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TeachNet Grant: City Of Immigrants: Immigration to New York City
Elizabeth Greenwood

Urban Assembly School of Business for Young Women
420 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10009

Second-Third Grade Social Studies/ English as a Second Language
About the Grant:

As immigrant children enter the New York City public schools in record numbers, their fate is uncertain.  Immigrants often need language support through English as a Second Language (ESL) services.  Thus, the work for immigrant students is charged with double the workload as a native English-speaking student.  Immigrant students are responsible for mastering their content material in classes, while simultaneously learning academic English.  This is a daunting task, and one that requires many supports for the student.  Unfortunately, immigrant students can find themselves in a hostile, insensitive learning environment in their mainstream education courses.  They can become alienated in a sea of unfamiliarity.  In order to build self- esteem while simultaneously teaching both content and language, I have developed an ESL/ Social Studies curriculum designed to teach students about the history of immigration to New York City, from the late 19th century to present.

How This Grant was Adapted:

While educators have published their experiences teaching foreign- born students through thematic units on immigration, these studies have been limited primarily to adolescent and college students (DelliCarpini, 2007, Leki, 2001).  The forthcoming curriculum project will target English Language Learners in the second grade, from ages seven through eight.  Thus, the strategies will be tweaked to accommodate early childhood developmental learning processes. As scholars have cited alarming dropout rates among English Language Learners and immigrants by the time they reach high school (Rivera- Batiz, 1996, Walquí, 2000), capturing youth at this early point in their educational careers may ultimately decrease dropout rates.

Lessons in "City of Immigrants"  introduce second and third grade ELLs to primary documents, teaching them how to analyze photographs and texts within their historical context.  All lessons follow the SIOP and workshop model, and incorporates all four linguistic modalities. Students engage in making text- to-self and text-to-text connections by reading accounts of child immigrants.  The unit integrates multimedia technoglogy, including interactive websites, digitized oral histories online, and documentary film.  As a culminating project, students interview family members to compile their own immigration histories.


What does it mean to immigrate?

What are push/ pull factors?

How do I analyze a photograph?

What is oral history?

How do I distinguish between the genres of historical fiction and oral histories?

How does nationality and gender affect individual's experiences?

Websites Used


This website features a wealth of oral histories from immigrants recounting their experiences coming to America.


This is a great interactive resource that guides students through a virtual tour of Ellis Island.  It is especially accessible for elementary students.


This website is an archive of photographs taken by Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis of immigrant families in the Lower East Side.  It features many photogrphs of children that students respnd to enthusiastically.


Another archive of photographs taken in the late 19th/ early 20th century features immigrant worklife.


The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is the authority on the neighborhood's legacy as an immigrant touchstone.  These resources feature adaptations especially for ELLs.

Standards Addressed:

ESL Standards Grades 2-4

Standard 1: Students will listen, speak, read, and write in English for information and understanding.

Standard 2:  Students will listen, speak, read, and write in English for literary response, enjoyment, and expression.

Standard 3:  Students will listen, speak, read, and write in English for critical analysis and evaluation.

Standard 4:  Students will listen, speak, read, and write in English for classroom and social interaction.

Standard 5:  Students will demonstrate cross- cultural knowledge and understanding.

Social Studies Standards

Social Studies Standard 1:  Students will study the major social, political, economic, cultural, and religious developments in New York State and United States history involves learning about the important contributions of individuals and groups.

Lesson 1:


LESSON TOPIC:  What sacrifices would you make to immigrate?

Language Skills
Speaking/ Listening   Students will listen to a read aloud and their partner.
    Students will present their responses to "the suitcase question" orally.
Reading/ Writing   Students will read about sacrifices and immigration.
    Students will write and draw their answers to the "suitcase question."
Content Skills
    Students will define the term immigration.
    Students will identify Europe and the United States on a map.
Students will make critical choices to place themselves in the position of a 19th century immigrant.

Key Vocabulary
    Immigration, immigrant, sacrifice, Europe, possession

- When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest
- World map
- Small suitcase
- Examples of possessions that could fit inside a suitcase- photos, clothing, books, etc.
- Yarn
- Suitcase worksheet
- Chart paper/markers

Pose the question to the whole group, "Have you ever had to leave somewhere you loved? What did it feel like?"  Students turn- and- talk to their partner about these experiences.  Have a few students share to the class their experiences. 

Introduce key vocabulary: immigration, immigrant, sacrifice, Europe.  Students chorally repeat and define these phrases.  Introduce read-aloud book, When Jessie Came Across the Sea.  Tell students that they will be hearing the story about a 13 year- old girl who emigrates from Eastern Europe to New York City in the late 1800's.  Have two students come to the map and tack yarn from Eastern Europe, across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City.  Read from pages 2-18 that discuss the journey to the United States.  Stop at page 10 for students to turn-and-talk with their partner to summarize/ ask a question. 

Point out that Jessie could only bring one suitcase with her from home to begin her new life in America.  Model practice activity for students by thinking out loud, pretending to be an immigrant from the same time period moving to America.  Show small suitcase to class saying, "I must choose only a few things to bring in my suitcase.  What should I bring?  I will bring my favorite doll to keep me company along the way.  I will bring a photo of my grandmother and grandfather who I am leaving behind, etc."  Model this procedure a few times, then write the responses on chart paper in complete sentences.  Ask students to share a few ideas of what they would bring.  Provide sentence starters for students to refer to such as, "I would bring," "This possession is important to me because," etc.  Ask students to share a few ideas of what they would bring and why these items are important to him/ her.

Individually, students draw pictures of the possessions they would bring inside a picture of a suitcase.  They will write several sentences explaining their choices and why they decided these items would be important to have in their new lives.  Students with low literacy skills/ newcomers can draw and/ or make a list.

Students will share their suitcase with the whole group.  Students will be prompted to comment on other students' choices.

- Homework:  Ask someone at home if they have ever had to move, and had to let go of something they loved/ were forced to make difficult choices.  What was that like?  Write their responses and/ or report back to the class,
- Writing:  How did you feel when you were forced to choose only a few items to bring?  How can this process help us to be grateful for what we do have now?
- Ask students to each bring in a small item from home to put inside a real suitcase in the classroom.  Objects could include small stuffed animals, toys, pictures, etc.  Ask students to estimate how many objects will fit in the suitcase before it exceeds its limit.  Leave these objects in the suitcase for duration of unit to visibly symbolize the journey.

Lesson 2:


LESSON TOPIC: Push/ Pull Factors, Part I
Language Skills
    Speaking/ Listening  Students will listen to one another.
         Students will present their decisions orally.
  Reading/ Writing    Students will read scenarios to one another.
        Students will write their responses to push/ pull scenarios, label in a graphic organizer.

Content Skills
    Students will define "push" factor and "pull" factor and understand the distinction.
    Students will describe ways in which people can be drawn to or away from a place or situation by circumstances.
    Students will categorize push and pull factors in their in lives.

Key Vocabulary
    Push factor, pull factor, motivation

MATERIALS: rope, sentence strips, large T- chart labeled PUSH FACTORS/ PULL FACTORS, situation cards

Students will be divided into two groups, one half called "push" and the other called "pull."  The two groups will stand on opposite sides of the room from one another, while the teacher stands in the middle, explaining that they will be playing a game of tug-o-war.  The teacher will tell the students that both "push" and "pull" groups want the flag in the middle of the rope equally, and they will have to work together as a team in order to earn the flag in the middle.  Before the students begin, a few volunteers could model pushing and pulling for the group for those who are unclear.  The students will then play tug-of-war a few times for no longer than five minutes.

Students will gather on the carpet to discuss their experiences playing tug-o-war.  The instructor will pose questions such as "What strategies did your team use to pull the rope?" and "What did you feel like when you were struggling to capture the flag in the middle for your team?  What emotions did you experience?"
Explain to students that people immigrate for many reasons, but these can generally be divided into two categories; push factors and pull factors.  In our lives, we are motivated by these factors everyday.  Read several scenarios of each, for example:
- Virkin's room is very messy and unpleasant to play in because he and his brother have not been completing their chores.  There is no room on the ground to sit and play a boardgame, the room smells like dirty clothes, and there is dog hair everywhere.  But the living room is clean, comfortable and fresh-smelling.  They leave their bedroom and go to the living room to play their game.

Ask students to turn and talk to their partner about which part of the story is the push factor, and which is the pull factor.  Have a few students share out, accentuating the fact that the messy room is the push factor to leave, and the clean living room is the pull factor prompting their move.  Provide a short definition of each- " A PULL factor is something that attracts us to move to a new place."  "A PUSH factor is something that makes us want to leave our home and go someplace new."  Record these examples on a large T-Chart with the two categories.  Review similar scenarios a few times if students struggle understanding the difference.

Begin by modeling practice activity.  My partner and I read a situation card together that states:
- I am very hungry when I come home from school.  I will..

Model discussing how it feels to be hungry and what one could potentially do to solve this problem.  Then determine if hunger is a push factor or pull factor.  Decide together through a modeled discussion that hunger is in fact a push factor, and walk over to the side of the room labeled "push."

Continue by modeling a pull factor with a different student, such as:
- The Children's Museum is showing an exciting exhibit on Ancient Rome.  Since I studied this period in class, I want to go badly.  I will..

Again, model a discussion with a partner about how I would feel if there was an exhibit or event that I really wanted to see.  Determine that this is a pull factor, and walk over to the side of the room labeled "pull."

After this demonstration, give partnerships a situation card and follow the same procedure.  Partnerships will sort themselves appropriately, and can check with other partnerships in their group to determine if they are in the correct category.

Have students read their cards orally to the group, and explain their rationale behind categorizing their scenario as "push" or "pull."  Ask the class if they agree or disagree, and facilitate debate over the categories.  Move students to appropriate category if they were miscategorized.

Students will write a short reflection piece describing their afternoon when they get home chores, eating dinner, etc.  Prompt them to think and write about which activities they complete as a result of a pull (watching TV., playing games, talking on the phone) and which they do as a push (chores, homework, etc.)  Beginners can fold a piece of paper in half and illustrate push and pull factors on either side.

Bring class back together to review the definition of push factors and pull factors by having students volunteer a few examples.  Incorporate TPR by prompting students to physically push their hands away when discussing push factors, and bringing them in to demonstrate pull factors.  Explain to students that they will be learning about the different motivations of 19th century immigrants to New York City that prompted them to leave their homeland. 

- Homework: Students can write a "push/ pull" book report, looking at the decisions and conflict a main character in the story undergoes to determine which are push/ pull factors. 
- Students can interview someone at home to ask them about what motivates them and ask them to explain why.

Lesson 3:


LESSON TOPIC: Push/ Pull Factors, Part II
Language Skills
    Speaking/ Listening  
          Students will listen to a first- hand historical account
   Reading/ Writing       
           Students will read immigration scenarios
           Students will write in a graphic organizer
           Students will write from the perspective of an Irish immigrant
Content Skills
     Students will identify the social, political, and economic motivations for immigration to New York City in the late 19th century.

Key Vocabulary: religion, politics, prejudice

- T- Chart
- Situation cards
- Laptop computer
- Tracks: Impressions of America  Episode 109 (http://explore.ecb.org/programs/idea4d?PROGID=274050)

MOTIVATION:  Show students a clip from Tracks: Impressions of America Episode 109, "The Urbanization of America."  Stop tape about three minutes into it and ask students to define immigrant.  At this point, remind students about the definitions of "push" and "pull" factors.  Tell them that they will be hearing about various push/ pull factors that propelled 19th century immigration to the U.S.  Prompt students to listen for what pushed the character Duncan out of Poland, and turn and talk to their partner to discuss.  Stop video after this scene and record student answers- religious persecution, political unrest, etc.)  Then restart video and stop after Irene's scene.  Ask students to turn and talk to their partners about what pulled people to America.  Record results such as the possibility of higher paying jobs and a better quality of life.

Students will follow the same procedure as the previous lesson, being broken into pairs and given scenarios for actual push/ pull factors that affected immigration to the U.S. Model practice activity by reading a situation such as:
- Jessie lives in a poor village in Germany with her grandmother.  In order to support her family, she wants to find a job sewing in the United States, where she can potentially earn more money.

Discuss the situation with a volunteer partner, trying to determine if this is a push or pull factor.  Ultimately agree that it is a pull factor, and walk over to the "PULL" side of the room and place the situation card on poster.  Model the same procedure with a push factor, such as:
- Sean is an Irish boy who experiences much prejudice from neighbors who do not like his religion.  He is sick and tired of being made fun of because he is Catholic.  He moves to the United States with his family in order to practice his religion freely. 
Again, model a debate with a volunteer partner, determine that this is a PUSH factor and categorize the card appropriately. 

Students will follow this procedure in partnerships. Partnerships will sort themselves appropriately, and can check with other partnerships in their group to determine if they are in the correct category.

Have students read their cards orally to the group, and explain their rationale behind categorizing their scenario as "push" or "pull."  Ask the class if they agree or disagree, and facilitate debate over the categories.  Move students to appropriate category if they were miscategorized.

In a T- chart graphic organizer, student record the various push/ pull factors that prompted immigration. 
 Listen to audio of Bertha Devlin from 1923 discussing why she left Ireland and moved to America from http://wwnorton.com/college/history/inventing/interface/ch18/ch18_features.htm

Here she discusses being poor in Ireland and her desire to see the U.S. 
Students write a first person recollection of Bertha as if they were this poor Irish girl and what she experiences in her desire for a better life, but sadness leaving her country.

Students will read their rough drafts and others will list a few push/ pull factors that prompted late 19th century immigration to NYC.

Homework:  Finish firsthand account and publish.
- Write a diary entry each night from the perspective of Bertha.
- Explain to someone at home the definitions of push factors and pull factors in terms of immigration.  Ask them if they can think of any other factors.

Lesson 4


    Language Skills

        Speaking/ Listening  
            Students will listen to a read aloud.
            Students will listen to first- hand oral histories from immigrants who crossed through Ellis Island.
            Students will present information orally.

        Reading/ Writing   
            Students will read captions from websites.
            Students will fill in a KWL chart.
            Students will write three questions.

       Content Skills   
          Students will distinguish between the genres of historical fiction and oral history.
          Students will use technology to explore a historical place.
          Students will use primary sources to interpret one immigration experience.

Key Vocabulary:  voyage, Ellis Island, Yiddish, inspection, examination

- The Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff
- Laptop computers
- Overheard Projector or SmartBoard
- KWL chart
- Venn Diagram
*note to instructor- this lesson should only be taught in a 90 minute block, as motivation/ presentation will take 20 minutes, setting up students on computers will take about ten minutes, and the virtual tour should be completed at a leisurely pace, giving students plenty of time to interact with the documents and audiovisual components.

Tell students that they will be learning about an important place in American history- Ellis Island.  Ask them to turn and talk to their partners to tell them everything they have learned so far about immigration, including push/ pull factors.  Fill in KWL chart together from student suggestions. 

Show students the cover of the Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff, and explain to them that they will hear the story of a boy named Grisha who immigrates to America from Russia and passes through Ellis Island.  Explain that this is a piece of literature provide in the genre of historical fiction, meaning a fictional story that takes place in the past, but also has some elements of truth from which we can learn more about the immigrant emergence.  Relate to When Jessie Came Across the Sea.  Invite students to give the thumbs-up sign when they think they hear a push/ pull factor that prompted Grisha to immigrate. 

Show Ellis Island on a map of New York City.  Direct partnerships of  students to go to website http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/immigration/tour/index.htm, bookmarked in advance.  Teacher will model on overheard projector or SmartBoard. 
Go through tour with students the first time.  Invite students to stop on the first slide, and play audio of Lawrence Minwald, a Polish immigrant explaining his journey when he was six years old.  Watch video and view photos.  Follow same procedure for the next seven "stops" on the tour.  Ask students to relate these oral histories to the Memory Coat. 

Students fill in their Venn diagram in partnerships to compare and contrast Geisha's experience an Ellis Island with the other immigrants featured on the tour.  Model a few examples, such as "Grisha passed through the examination room, but he was not examined as closely as Rachel and her family."  Have groups share their findings.  Record on overhead.  Write three questions that you would like to know more about Ellis Island.  Save questions for tomorrow.

Explain to the class that they have seen two examples of ways to learn and interpret immigration history- through historical fiction and through oral histories/ primary sources.  Ask students to name the differences and similarities they see between the Memory Coat and the virtual tour of Ellis Island.  Possible answers may include the fact that the Memory Coat is illustrated with color drawings while the Ellis Island photo are black and white primary sources.  Tell them that tomorrow they will explore Ellis Island more in depth.

- Write a diary entry from the perspective of Grisha or another immigrant we met today who passed through Ellis Island.

- Cut a picture from a newspaper.  Compare/ contrast to an illustration from a storybook.  How are the alike/ different?  What kind of information does each

Lesson 5:


Students will read questions orally.
Students will answer questions orally.

    Reading/ Writing        
       Students will read captions from a website and accompanying primary documents.
       Students will gather read/ listen for specific information and record in on a webquest worksheet.

    Content Skills
        Students will identify and describe the various stops  immigrant made passing through Ellis Island.
        Students will discuss and predict various motivations for making immigrants pass through Ellis Island.

Key Vocabulary: harbor, baggage, medical, evidence

- Laptop computers
- Overhead projector or SmartBoard
- Webquest worksheets

Pass back the three questions about Ellis Island each student wrote out yesterday.  Ask them to read them first to themselves, and see if they can elaborate anymore specifically, or think about why they want to know the answer to that question.  Have students read their questions to their partner.  

Explain to students that they will be taking the virtual tour of Ellis Island again today, but this time they will be looking for specific pieces of information.  They will complete the tour with a partner, and record the answers to their questions on a webquest sheet.  Read through webquest sheet with students, clarifying any questions.  Tell students that they will be asked to give evidence, or show from where they garnered their answers.

Students will go through each stop on the Ellis Island interactive tour:
In pairs, they will answer each question corresponding to the appropriate stop.  Allow students plenty of time for this activity, and urge them to use the photos and xroads.virginia.edu/~ma01/davis/photography/images/riisphotos/slideshow1.html videos to answer questions with greater detail and supporting evidence.  

Students will fill in webquest sheet.  Compare answers with other students in the class.  Whole Group discussion:  Why was Ellis Island established?  What were the purposes of the medical examination, legal inspection, etc?

Call on partnerships to answer questions for each stop.  Invite them to show their evidence by allowing them to come up to overhead or SmartBoard to demonstrate their knowledge.  Review three questions from yesterday.  Were students able to answer them through their second tour of Ellis Island?

- Homework: Research on the internet Ellis Island today.  Is it still used for immigrants today?
- Teach someone at home about Ellis Island.  Now you are an expert!  Describe the stops each immigrant had to make.
- How do immigrants come to the U.S. today?  Research in magazines, newspaper, and internet the various ways in which people migrate to the U.S.

Lesson 6:

LESSON TOPIC:  Family Life in Immigrant Neighborhoods
Language Skills
   Speaking/ Listening    
      Students will discuss photos
      Students will listen to and respond to one another

 Reading Writing    
       Students will write in a graphic organizer

Content Skills
    Students will learn the way in which historians analyze documents to form historical narraitves about the past.  The will interpret primary documents to learn about life in the Lower East Side in the late 19th/ early 20th centuries.
Key Vocabulary: tenement, pushcart, detective, historian

- Hand lens
- Jacob Iris Photos
- T- Chart graphic organizer

Ask students what life is like for many immigrants who come to the US today.  Do they all come here to make lots of money?  Ask students to turn and talk to their partners regarding what they have learned about Ellis Island thus far.  Prompt them to use specific details and evidence.  Have a few partnerships share.  Now ask students to predict what life was like for turn- of- the- century immigrants after they left Ellis Island.  Where do you think they lived?  What kind of jobs did they hold?  What was life like for immigrant children?

Introduce the word "historian" to students, letting them know that a historian is someone who looks at documents such as photos to gain insight and clues about the past.  Historians use clues to learn about the past.  Today, students will be "history detectives."  Present the picture "Garters" by Lewis Hine (1910) on an overhead.  http://historyplace.com/unitedstates/childlabor/eating.jpg
Give students a few moments to really examine all the small details of the photo and interpret its meaning.  Pose questions for students to think about, such as, "Who are the people in this family?  Where did they come from?  Why did they move to New York City,  What kid of work are they doing?  What are the people in the photo thinking?"
Then ask the two most pivotal questions for the lesson:  WHAT DO YOU SEE?  WHAT DOES IT MEAN?  Have students turn and talk to their partners about this question.
Model a think- aloud to demonstrate the procedure they will follow:
WHAT I SEE: In this photo, I see a family of eight working with cloth.  It looks like they are making some kind of clothing to sell.  The children are working with the mother and father at the table in their apartment.  They re all looking down, working very hard. 
WHAT IT MEANS:  I think that this family must have immigrated to the United States to work together to make money.  All people in the family must work hard to help out, even the kids.

Give each partnership a differerent Jacob Riis or Lewis Hine photo that represents immigrant life in New York City at the turn- of- the century.  Give each student at hand lens to investigate the tiny details of their photos, and to inspire them to look for clues.  Let students make a list on everything they see in the photo, down to the most minute detail on the note taker labeled "WHAT DO YOU SEE?"  Students should write this in list form first.

After students have made an exhaustive list of all the history clues from their photos, they should individually use their T- Charts.  On the side labeled "I See," they should list  few important components from their photo.  On the side labeled "It means," they should analyze and interpret what that one part means in the larger context of the immigrant story they have learned thus far.  Students should do this individually, then share with their partners.

Ask students to give the definition of a "historian," and what he or she does.  Display another photo on the overhead, such as "Bohemian Cigar Makers Work In Their Tenement" by Jacob Riis. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma01/davis/photography/images/riisphotos/slideshow1.html

Have students lead discussion this time and share what they see in the photo and what it means. 

Elizabeth Greenwood graduated from the University of San Francisco in 2006.  She joined New York City Teaching Fellows Cohort 12 and taught second grade in the Bronx for two years.  Ms. Greenwood received an M.A. in TESOL from Lehman College in 2008.  She is currently the ESL Coordinator at the Urban Assembly School of Business for Young Women in Manhattan.

Name________________________________                                   Date


DIRECTIONS:  Please use the website http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/immigration/tour/stop1.htm
to answer the following questions.   Do not move on to the next stop on the tour until you complete the first step.  Answer in complete sentences.

Stop 1:  Voyage

1. Why does Lawrence get upset (his voice changes) when describing his arrival into New York harbor?

2. How would you feel?

Stop 2:  The Baggage Room
1. How many immigrants did Manny Steen see in the baggage room?

2. How would you feel if people pushed and yelled at you because you did not speak English, as they did to Manny?

Stop 3:  Stairway to the Great Hall
1. Why was Lawrence's father's face cut?

2.  How did Lawrence feel when they took his father away?

Stop 4:  Medical Exam
1. Describe the medical examination.  What took place?

2. Why did the doctors carefully examine Rachel's mother's feet?

Stop 5: The Great Hall
1. Look at the photo of the dining hall.  Which foods were served?

2.  How long did Paul Laric wait for his brother?

Stop 6: Legal Inspection
1. Why did the inspector tell Lucy's parents that she "did not belong" to them?

Stop 7: Money Exchange
1. How much money did each immigrant need?

2. Why did many immigrants lose their money on their journey to the United States?

Stop 8: The Journey's End
1. Why did Estelle cry when she saw her father?

2. What did her father say to her mother?


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