9. Interview natural born Americans on their viewpoint on present day immigrants to the United States.


STANDARD 6.1 (SOCIAL STUDIES SKILLS): All students will utilize historical thinking, problem solving, and research skills to maximize their understanding of civics, history, geography, and economics.

STANDARD 6.4, H 1,3, L 6 (United States and New Jersey History): All students will demonstrate knowledge of United States and New Jersey history in order to understand life and events in the past and how they relate to the present and future.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

Computer with Internet Access

LCD projector

Student Computers



Immigration and Naturalization Test

Video "Island of Hope, Island of Tears"

Neil Diamond - Coming to America 2001 youtube video Lyrics for Coming to America

Details of Activity

Warm up/Engagement (5 minutes):

Students will view the video (Coming to America) www.youtube.com and have a copy of the lyrics (See attached PDF) to the song and discuss the themes in the song in relationship to the immigration lesson.

Activity 1 (20 min.)

Students will examine an immigration timeline covering the dates 1815 to 1950 from the Ellis Island website. Students will also view an additional timeline from 1492 to 1986 charting the major immigration movements to the United States (see web resources 1 and 2). After viewing the timelines students will identify the major reasons why people immigrated to the US in the three phases of immigration (1st Wave, 2nd Wave and 3rd Wave).

Activity 2 (10-15 min.)

Students will view a twenty-four slide Picasa presentation (http://picasaweb.google.com/vjsera/Immigration#5364287069710023842) on the history of the three waves of immigration for ten minutes to gain a historical background for US immigration.

Activity 3 (overnight homework assignment)

Students will interview their parents and grandparents to learn, if possible, when their family first came to the United States. They should also determine which country their family originated from and, if known, why their family chose to migrate. If this level of specificity is unavailable, they should be familiar with the reasons why people emigrated from this country more generally. Finally, students should ask when and why their ancestors came to settle in South Jersey.

Activity 4 (30-35 min.)

After sharing their homework assignments and family immigration, students will take the sample twenty question immigration test that is located on the MSNBC website given on July 23, 2008. They will they discuss what they thought about the test and what those newly arrived in this country might think about what they are expected to know about their new nation (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13442226/)

Practice and Reinforcement

Students will interview two recent immigrants to the United States and relate their experiences once in the United States. In addition students will interview two natural born US citizens to evaluate their opinions on present day immigrants.

A second follow-up activity asks students to share their interviews with the rest of the class and discuss their opinions about this immigrant lesson.



Immigration Timeline 1815-1950, Ellis Island.org

American Immigration Timeline, The Kennedy Center, ARTSEDGE

Lyrics Coming to America, Neil Diamond

Web Links:
My Immigrant Story - PBS

Scholastic Magazine

History Channel Ellis Island website

Ellis Island main website

National Park Service website

Ellis Island Timeline

US immigration support website

US immigration and naturalization sample test

MSNBC naturalization test

CIA Factbook

Supplementary Materials






For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here