Coming to America

Students will be viewing early footage of immigrants coming into Ellis Island. Along with the footage, first person accounts of actual immigrants will be playing. Students will view this film and be able to interpret and determine reasons that different groups of people might have left their homes and immigrated to the United States. The students will then come together in a whole group lesson and discuss their family’s origins. As a class, mark each student’s family origin on a map with string and create a path for their family from their homeland to the Americas. By the end of the lesson we will have a world map showing how all of the students made it to Maryland.

Lesson Objective

Students will be able to analyze, and discuss different immigration stories and compare them to their own by creating a map that shows where their families originated.



  1. Students have already been introduced to the unit on immigration. They will have spent a day or so discussing some of the basic history about why people came to the United States. This includes why people came to the U.S. back in the 1600s and then why they came around the turn of the 20th century. Review the conversations with the students about why the original settlers of Maryland came on the Ark and the Dove. Mention that those very same reasons were why new immigrants were still coming in the early 1900s (i.e. escaping religious persecution, traveling to start a new life, wanting more freedom).
  2. Ask your students if they have ever been to New York City. Talk to them about the Statue of Liberty and what it symbolized for the new Americans on the ships from different parts of Europe during the beginning of the 1900s.
  3. Tell students that if they go to visit Ellis Island today then they will see a movie that describes some of the reasons why people left all that they had to come to America. Using your computer and Promethean Board, show the following movie called “Island of Hope…Island of Tears.” (**It is very important that you watch the video ahead of time before you show it to your students!**)
  4. While the video is playing, stop a number of times during the film to discuss what is happening with your students. This movie is very different from anything they have ever seen before. Tell them that the voices on the film are from actual immigrants that came over on the ships from Europe and landed at Ellis Island. Prompt them with questions such as: How do you think it was for these people to leave all that they knew for a new world they knew nothing about? Do you think that they thought it was worth it once they got to see the Statue of Liberty? What were some of the reasons that people weren’t able to stay? Who were these people to stay with once they arrived?
  5. If they don’t know the answers to any/all of these questions, talk to them so that they can better understand. They will really love this movie and will want to hear anything/everything you can tell them!
  6. Next use a world map in your classroom. Pull one down from the wall (the old fashioned kind) or show one from the Internet. Explain to the students that everyone in their class has family that came to Maryland (America) from somewhere else. Most people have family that came here from other countries, but perhaps some children will only be able to trace family coming to MD from other parts of the United States.
  7. Hand out the Information Gathering Sheet called “Where Do I Come From?”
  8. Explain to the students that they will need to take this home with them and ask an older family member (grandparent, great aunt/uncle, if possible). They should ask them the questions on the page and encourage them to tell anything funny/special that they remember. Tell the students that they need to be returned within the next 2 days.
  9. Once all of the papers have been returned, allow time in class for the students to share their discoveries from home. The students will really enjoy telling their classmates about what they found out and where their ancestors came from. This conversation will most likely lead the students to talk about the various reasons why their families came to the USA. It will be amazing to see that some of the reasons are just the same as the settlers in the 1600s as well as those who came to Ellis Island in the 1900s. Seeing the students make these connections is really terrific! Also, being able to hear the struggles that students’ families went through to live here in America is also very heartening.
  10. Pass out a mini school picture (if you have these) and a long piece of yarn/string to each of the students. Using the World Map, have each child use a piece of yarn to trace the journey from their familiar country of origin back to Maryland. Once this is done the class will have a map that shows the class’ roots.
  11. Before the lesson is completed (this will take a number of days to completely finish), pass out the “Capture Sheet.” Ask students fill this out in order to see what they have learned from this lesson about the reasons for migration long ago and even in today’s modern world.


National Park Service, Island of Hope, Island of Tears, documentary available at