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Ellis Island Activities

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Studying Ellis Island is a great way to familiarize students with immigration history. The activities in this lesson will help you make the most of your work around Ellis Island.

Why Ellis Island Activities

Have you been wondering how to get your students more engaged in their studies of history? If you are working on immigration, there are many different things you can do to access students with diverse learning styles, strengths and passions. Instead of just working with a textbook, you might want to consider incorporating more hands-on activities into your teaching. Activities can energize a study by helping students become active agents in their own learning. A study of immigration to this country will often involve learning about Ellis Island, which was such an important gateway and landmark for so many immigrants. The activities in this lesson will help you bring your work around Ellis Island to life, invoking critical thought and active learning.

Reading and Writing Activities

The activities in this section get students reading and writing about Ellis Island.

Answer Your Own Question

Encourage your students to brainstorm a list of questions about the experience of immigrating through Ellis Island. Then, break your students into partnerships or small groups. Each group should focus on researching the answer to a specific question. Bring students back together and have them present their expertise from the reading they have done in their focal area.

Diary Entry

Ask your students to imagine they are immigrants coming to this country through Ellis Island. Have them get specific about what country they are coming from and why, as well as their age and gender. Then, ask them to write diary entries from their character's point of view. Give them a chance to share their entries with the class, and compare and contrast different perspectives.

Ellis Island Pamphlets

Have your students design pamphlets or brochures that provide information about Ellis Island to potential visitors. Their pamphlets should include historical information and interesting facts about the island; students will need to think through what is most important for others to understand.

Arts Activities

These activities are oriented toward engaging students with artistic interests and visual learning styles.

Immigration Map

Have your students work with world maps or globes for this activity. They should figure out a way to label the map so that it shows what parts of the world immigrants came from to Ellis Island. Then, have students discuss what parts of the world were and were not relevant, and why.

Diagram of the Island

Ask your students to work in small groups to create detailed diagrams of Ellis Island from the point of view of an immigrant there. Their diagrams should include labels that explain why each section of the Island was important.

Portrait of an Immigrant

Have students create portraits or clay models of an immigrant to Ellis Island. Challenge them to think about what emotions these immigrants might have experienced, and why. Their portraits should include realistic clothing and styles pertinent to the era.

Acting Activities

Finally, these activities will appeal to students with a dramatic flair.

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