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Ellis Island Project Ideas

Instructor: Clio Stearns

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

Learning about Ellis Island can be one of the most exciting ways for students to study immigration. This lesson gives you some ideas for projects that will bring your Ellis Island study to life.

Why Ellis Island Projects?

Are you studying immigration with your students? If so, you probably understand the importance of teaching about Ellis Island, such a significant landmark in the history of immigration to the United States. When you teach your students about it, you want to be sure they can really envision Ellis Island in its heyday and what it was like for immigrants who used it as a gateway to this country. One way to make the most of your teaching about Ellis Island is to engage students in projects.

Projects promote learning by allowing students to work from a variety of modalities and access diverse learning styles. Often, projects also involve collaborative work, and many students find that they learn just as much from each other as they would from you or a textbook! The projects in this lesson are designed to get your students thinking critically about Ellis Island.

Act Out an Entry

When your students learn about Ellis Island, they will probably be surprised at the various hoops immigrants had to jump through. They might be interested in the fact that many immigrants had to change their names, or they might be surprised that immigrants were asked so many kinds of questions. Once your students have learned a bit about what it was like to immigrate through Ellis Island, break them into small groups to write skits about entering the country that way. Some people in each group will probably be immigrants; they will need to decide where they are coming from and why. Others might play Ellis Island workers, and it will be their job to decide what questions to ask. After your students have written and practiced their skits, let them design scenery and costumes as well. Then, have an Ellis Island performance day. Students should watch each other's shows, and you can also invite families or other classes to the showcase. Make sure to give your students plenty of opportunity to reflect on what they learned in this project.

Diagram of the Island

This project is a great one for students who tend to learn more visually. Break your students into small groups or partnerships. Each group should take responsibility for researching what Ellis Island actually looked like when immigration there was at its most active. They should learn about what the different offices were, where the boats docked, and what immigrants would first see and notice upon their arrival. Once your students have done adequate research, give each group a sheet of poster board and ask them to create labeled diagrams of Ellis Island. The diagrams should include careful illustrations and labels demonstrating an understanding of why the island was set up the way it was. A modification of this project might also include creating maps of where immigrants to Ellis Island tended to come from, thus showing what their path to the Island would have looked like.

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