ALEX Lesson Plan


Experiencing Ellis Island - An Interactive Immigration Project

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Jennifer Barnett
System: Talladega County
School: Winterboro High School
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 29843


Experiencing Ellis Island - An Interactive Immigration Project


Make Ellis Island come alive for U.S. history students by processing younger students in a recreation of the immigration center. Recreate the uncertainty, fear, and confusion many immigrants experienced by arranging a variety of stations in a large open space.  Then open Ellis Island to visitors and allow time for reflection and discussion after all immigrants have been processed.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
Social Studies
SS2010 (2010)
Grade: 11
United States History II: The Industrial Revolution to the Present
1 ) Explain the transition of the United States from an agrarian society to an industrial nation prior to World War I. [A.1.a., A.1.b., A.1.c., A.1.d., A.1.e., A.1.f., A.1.i., A.1.k.]

•  Interpreting the impact of change from workshop to factory on workers' lives, including the New Industrial Age from 1870 to 1900, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Pullman Strike, the Haymarket Square Riot, and the impact of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Samuel Gompers, Eugene V. Debs, A. Philip Randolph, and Thomas Alva Edison
Insight Unpacked Content
Column Definitions

Strand: Economics, Geography, History, Civics and Government
Course Title: United States History II: The Industrial Revolution to the Present
Evidence of Student Attainment:
  • Describe the impact of the shift from an agrarian to an industrialized nation on various groups in the United States.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • agrarian
  • industrialized
  • industrialization
  • transition
  • technological
  • laissez faire
  • interdependent
  • globalized
Students know:
  • The path the United States took to transition from an agrarian to an industrialized nation.
  • The roles of technological advancement, laissez faire economic policies, and deregulation in the switch from agrarian to industrialized.
  • Key social changes, political events, industries, and individuals who were instrumental in the move of the U.S. from an agrarian to an industrialized society.
  • The organization of workers and farmers in response to the changes resulting from industrialization and the impact of these changes on American society.
  • The complexities of major shifts of pre-industrialized society to post-industrialized society.
Students are able to:
  • Describe the progression of a society as it transitioned from one type of society to another, such as transition of American society from an agrarian to an industrialized nation,
  • Analyze the roles of individuals, industry, technological advancements, social changes, and political advances and movements in the changes seen in societies.
  • Identify the complexities of the major shifts of pre-industrialized society to post-industrialized society.
  • Analyze primary and secondary historical sources.
  • Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
Students understand that:
  • The United States shifted from an agrarian to an industrialized society, and this shift influenced the complexities of interdependent relationships among groups in the country, and there are comparisons between this shift in the United States to changes in the globalized society of today.

Local/National Standards:

NCSS Standards:


Understands massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity.

Primary Learning Objective(s):

Students will experience Ellis Island by taking on the roles of immigration officials.  This role playing experience makes the lessons of this era of massive population growth real for students.  Students will analyze the role U.S. officials played in processing these immigrants.  Students will be able to articulate the complexities of the immigration process.  Moreover, students will more clearly understand the challenges that faced immigrants as well as the state and city governments that were forced to solve the massive problems that come with such a huge influx of people.

Using the Peer Collaboration Rubric for guidance, students will learn the essential elements of collaboration and group effort in preparing Ellis Island stations.

Additional Learning Objective(s):

21st Century Skills

Collaboration - Using the Peer Collaboration Rubric (attached) for guidance, students will learn the essential elements of collaboration and group effort in preparing Ellis Island stations.
Productivity and Inventive Thinking - Students work in groups preparing stations, mini-lessons for younger students, and role playing their immigration official.
Effective Communication - Students must teach younger students about the immigration process as they role play.
Digital-Age Literacy - As a reflection of the entire project, students will use Voicethread to analyze the immigration process and their experience recreating Ellis Island.

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

Greater than 120 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

See Attachment for Ellis Island materials (links, pictures, etc.)

  • Station Signs
  • Costumes Immigration ID tags
  • Station materials - tables, chairs, hospital cots, stethoscopes, clipboards, etc.
  • Play money, envelopes
  • Tour Guide teaching materials
  • Pencil and paper for reflections

Technology Resources Needed:

Computer with Internet access
Computer microphone
Digital camera for pictures


The background for this lesson is extremely important.  The teacher will need to do the following:

  1. Explain the project to your principal and obtain permission to proceed.
  2. Set a date and find a location for your event.
  3. Find a large group of students to play the role of immigrants.  To make this an authentic experience, invite at least 100 students to be processed through "Ellis Island."  Ask them to dress the part.  If possible, have your students visit these younger students to tell them a little about what they will experience and learn. (Recommendation - Students in 4th grade and up will be the best choice.  Younger students will have a difficult time understanding the concepts and dealing with the difficult treatment experienced by the immigrants.)
  4. Begin collecting supplies.  Print immigration landing cards and immigrant cards from the websites on attached information sheet.
  5. Begin promoting the lesson. 
  6. Be sure you have the tables and chairs needed for the lesson.
  7. Recruit a photographer as well as parents or other volunteers who are willing to help take care of extra details.
  8. Teach the history of immigration.  Notes and additional resources are on the attached sheet.
  9. Assign students roles for the experience.
  10. Divide visiting students playing the role of immigrant into groups of 15-20 students and assign them a Tour Guide.  You may need additional tour guides, depending on the number of students visiting. 
  11. Make an envelope for each "immigrant" with the following: Tour Guide group, ID tag, and play money (vary the amounts - most should be between $5 and $25, but some can have more.)   
  1. Introduce the Experiencing Ellis Island project at the very beginning of your unit on Urban America and Immigration.  Tell students their role and ask them to bring in supplies for their station. (I.e. medical-type supplies for hospital, stethoscopes and tongue depressors for medical examinations, clipboards for inspections, etc.)  Give students a deadline for bringing supplies and costumes.
  2. Set up "Ellis Island."
    Arrange the stations in logical order. (See attachment)  Hang section signs and set up materials for each section. 
  3. Work with "Tour Guides" to prepare coloring sheets and other activities on Ellis Island. (You might have a suitcase and have students make/draw the things they'd bring if leaving home forever that must fit in one suitcase.  Allow your tour guides to be creative with the students who will be attending the event.)
  4. Since the activity might take longer than a regular class period, communicate about the event with other teachers, organizing a plan for students to make up missed work from their classes.
  5. The Day of the Event - Have students take their place at each station before welcoming the visiting students.  Briefly introduce to the activity, hand out the envelopes and group them with their Tour Guide.  Take the first group to the first station to begin the process.  As one group proceeds through each station, send the next group.  You will want lots of "immigrants" going through at the same time, which creates a sense of chaos and confusion.  This is exactly the atmosphere that Ellis Island had.  Make sure the high school students are explaining exactly what happens at each station.  Encourage the younger students to role play the part of the immigrant based on what the older student explains.
  6. The teacher should be certain that pictures are taken of each station. 
  7. After all students have completed the process, gather all students together for a discussion and reflection time.  Ask them questions about what they learned, how they felt, and what they thought it was really like for immigrants at the turn of the century.
  8. Load a picture from each station to Voicethread.  (If unfamiliar with the site, follow directions for creating an education account at 
  9. The day after the Ellis Island activity have students write down the reflections that were shared on the activity.  Then, if a computer lab is available, have students record reflections on the appropriate VoiceThread slide.  If a lab is not available, allow students time over the next several days to record reflections to the VoiceThread.   

**Some files will display in a new window. Others will prompt you to download.

Assessment Strategies

Rubric for Ellis Island Experience for Peer Collaboration (See attachments)

VoiceThread reflections on each station of the Ellis Island Experience

Test on immigration notes and information (See attachment for notes)


There are many opoortunities for extension with this project.  Allow students to brainstorm ways to make Experiencing Ellis Island truly authentic and provide them with access to resources to bring their ideas into the project.  A few suggestions for extension might include:

  • Find posters or pictures of immigrants
  • Research the layout of Ellis Island and take charge of the set up of each station
  • Assist other students with costumes, supplies, information for each section, etc.
  • Facilitate the discussion with elementary students after completing their visit to each of the Ellis Island stations
  • Load pictures to Voicethread for the student reflections of each station


By carefully grouping students for this experience, the teacher will find that students needing extra support will come from other students.  Also, having plenty of resouces (books, pictures, computers with Internet access) available for students will encourage them to search for information.  Taking the time to put sticky notes on pages for struggling students to explore will encourage them to work harder to find the information they need.  Moreover, be prepared to help some students find costumes and station supplies who might not have access to such items.

Each area below is a direct link to general teaching strategies/classroom accommodations for students with identified learning and/or behavior problems such as: reading or math performance below grade level; test or classroom assignments/quizzes at a failing level; failure to complete assignments independently; difficulty with short-term memory, abstract concepts, staying on task, or following directions; poor peer interaction or temper tantrums, and other learning or behavior problems.

Presentation of Material Environment
Time Demands Materials
Attention Using Groups and Peers
Assisting the Reluctant Starter Dealing with Inappropriate Behavior
Be sure to check the student's IEP for specific accommodations.