- To help each student to develop greater self awareness and understanding of their own family's migrant roots.
- To help students develop empathy and respect for newcomers by sharing their own family experiences with each other and recognizing similarities as well as differences.
- To help older students see the "big picture" of American migration history by researching the history of various waves of migration, from prehistoric journeys across the Bering Strait to current inflows of migrants and refugees, marking significant periods on the timeline.
- Print out the pages of the Large Timeline(pdf format) and tape together as follows: Have the assembled Timeline hanging on the wall for the class activity.
- Print out at least one copy of the Student Worksheet (pdf format) for each student. [Students may want to have more than one copy in order to document maternal and paternal migration histories.]
- Send the Student Timeline Worksheets home in advance, so students will have an opportunity to interview family members and answer the questions as completely as possible. If old photos are available, encourage the students to bring those back with their completed worksheets.
- If students are unable to obtain exact information about their ancestor's migrations, encourage them to get general approximations of dates and region of origin.
Example of specific information: My great grandmother, Nellie [Elizabeth] Long migrated from County Cork, Ireland in 1878 to Rochester, New York, to take a job as a nanny
Example of general information: My grandfather came to the U.S. from Germany sometime around 1900. While we are uncertain where he first arrived he eventually settled in Kentucky, and worked as a sign painter.
- Have each student in turn share the migration story of one of their ancestors with the class.
- After sharing their story, have each student mark the point on the timeline when their ancestor arrived, and drawing a line from that point to either above or below the timeline, write in their ancestors' name, approximate date of migration, and country of origin.
- Where are there clusters of points on the timeline? Was the migration history of this class a continuous flow, or were there waves of migration?
- How many different ethnic origins are represented on the time line? Does the class all share the same heritage, or is there diversity?
- Which aspects of the each story are common to one another? Which are unique?
- What sort of work did their ancestors do when they first arrived in the United States? Was this a better job or harder job than they had in their old country? Why do you think this is?
- What reasons brought your ancestors (or yourself, if anyone in the class is a new migrant) to the United States? Did they choose to come on their own, or were they forced to come by circumstances?
- How do you think your ancestors felt about their migrant experience? How do you feel about it today?
- What do we share in common with migrants today? How can we celebrate our diversity?
List of Resources
Two other useful tools that will help children come to terms with ethnic diversity and the real problems that many communities outside the United States confront can be found below:
Appreciating America’s Heritage: Immigration Resource Guide for K-12 Educators, America Immigration Law Foundation, Washington, DC, 2009
This instructional guide for teachers provides lesson plans to introduce students, especially those who may not be exposed directly to ethnically diverse populations to the topic of immigration
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has a wide range of free educational material for all age groups that can be used by teachers in their classrooms to educate their students on issues related to refugees and cultural differences. They also offer lesson plans that can be used for children as young as nine years old to up to eighteen. Topics covered include basic information on refugees to a more in-depth discussion on such issues as human rights. To gain access to this material, please visit UN Refugees.org: