Ellis Island Simulation Lesson Plan

Instructor: Shanna Fox

Shanna has been an educator for 20 years and earned her Master of Education degree in 2017. She enjoys using her experience to provide engaging resources for other teachers.

Use this lesson plan to take your middle school students on an experiential journey. This simulation will help you provide information in a creative way about what it was like to be an immigrant entering the country through Ellis Island.

Lesson Objectives

Students will

  • identify the various experiences of immigrants who left their home countries to enter the United States through Ellis Island
  • read and analyze primary and secondary sources about Ellis Island in visual, audio, and print formats
  • organize their thoughts in a graphic organizer and use the information to write a detailed journal entry


  • 3 hours

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.


Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.


Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

Preparation and Materials

Simulations are heavy on preparation but can be seamlessly implemented on lesson day. The more prepared you are beforehand and the more procedures you have in place, the more smoothly the simulation will run.

  1. All Stations: Find a comprehensive article about what it was like for immigrants traveling from their home countries to the United States through Ellis Island. Select excerpts about each of these categories: reasons for immigrating, preparing for immigration, challenges faced by immigrants, and Ellis Island processing. Print a team set of each excerpted text to place at the four stations.
  2. Station 1: Find Ellis Island oral histories online. Use the names and some details from these oral histories to create a class set of short bios with pertinent details, such as country of origin, date of entry, and family details. Be sure to keep audio links or text printouts of the original oral histories for Activity 3.
  3. Station 2: Create a class set of note cards with various reasons for immigration, such as ''escaping religious persecution'' and ''seeking economic opportunity.''
  4. Station 3: Create a class set note cards with various preparations, such as ''saved for seven years and could only send two of five family members in steerage class'' or ''used life savings to travel first class''.
  5. Station 4: Create a class set of note cards with various challenges upon arrival, such as ''stayed on ship for three days waiting for inspection to be completed'' or ''struggled to answer questions in English; did not have access to a translator''.
  6. Station 5: Create a class set of note cards with various outcomes on them, such as ''returned to country of origin due to sickness'' or ''entry permitted, traveled North to live with family'.
  7. Create a graphic organizer in which students can record information from each station. Consider creating a section for them to record information from the note card as well as space for them to write some textual evidence from the article excerpt with supporting details.
  8. Create a list of discussion questions to prompt meaningful discussions after the simulation has been completed.
  9. The day before the lesson, set up the five stations in the classroom, entitled:
  • Station 1: Who Am I?
  • Station 2: Reason for Immigrating
  • Station 3: Preparing to Immigrate
  • Station 4: Challenges Faced
  • Station 5: Outcome

At each station, place class sets of note cards so each student can select one randomly. Place a team set of article excerpts at each station. Have graphic organizers ready for distribution before students enter the simulated experience.

Instruction and Activities

Unlike other types of lesson plans, the teacher instruction within a simulation often comes at the end of the lesson. Students will gain information as they move through the simulation in Activity 1. In Activities 2 and 3, additional instruction is incorporated.

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