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Ellis Island: Lessons We Learn From Immigration  

Subject: Social Studies

Grade: 6

Lesson Objective: By the end of the lesson, students should be able to (a) Explain the significance of Ellis Island as it relates to immigration and (b) Demonstrate the ability to discuss historical events in their own words.

Common Core Standard: 


Pose and respond to specific questions with elaboration and detail by contributing to the topic, text, or issue under discussion.

Materials: Projector or video screen, index cards (or any paper for students to answer questions), printed text.

Activity: After discussing the topic in lecture format, students will take turns in front of the class explaining what life was like on Ellis Island as if they were there. Have the students use their creativity. They can make up names, decide which country they're from, and describe the journey they took to get to the US. The students need to answer the critical question: What was coming to the United States like during the time Ellis Island was operational?

Key Term: Immigration


Have you ever heard of Ellis Island? 

Ellis Island is located between Jersey City in New Jersey and New York City in New York. The island was once known as a busy port for fishermen. Oysters were a popular catch. Has anybody ever had oysters?

In 1852, over 100 years ago, Ellis Island became an immigration station. That means people from other countries had to go through Ellis Island before entering the United States. 

Insert video if preferred. Brainpop video

Many people wanted to come to the United States of America at that time. They thought they would live freer, more prosperous lives than they had in their home countries. 

Immigrants came from all over. Some came from Poland, while others came from Syria or Turkey. A lot of Europeans had already come to the United States. At this time, most were coming from the southern and eastern parts of Europe. 

Did you know almost half of the people in the US today have some connection to Ellis Island? 40% of today's US citizens can trace their ancestry back to Ellis Island. (Note: The instructor may want to demonstrate this. One idea is to use a pie chart drawn on the board or choose ten people and explain that four of them would be connected to this immigration station. 

Some of the people coming to the United States were escaping poverty. They were poor, and their families were hungry. The United States promised opportunity. People wanted to get jobs and find land that would give them food for their families.

In 1852, the potato famine in Ireland had just ended, so people came to the US for a fresh start. In other parts of the world, many Jewish people weren't free to practice their beliefs, so they thought they could find more freedom in the United States. 

The peak years of Ellis Island's immigration status were between 1900 and 1914 when thousands of people passed through every day. 

When immigrants came to Ellis Island, doctors examined them by watching them walk up flights of stairs and looked them over to make sure they were healthy enough to work and do well in America. The doctors would treat them before they came through if they were sick. Most people were allowed to proceed with the immigration process following their health check-up.

People were also asked about crimes they might have committed before. Dangerous criminals were not allowed in. 

Most people came to the United States to escape conditions in their home country, and they were excited to become American citizens. 

In 1954, the immigration station at Ellis Island closed, and fewer people were allowed to come to the United States. Some of this was because of fears after World War II, which we will learn about later. 


Review key points and terms for students. 

Allow students to discuss what they learned. Give them a few minutes to think about what Ellis Island would've been like and what it would've been like for them if they were immigrants at the time. 

You might ask if anyone's family is from another country and allow them to talk about family or cultural traditions during this time, as well. 

If time allows, you may let students explore the Ellis Island records seeking ancestors. 

Additional Reading: 

Written by Melanie Combs
Education World Contributor

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