Thirteen Ed Online
Lesson Plans
The Immigrant Experience in America
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

This lesson is divided into three sections:
Prep -- Preparing for the Lesson.
Steps -- Conducting the Lesson.
Tips -- Managing Resources and Student Activities.


The following sites will be used in this lesson; please bookmark them for easier access. Note: All links are valid as of September 15, 1997.

  • A Black and Tan Drive
  • 5 Cents A Spot
  • Flashlight Photograph of One of Four Peddlers Who Slept in Cellar
  • Room in a Tenement
  • The Immigrant Museum
  • Tenement VR Web Site

    Computer Resources
    You will need at least one multimedia computer workstation with Internet access. We recommend, as a minimum, using Macintosh II series running Stystem 7.0 or higher, or a 386 IBM-compatible PC running Windows 3.1 or higher.


    The Web portion of this lesson should take one to two class periods. After viewing the Web sites and discussing some of the critical questions, students should have one to two periods in which to write their essays.

  • Step One: The students should begin with the images from the AMERICAN VISIONS site:

  • A Black and Tan Dive, c. 1889, Riis Collection.

  • 5 Cents A Spot, c. 1889, Riis Collection.

  • Flashlight Photograph of One of Four Peddlers Who Slept in Cellar, c. 1890, Riis Collection.

  • Room in a Tenement Flat, 1910, Jesse Tarbox Beales.

    Questions for students to consider:

    These questions ask students to hypothesize as to the identity and persona of immigrants in the photos.

  • Who were the immigrants?

  • What were the age, gender, class, and/or ethnic identity of the individuals?

  • Where did they live and what were their living conditions?

  • Are there any clues about their working conditions?

  • Ask students to place themselves in the photo and try to imagine how they feel in their new country.

  • How does their situation differ from what they thought they would find in America?

  • Step Two: View the images of Ellis Island.

    Questions for students to consider:

  • What was it like passing through Ellis Island?

  • How does the Ellis Island experience contrast with the images of tenement life?

  • Step Three: Ask the students to read the essay by a fifth grade student about Ellis Island. Ask the students to imagine that they are newly-arrived immigrants to America. Have them incorporate their Ellis Island experience into their essays. Ask the students to focus on their impressions formed by this experience and how it may contrast with what they heard about America before their journey.

  • Step Four: Visit the Virtual Tenement.

    Ask students to engage in the following visualization exercize: Imagine that you just came home from a twelve hour shift at the factory. There are seven people sleeping in one room with laundry strewn everywhere. You see very little hope of changing day-to-day conditions. Your neighbors are from different countries and speak different languages. The streets are noisy, dirty, and dangerous. Try to make connections between this site and the American Visions site to add details and character to your essay.
    Note: Visit the Apple site to download the VR plug-ins for your browser. Directions and information about how to configure your system so that you may view this site can be found there.

  • Step Five: Have students draft an essay as a homework assignment to be worked on in class the following day.

  • Step Six: Have students work from their drafts to finish the essays. If possible, make the photos available for the students to reference, either online or printed out.


    Working in Groups
    If you have access to one computer in your classroom with Web access, you can organize your class in several ways. Divide your classroom into two groups. Instruct one of the groups to do paper research while the second group is working on the computer. Bring in books, encyclopedias, etc. from the library for the group doing paper research. Lead the group working at the computer through an Internet search or allow the students in the class to take turns. (It may be efficient to have a set of bookmarks in the Web browser ready for the students before they start working on the computer). When the groups have finished working have them switch places.

    Look for Web Resources Together as a Class
    If you have a big monitor or projection facilities you can do an Internet search together as a class. Make sure that every student in your class can see the screen. Go to the AMERICAN VISIONS Web site and review the information presented there. Bookmark the pages that you and your students think are helpful. Go to a search engine page, allow your students to suggest the search criteria, and do an Internet search. Again, bookmark and/or print the pages that you think are helpful for reference later.

    Using a Computer Lab
    A computer center or lab space, with a computer - to - student ratio of one to three, is ideal for doing Web based projects. Generally, when doing Web-based research, it is helpful to put students in groups of three. This way, students can help each other if problems or questions arise. It is often beneficial to bookmark sites for students ahead of time and make suggestions. This way you can be sure that students have a starting point.

    Submit a Comment: We invite your comments and suggestions based on how you used the lesson in your classroom.

    Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students