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Winning Lesson Plan
If I Had Been at Ellis Island

Subject: Language Arts, World History
Grade: 3-5

Brief Description

Students explore and share feelings about what it might have been like to enter the United States as an immigrant.



  • explore the emotions early immigrants might have had when they arrived in the United States.
  • work together to find ways children might have occupied themselves while waiting at Ellis Island.
  • express the feelings of immigrant children in poetry or song.
  • portray in 3-D their visions of waiting situations for immigrants to the United States.

    Key Concepts

    Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, immigrants

    Materials Needed

    • book Coming to America, a Story of Immigration, by Betsy Maestro
    • computer(s) with Internet access
    • index cards
    • paper and pencils
    • boxes for dioramas and scraps of fabric
    • ice cream sticks
    • wallpaper
    • wood or any other teacher-selected diorama materials.

    Lesson Plan

    • Read Coming to America to students and discuss the story events and their meanings. Invite students to talk with older relatives and friends to learn whether they know or knew people who immigrated to the United States. Students could interview such people and share the results with the class.
    • Have students visit the Web sites listed above. Lead the class in discussions of each site.
    • Let students work alone or in pairs to web the emotions they think immigrants experienced as they waited on ships in view of the Statue of Liberty or within the building on Ellis Island. Use any webbing program, such as Inspiration, or complete the concept map by hand on chart paper or chalkboard. Use the ideas represented in the concept maps to write poems or songs about the immigration experience. Share the poems or songs with the class and other students by posting them on a hall bulletin board.
    • Let students work in groups of two or three to list ways immigrant children might have occupied their time during the wait that sometimes took several days. Invite students to compare those activities to activities they might use today when waiting in line at the store or traveling on a long car trip. Collect students' favorite activities on index cards for everyone to refer to. Punch a hole through the stack of cards and keep handy on a key ring.
    • Have each child bring a shoebox or tissue box to use as they create a diorama that depicts an immigrant ship waiting in New York Harbor or a child waiting in the rooms on Ellis Island. Students might add small plastic figures or cardstock people. The people or ships will move if students mount them on ice-cream sticks. They can then slip the sticks through slips in the bottom of the boxes. Display the finished products for everyone to see.

    Activity Time



    Assessment will be done during student discussions and Web site visits. It will also be based on depth of their graphic organizers (for example, concept maps), written poems or songs, and dioramas completed.

  • Lesson Plan Source

    VaReane Heese, ([email protected]) Springfield Elementary School, Springfield, Nebraska

    As our highlighted lesson, the submitter was awarded a $50 honorarium. See our guidelines to submit yours!