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Student Immigrants
Journey to Ellis Island

Students worked hard all week? Do they deserve a special reward for a job well done? This activity will offer students a nice break from structured learning. Adapt it to fit your needs. Have some Friday Fun.


This project could be planned to involve a handful of Friday afternoons. The learning that results will be well worth the time devoted to it.

"The most surprising thing about the Ellis Island simulation is how into it the kids get," Dr. Gene Solomon told Education World.

Under the wing of principal Solomon, eighth grade English and social studies teacher Tracy Goodman and her colleagues found a way to help their students understand and appreciate the immigrant experience by becoming "immigrants" themselves. The teachers designed a simulation in which students pass through a virtual "Ellis Island" in their own school.

"The students first research the history of immigration around the turn of the twentieth century," explained Goodman. "Focusing on one country, they study why the Italians came to America, the Polish, the Irish, and others. Using that knowledge, students develop a fictional, but realistic, family of their own. They are permitted to choose their own ethnic group. They work in families to create flags, family history, and related documents."

On the day of the simulation, students dress in clothing representative of their chosen heritage and, with their belongings in satchels and pillowcases, enter the "Great Hall" (also known as the auditorium) to learn what they are going to do during the day.

"Carrying passports, birth certificates, luggage, and money vouchers, students proceed with their families to various stations set up around the building," Goodman said. "They take literacy tests, citizenship tests, and face a board of inquiry. In the gym, they go to luggage inspection, currency exchange, and the dreaded health inspection. Along their travels, students come across pickpockets and challenges to their documentation. At many stations, Ellis Island employees (parents) speak in languages other than English to simulate language barriers."

At the end of the morning, students return to the "Great Hall" to take the oath of citizenship and join in singing the "Star Spangled Banner."

With the official simulation over, teachers begin a period of discussion and debriefing. Click the link below to learn more about that.


Student Immigrants Journey to Ellis Island
Education World (October 22, 2005)

Find links to more Friday Fun activity ideas in our Friday Fun archive.

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Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World