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Best Instructional Videos: Immigration

immigrationThe United States is a country founded by immigrants. From the surge of immigration during the late 1800s and early 1900s to the current political debate on immigration reform, the issue has been a key one in our country for nearly 150 years. EducationWorld has scoured the Internet to bring you the most insightful and comprehensive educational videos on the topic of immigration.

For each video, we include a description and grade level. We also note the video's capacity for engagement (“cool factor”).


Ellis Island – History of Immigration to the United States

Source:  The Best Film Archives / YouTube

The Best Film Archives is a YouTube channel that provides original documentaries on various topics, rare WWII footage and much more. Many of the videos are full-length, running at least 30 minutes. The group does not produce the films it posts; rather, it aggregates historical programming.

Grade level:  Middle and high school

Run time:  28:27

Description:  Narrated by the venerable Gene Hackman, this film takes students through the process of immigrating to the United States via Ellis Island. The journey starts with the reasons many people left Europe, describes what the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean was like, and outlines what was involved in navigating the immigration process at Ellis Island. Archival film footage and original photographs help paint the picture of turn-of-the-century immigration, and first-hand accounts help to put students in the shoes of the immigrants.

Cool factor:  Gene Hackman is always cool, and the footage of the cramped steamships and endless lines of people waiting to be processed do more to humanize the experience than can any textbook.

Crash Course U.S. History: Growth, Cities and Immigration

Source: Crash Course U.S. History

Crash Course World History is a YouTube channel featuring short, fast-paced video lessons about world history. Videos move quickly, at times almost frantically, making them more like entertaining overviews than serious lessons. With that said, the information presented is sound and often contradictory to “legends” that are often accepted as fact.

Grade level:  Late elementary, middle and high school

Run time:  12:45

Description:  This fast-paced look at the United States’ second immigration boom is filled with fascinating facts about why people left their homelands, where they settled, and what they contributed to their new country. Host John Green also digresses a bit into global immigration, which helps to put the U.S. experience into context. There is so much information here that it requires multiple viewings to fully absorb, but the video is so entertaining that nobody will mind.

Cool factor:  High. In addition to presenting historical information in an entertaining fashion, the video is peppered with pop culture references.


Families Divided

Source: “The Rachel Maddow Show”

“The Rachel Maddow Show” is a daily news and opinion program that airs on MSNBC. The show features a mix of live guests, feature reporting and editorial commentary.

Grade level:  Middle and high school

Run time:  16:29

Description:  With the current state of U.S. immigration in flux, this video brings viewers into the lives of families that have been broken up as a result of current immigration laws. It highlights the plight of parents, spouses and siblings forced to live apart as family members wade through the current immigration bureaucracy.

Cool factor:  Moderate. This is a straightforward news program, so there isn’t a lot of room for witty banter. The glimpse into the real-world effects of current immigration laws can, however, be an eye-opener for students.


Immigration Reform Could Still Happen

Source:  The Washington Post

Founded in 1877, the Washington Post is the most widely circulated newspaper published in Washington, D.C. The paper has won 47 Pulitzer Prizes as well as 18 Nieman Fellowships and 368 White House News Photographers Association awards.

Grade Level:  Middle and high school

Run Time:  1:44

Description:  Immigration is one of the top three issues on President Obama’s agenda. But will House Republicans cooperate? This is the question the Post aims to answer in this brief clip. There is ample speculation here, but it is based on solid sources, with a keen eye on the political machinations behind such an ambitious legislative action.

Cool factor:  Moderate. Again, this is a cut-and-dried news piece, so there’s little room for the irreverent.


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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