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Discovering Identity Through the Literature of Immigration

Subject:History/Social Studies

Grade Level: 9-12

Description: The unit explores personal and group identity through a lens that focuses on the literature produced by immigrants and those affected by immigration. It also delves into the essential questions of who builds American society and how the United States came to be, by engaging students in the listening, viewing, or reading of poems, stories, personal narratives, and supporting historical documents. The unit shows to the students that the phrase “Everyone in America is an immigrant,” which is often used anecdotally and dismissed quickly, is, in fact, a truism of sorts.

How it Works: Students trace the arrival of the first immigrants through an introduction to the literature of the Native Americans. They continue with an introduction to Chinese Americans, whose arrival was concomitant with the building up of American infrastructure during the industrial and expansionary eras of the West Coast. Next, they look at segregation and stratification in mid-20th Century America. Finally, they return to the Native Americans in order to address the modern immigrant climate in America, which will call upon an exploration of the recent events that led up to the protest known as “A Day Without Immigrants.”

Readings will be underpinned by the mapping of modern immigrants’ myriad of reasons, new and old, that support the act of immigration, and how this influences who they become.

Final Project/Product: The final project is a presentation that contrasts each student’s personal experience in arriving to the U.S. with the experiences of immigrants throughout history. The students produce a product, such as a poster or song, and use that as a base for the presentation.

Overall Value: The document-based questions help to focus the students’ inquiry. Total Physical Response strategies allow for students to associate kinesthetic learning with the concepts they are exploring in print and media. Collaborative multi-sensory projects and presentations enable them to engage in discussion and peer-clarification. Personal narrative and personal history bridge the experiences explored within the unit to the individual and personal level.

The standards used are those of the New York State English as a Second Language curriculum, which focuses on five key Learning Standards, and several dozen performance indicators. These include building skills in reading, writing, listening, and speaking for various purposes. The unit also addresses literary concepts.

English Language Learners: This unit focuses on the high-school-aged ELL’s need to communicate in order to learn the language. It integrates content with language instruction in a seamless manner by focusing on the acquisition of ideas as primary and language as the vehicle for their expression. These techniques are culled from various ELL studies and psycholinguistics-informed methodologies. They help the students to filter past their language barrier. They do so because they help the students to get right into using the language for what it was intended to be used – that is, communication.

Tips for the Teacher: ELLs, especially high-school-aged ones, are often frustrated by their linguistic development not matching up to their cognitive abilities. Frequently, their ideas are much more sophisticated than their English level permits them to express. It is crucial, therefore, for teachers to scaffold the learning in such a way that the linguistic burden for the student is alleviated. We do this by providing rich visual and aural environments, as well as opportunities for the students to match their speaking with their written skills, as they often come knowing how to write better than they can speak. An example of such scaffolding comes in lesson # 5, when the teacher uses the transparency and wet-erase pen to mark the rhythm for pronunciation in a poem. Active-listening strategies are also important to implement, as the students benefit from listening to one another. Using the computer as an instructional aid can be especially helpful with students who have used non-Roman alphabets and have trouble writing with a pen or pencil. It lowers their affective filter, as the initial hurdles of adjusting to a new alphabet often create embarrassment for older students.


 Standards Addressed
Students listen, speak, read, and write in English for information and understanding.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: ESL
Students listen, speak, read, and write in English for literary response, enjoyment, and expression.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: ESL
Students listen, speak, read, and write in English for classroom and social interaction.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: ESL
Students listen, speak, read, and write in English for critical analysis and evaluation.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: ESL
Students demonstrate cross-cultural knowledge and understanding.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: Social Studies

Day 1: How stories and myths explain the origins of culture
Students will identify the literary genre of “myth.”
Students make text-to-self identifications.
Students work collaboratively.
Photo links to images of Native American culture
Navajo Music Samples from the web
Copies of “The Earth on Turtle’s Back”
Partner Grid sample (see attached)
Stretched, The sacred directions, ncient , uprooted, budge, grasping, glittering
Procedure 1
Write the Aim on the board: What do stories and myths explain to us about the origins of someone’s culture?
a. Share photos of Native Americans with students.
b. Show artwork on the projector and play sample music from the Navajo.
c. Discuss the origin of the images and music.
d. Have students come up and record their answers in a Microsoft Word Document projected on the LCD screen.
Native American Images http://nativeamericanlinks.com
Procedure 2
Read “The Earth on Turtle’s Back.” With ELL students, it helps to read it aloud more than once. The teacher may model it, and then and allow more proficient students to also read aloud.
a. Partner Grid –Work with a partner to complete the grid in your own words.
The Earth on Turtle's Back legend http://turtleislandmusic.com/tilegend.html
Procedure 3
a. Concentric Circles : Students form two circles, one inside the other. The inside circle faces out. Each person must have exactly one other in front. The odd man out will be the caller.
b. a) Have students practice moving in opposite directions.

b) Ex: Caller says “Inside circle moves three faces to right.”

c) Caller moves students to left or right.

d) Caller calls out which circle is to answer question 1 from partner grid.

e) Students share with the person facing them.

f) Caller repeats steps 2-4 until the whole class has shared all three questions.

Cantos para Todos http://cantos.org/Booksfolder/37akabiyiin.aif
Procedure 4
Whole Class Discussion: Teacher asks for volunteers and records answers in a Microsoft Word Document on the LCD Projector.
National Museum of the American Indian http://nmai.si.edu/
Answer the question: What do you know about the animals in these stories? If you know nothing, look in an encyclopedia, on the Internet, or at the library and tell what you learned in your own words.

Day 2: How people’s lives change after immigration
Students will learn to brainstorm in a graphic organizer.
Students will build familiarity with using the internet as a resource.
Students will understand the usefulness of a search engine.
Students will bridge together pre-existing knowledge of two historical perspectives.
Laptop cart with Internet-ready laptops for students
LCD cart and screen for teacher
Partner grid sample in a Word document
Procedure 1
Have students brainstorm a cluster map of what they know about China or Chinese people.
a. Introduce students to the Chinese aesthetic by showing images culled from historical photographs in the Chinese American Museum website.
Chinese American Museum http://camla.org/
Procedure 2
Show images of traditional Wild West movies from Google image search. (web link)
a. Discuss what the students know about both subjects.
b. Have them type up their thoughts as you type it on the projector screen.
Google Image Search, Keywords : Wild West http://images.google.com
Procedure 3
Have students access the website of the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum for images of Chinese-Americans in the West.
a. Think-Pair-Share : Discuss Chinese-American contribution to the Transcontinental Railroad, and how immigrants in general built up the American infrastructure.
b. Record your discussion in the partner grid (see attached).
Central Pacific Railroad Photographic Museum http://cprr.org/
Create a small to medium-sized chart paper graphic of your ideas from those we studied (tables, webs, diagrams, and timeline) and be ready to talk about what you learned from doing it for 1-2 minutes in class.

Day 3: The Imagery in Poetry
Students will be able to analyze a poem for cultural connections.
Students will take notes on main ideas presented in a film.
Students will draw connections between a poem and real experiences of immigrants.
Copies of “Poem #8/The Ox Poem” from the Angel Island Immigration Station
LCD and laptop with Internet connection
Video: “Carved in Silence”
main idea
Procedure 1
Display and read the short poem titled “#8” by an anonymous immigrant forced into captivity at the Angel Island Immigration Station during early 19th Century.
a. Again, for ELL students, reading aloud can be a learning experience. The teacher should model reading the poem aloud first, and then the teacher should ask for student volunteers to also read the poem. The poem can be read many times.
Paper Son http://paperson.com/ox.htm
Procedure 2
Have students answer the questions: Where is this person from? Where has he/she emigrated to? How is he/she feeling? What images do the words make you see in your mind? What other thoughts do you have about the poem? How can you connect the poem to your own life?
a. Students do a think-pair-share to discuss their answers and their reaction to the poem.
b. Whole class: Discuss the answers and any other ideas that may evolve from the discussion.
Procedure 3
Show the video “Carved in Silence” from the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation.
a. Have students take notes for future discussion.
b. You may want to review the concept of main ideas, and show them some cue words to help students become aware of main ideas presented in the film.
c. Note-taking as a skill can also be explored at this time, if your students are in need of an introduction or refresher .
Note Taking Skills http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Note_taking
Procedure 4
Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation's Resources for Teachers http://aiisf.org/resources

Day 4: Names and the cultural identity they impart
Students will identify the cultural origins of their names.
Students will listen actively.
Students will distinguish metaphor from simile.
Students will distinguish figurative language from literal expression.
Copies of “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros
2 student laptops
LCD projector
Procedure 1
Shared Reading : “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros.
a. Discuss where names come from and how American names have been influenced by the influx of ethnic groups.
b. Ask students to give some examples to illustrate their opinions.
My Name by Sandra Cisneros http://theliterarylink.com/mangostreet.html
Procedure 2
Explicitly teach metaphor and simile by finding them in the text of “My Name”
a. Practice distinguishing between metaphor and simile with the aid of the game “Telephone”
b. a) Students line up sitting in teams.

b) Only one person is the writer. This person types the answers into a Word document.

c) Teacher whispers phrases to one end of the telephone.

d) Line passes the phrase down in a whisper.

e) Winning team will have passed down all phrases as close to the original transmission as possible.

Write your own original metaphors and similes regarding your name and: a. what it means in your culture b. how often it is encountered in your community here in America c. how often you see someone with your name in our country’s media

Day 5: Sequencing ideas: writing about what we know about ourselves
Students will sequence events on a timeline.
Students will listen actively.
Students will use sequencing words effectively.
1.Overhead projector transparency of the Navajo Chant “There Are No People Song”
Timeline chart on a transparency
LCD projector
Procedure 1
Write a list of what you did today.
a. Use the words “first,” “second,” “then,” and “finally,” to indicate when, approximately, you did it.
b. Shared Reading of “There Are No People Song,” a Navajo Chant on overhead projector.
c. The teacher reads once.
d. Students chant together a second time, as teacher dots the words on the overhead, making students better able to stay on cue.
Sacred-Texts.com http://sacred-texts.com/nam/nav/ncm/ncm5.htm
Procedure 2
Model plotting sequence on a timeline by plotting the sequence of the chant.
a. Have students plot their own lives from birth to now in the same way that you did for “There Are No People Song.”
b. Allow students time to accomplish this.
Procedure 3
Think-Pair-Share: have students team up and show each other their timeline.
a. Share with class the most important moments we decided to plot on the timeline. What are some of the most important moments in all our lives? What were the most common time references (birth, religious ceremonies, family births and deaths, family moving, etc.)?
Interview a family member about the events back in your country that led to the decision to leave. Be sure to gather at least 10 significant facts about life before you emigrated from your family. This is research you will use for you final day.
Culminating Assessment: 1. Have students choose one of the following methods to show their understanding of the role of immigrants and their own role in modern American society: A storyboard/graphic novel A poster An essay A short play staged in a small group, recorded or live A song or rap, recorded or live A website A PowerPoint presentation 2. Have student present their work in a 5-8 minute presentation where everyone discusses what they learned about immigration and identity. You can use a rubric to help orient the students on how to present effectively.

Dominika Janiszewska Picco


Newcomers High School
2801 41st Avenue
Long Island City, NY 11101

Dominika Picco, herself an immigrant, is a New York City Teaching Fellow with a Masters of Science in English to Speakers of Other Languages. Before entering the New York City Department of Education, she worked in the field of Nutrition Education, organizing professional development seminars in the School District of Philadelphia. She has also worked as an English Instructor in São Paulo, Brazil, and a Program Coordinator for the National School and Community Corps, an AmeriCorps program. She is a trilingual speaker of English, Portuguese, and Polish and holds a strong interest in linguistics, both theoretical and applied.

Important documents for this lesson plan.



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