Lesson Plan: Overview

Turn of the Century Immigration

Lesson 1: Changing the Face of America
Lesson 2: Outside Looking In - Immigration Acceptance in America

Grade Level: High School

Gadsden Report on Immigration

Academic Standards

Standard USHC-5: The student will demonstrate an understanding of major social, political, and economic developments that took place in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century.

5.6 Explain the influx of immigrants into the United States in the late nineteenth century in relation to the specific economic, political, and social changes that resulted, including the growth of cities and urban ethnic neighborhoods, the restrictions on immigration that were imposed, and the immigrants’ responses to the urban political machines. (H, G, P, E)

Social Studies Literacy Elements

K. Use texts, photographs, and documents to observe and interpret social studies trends and relationships

O. Consider multiple perspectives of documents and stories

Essential Questions

Lesson 1

1. Why did immigrants leave their homeland?

2. What attracted them to America?

3. How were the ports of entry similar and/or different?

Lesson 2

1. How did immigrants adjust to their new home?

2.  How did Americans respond to the new immigrants?

Historical Background Notes

Lesson 1

Between 1880 and 1920 the U.S. acted as a huge magnet for immigrations from all directions. Most settled in large cities like San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Boston. Previous immigrants had come to America from western and northern Europe and were often well educated, spoke English and had useful skills. Except for the Irish, most were also protestant. By 1880, the trend of immigration changed. Most coming to America were from southern and eastern Europe and tended to be Catholic or Jewish, poor, unskilled and knowing no English. Their habits and culture were very different from native-born Americans.

America was viewed as the “golden door” to opportunity – hope of a better life. For this new wave of immigrants, life in Europe and Asia was difficult at best. They came seeking to escape famine, land shortage and religious or political persecution. Others, known as “birds of passage”, wanted to come to America temporarily for money with the intention of returning to their homeland. There were some political efforts in the southern states like S. C.  to recruit immigrants for more desirable locations such as Germany and Belgium in an attempt to increase the white labor force for the mills and to sell farm land.

Most immigrants arrived by steamship. Travel across the Atlantic from Europe took approximately one week, while Pacific crossing from Asia took nearly three weeks. The cheapest accommodations were in steerage, the cargo area where conditions were crowded and unsanitary. Upon arrival at the designated port of entry, immigrants faced the question of whether they would be admitted to the U.S. The process at Ellis Island in NYC required a physical exam and government inspection of documents. As the major immigration station in the US at the turn of the century, nearly 20 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island. Immigrants arriving from Asia gained admission at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Processing at Angel Island was a contrast to Ellis Island. Immigrants faced harsh questioning and lengthy detentions in a rundown, dirty facility. Writings know as Tibishi poems have been found on the detention and barrack walls expressing the immigrant’s anger and disappointment in America. Immigrants coming to the Port of Charleston, S.C., on the other hand, were sponsored with free passage, guaranteed jobs, and a place to stay with local families while in Charleston. A welcoming committee tried very hard to meet all their needs.

Lesson 2

Although life in America was a great improvement in most cases, it had a hard time living up to the dreams and expectations of most immigrants. They were immediately faced with finding a place to live, getting a job in addition to understanding an unfamiliar language and culture. It was difficult to adjust to life in a large industrial city. Their urban living conditions could be classified as slums with all the typical issues and problems associated with that environment. Most took the lowest paid jobs and often whole families including young children worked to earn enough to survive.  Working conditions were unsafe with long hours at little pay. 

Immigrants from each country tended to live in the same neighborhoods. These ethnic neighborhoods were like cities within cities offering new immigrants a chance to hold on to some aspects of their old world. These de facto neighborhoods provided familiar foods, others who spoke their language, and worship services. Often a political boss would offer services and aid in exchange for political support.

After 1886, the immigrants’ first sight of America was often the Statue of Liberty. At the base of the statue were the words written by Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor

Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”

Not all Americans agreed with this sentiment. Many native-born Americans resented the new immigrants. Industrialists were delighted with the plentiful cheap labor, but American workers were worried by these new arrivals' willingness to work long hours for low wages. American “nativists” believed the new immigrants were a physically and mentally inferior group. Some feared they were radicals who wanted to destroy American democracy. There were some efforts to restrict the influx of immigrants. Congress tried to pass a Literacy bill in 1897 to restrict those immigrants who could not read, but President Cleveland vetoed the bill. Congress did exclude a particular group of people during this period – the Chinese. Because of language and cultural differences, the Chinese appeared to be unwilling to “Americanize”. Asian immigrants, who were victims of severe interrogation and detention on Angel Island, were often left with feelings of anger and disappointment. Tibishi poems on the barracks and detention room walls serve as proof. In 1882, Congress responded to California’s demands by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibiting Chinese workers from entering the U.S for 10 years. Also, the Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan supported both countries' desire to limit the Japanese from leaving their native country and coming to America.


Primary Sources

Lesson 1

Documentary Photo Aids – Immigration, American history photo series

America Revisited – Phototext Division Book 2

City of Charleston Yearbook, 1906. South Caroliniana Library. University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina. Call #975.7911  c38y.

Immigration.” American Memory Collection. Available on the Internet, Library of Congress. Accessed August 1, 2007.

Coming to America” by Neil Diamond. 1988 - CD

Tibishi Poems. “Angel Island.”  Internet, Cal Heritage Library, University of California, Berkeley, California. Accessed August 1, 2007.

Lesson 2

Child Labor – pictures from SC textiles. Courtesy of South Caroliniana Library. University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina:

  • Olympia Mill (Photographs M-PL-C-ML-2)
  • Mill hand, Clinton, by Lewis Hine, 1908 (Photographs 12965)
  • Orr Mills, Anderson (Photographs M-PL-ANC-1)
  • One of the two cotton mills by the river [Mt. Vernon Duck Mill], Harry M. King, c. 1898-1899 (Photographs 12050.6)
  • Warping room, Olympia Cotton Mills, Columbia; stereograph by Underwood & Underwood, front and back (Photographs 13021.2)
  • In the great spinning room – 104,000 spindles – Olympia Cotton Mills; stereograph by Underwood & Underwood (Photographs stereographs)

DAS – photo series – urban life, see immigration 10, immigration 11, immigration 12

Aldrich, Thomas Bailey. “Unguarded Gates,” 1895.

Lazarus, Emma. “The New Colossus,” 1883. 

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle, 1906.

Secondary Sources

Lesson 1

The Americans – classroom text book

Lawlor, John., Jr. “My Reward: Outstanding Student Projects Based on Primary Sources. Available from the Internet, National Council for the Social Studies. Social Eduation (November/December 2003).

Lawlor, Veronica. I Was Dreaming to Come to America: Memories from the Ellis Island Oral History Project. Puffin Books. New York, 1995.

Lesson 2

The Americans – classroom text book

Archie Vernon Huff. Greenville: The History of the City and County in the South Carolina Piedmont. University of South Carolina Press. 1995

Lesson 1

• CD player

• Laptop computers and headsets

• Small dry eraser boards, markers and erasers

Lesson 2

• Construction paper for mounting poems

• Color pencils for illustrations

Lesson Plans

Lesson 1

1. Pre-Writing Assignment – students complete a “Reading to Learn” assignment  prior to the lesson.

2. Hook – Students listen to a recording of “America” by Neil Diamond with a discussion to follow about the message and tone of the song.

3. Chart from The Americans  p. 461 – use in class to discuss overall immigrant patterns.

4. Large group discussion of their reaction to the homework reading. List the responses to Essential Questions # 1 and 2 on the board. Make a copy to refer to later.

5. Put students into groups of 6. Each group has three folders – one each on Ellis Island, Angel Island and Charleston, SC (see Activities for lesson 1). Working with a partner from the group, students examine the contents of one of the folders, complete the assignment, and then take turns sharing information with the other group members about each port of entry.

6. As a group, the students create a visual representation to answer Essential Question # 3. Each group presents and explains their visual.

7. Class Discussion with follow up question and answer period.

8. Each student completes the journal assignment topic “What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a nation filled with diverse ethnic groups?

Lesson 2

1. Review previous lesson on differences in reception at Ellis Island, Angel Island, and Charleston, SC.

2. Divide class in to small groups of 3 – 4 students:

  • Give each group several pictures of urban living and working conditions – slums, ethnic neighborhoods, children in factories, see Primary Sources section, Lesson 2 above. After viewing the pictures, students are to complete the photo evaluation worksheet.
  • Distribute copies of “Unguarded Gates”, “The New Colossus”, and excerpts from The Jungle  to each group. Have students follow along as the teacher reads the 2 poems. Students then silently read the excerpts from The Jungle.  Students should mark each of the text as they read, and select the 3 most important words in each selection. Using these 3 words, students write a summary of the theme/message of each work.

3. Generate a class list of the problems facing the immigrants. Compare the list of problems with the list of reasons to come to America created in the previous lesson. Ask the students how they think the immigrants felt about their decision to come to America? Why might they think they made the right/wrong decision?

4. Compare these responses to issues surrounding immigration today. What similarities/differences do they see?

5. Each student will create an original poem, letter, or diary entry in response to one of the following topics:

  • Child labor
  • Urban living
  • American reaction to immigrants
  • Tibishi poems from Angel Island


  • Poem needs at least 8 lines with 3 poetic devices – personification, metaphor, and simile
  • Include references to 3 or more historical facts
  • Letter/diary - 250 – 300 words, typed – only one page
  • Illustrated

6. As students finish work on their poems, have them prepare 3 questions they would like to discuss on today’s immigration issues during a Socratic Seminar. Topic for seminar: “Is America losing her identity”

Teacher Reflections


It has been 15+ years since I have ventured into a graduate history class. I’ve taken numerous education courses, but have been a little afraid of the history ones because of the reading and time commitment. When I first found out about TAHSC, I thought since it combined history and education I would be OK. What a powerful, exhausting 2 weeks. I loved it! The history content was detailed enough to engage me but not so hard as to overwhelm. It was a great review on some topics, a learning stretch on some new material and food for thought and additional research in a few areas. Overall, it was one of the best courses I have taken in a long time.

Master Scholar:

Paul Anderson was unique to say the least. It was a little weird having an instructor the age of my son! But, he was great. I quickly settled into my old “college mind set” and wrote down every word he said, even the jokes. I can read back over my notes now and it is like having him in the room with me. He helped me re-think Reconstruction and exactly where it fits in to the scheme of things. Normally, I just use it to finish up the Civil War uni,t but this year I spent much more time dealing with its importance and helping the students question just what was being re-constructed. I really liked the way he used primary documents himself to support and re-enforce his lecture. Teachers often don’t practice what they preach. It was nice to see Paul using the documents. I actually used several of them in my class this year. My students enjoyed reading Mayor Goldwyn’s letter on Sherman’s March. I also found some pictures of Columbia and showed them as I read the letter aloud. I think the students gained a better understanding of what Sherman did and why. We also read some of the Black codes – although I had to provide a transcript of some of them because I have some visually handicapped students. That was not fun! Paul’s explanation of the gold standard was probably the most beneficial to me. Economics is one of my weaknesses, and the way he explained the farmers debt was the first time I truly understood it. I can’t spend a lot of time on William Jennings Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech, but at least now I get it.

Cultural Institutes:

The cultural institutes were quite an experience for me. I graduated from USC in 1972 with a BA in Secondary Education – Social Studies, and I am embarrassed to admit that I have never been in the Caroliniana Library. “Back in the day” history professors just lectured, students took lots of notes and then gave the information back almost verbatim on a test. We NEVER were expected to do primary research. I have learned on my own the importance of primary documents like pictures, speeches, journals – especially for visual learners like myself. To have all those resources at my disposal was overwhelming. I would love to go back there and just play. I have shared my experiences there with my students, and I have 2 who want to do some primary research for their Senior Project next year.  I have been back to the State Archives several times – in particular while working with Leah Brown and the African American historic site lessons. I only wish we had similar library resources in Greenville. I really enjoyed the SC State Museum, too. I take my students there every year, but I’ve never been behind the scenes. I am currently working with the new Upcountry Museum.

Master Instructor:

I picked up some great teaching methods from Pam Rose. I have used several of her reading strategies, in particular, the word building exercise to help comprehension and summarizing. It was a great way to help the students mark up the poems we read in the second lesson.  Also, I adopted her reading for comprehension exercise and created my own “Read to Learn” graphic organizer. I shared it with the 10th grade World History teacher and we both use it now for all homework assignments. It should help with continuity from one class to the other.  The students did not like it at first because it forced them to read carefully and they couldn’t just read the sub-titles. They were, however, quick to recognize how much it helped. Now, they do it with out complaining and even ask me to count it as a grade. I am always looking for activities to demonstrate a lesson or topic. Pam’s activity with the hot air balloons was a great way to demonstrate cottage industries vs assembly lines.  When I used it in my class, it also helped the students understand the plight of factory workers. It was a quick effective way to demonstrate labor conditions in the early 1900’s. I added al little drama by turning out the lights to make the conditions, not so conducive to work. I walked around with a ruler and kept tapping my hand to make them work faster. Needless to say, it did not take long for them to start complaining.  Great lesson! As master teacher, Pam obviously had a lot to share with us. I did feel some what sorry for her though. There were several incidents when her portion of the days was cut short. I know she put a lot of time and effort into her demonstrations for us and felt she should have gotten her fair amount of time.

Strengths of lessons:

It would be so nice if I had the time, materials and support to generate units and lessons like this all the time. I spent untold hours working on the 2 lessons, asked several teachers to edit and critique them, and even did both lessons myself. I was very pleased with the outcome. They were well-organized and thought-out. When each lesson was over, I asked the students what they liked and what they would change. They liked the primary pictures (they always do) and the oral history interviews from Ellis Island. They enjoyed the interactive web site on Angel Island but decided the narrator was “gay”. They especially liked the visual representation activity comparing all 3 ports of entry. I’m convinced today’s teens were not allowed to color enough as children. They were enthralled with the information on Charleston. They said it gave them a 3rd perspective on immigration in the US that they had not known before. It led to a great discussion on whether SC was justified in recruiting certain types of people.

Weakness of lessons:

There are several things I will change and modify for next year. The government Year Book of Charleston document by Mayor Rhett was too long – I need to only give excerpts and select the strongest readers for that assignment. Also, Neil Diamond’s song “America” was not a big hit. I will try to find a more contemporary song. I really needed more unscheduled time to allow students to freely discuss and share. The short reflections served their purpose, but it is not a satisfactory substitute for conversation. Unfortunately time restraints keep me from allowing a lot of in-depth discussion and research. End Of Course testing is killing me.

In the Future:

I have already begun to make some plans for next year. I have contacted the Director of Education at the UpCountry Museum that just opened in Greenville last fall. I think it could become a site for primary research for my students. I have made plans to take our entire faculty to visit the museum and help them brainstorm how to involve High School students more. I also plan to involve my students, helping her develop activities that will appeal to teens. Finall,y I plan to contact Courtney Tollison, a history professor at Furman about doing some interviews with Greenvillians about the Civil Rights Movement in our area.  She just finished doing a film for the Upcountry Museum on WWII vets, and I am hoping we can help her do the same with those who remember desegregation.


Overall this has been a great experience. I loved being back in the role of student, enjoyed the readings, and found Paul to be quite entertaining in addition to knowing the subject. I adopted some great ideas from Pam and have used and shared them this year. As always, I will continue to evaluate, revise and add lessons to my curriculum. I hope I can take the other 2 courses over the next few years. I probably stressed too much about the lesson, portfolio and this essay. But that is my nature. I have learned a lot and developed 2 great lessons. What more can a teacher ask?

Student Assessment

Lesson 1

Completion of worksheets, see Activities for lesson 1

1. Read to Learn - homework

2. “America” – poem analysis

3. Reading Graphs

Completion of primary document analysis in group work, see Activities for lesson 1

Group visual

Reflective journal writings

Participation, see Assessment Rubric lesson 1

Lesson 2

Completion of photo evaluation worksheet

Three Text Response worksheets to “New Colossus”, “Unguarded Gates”, and excerpts from The Jungle

Original Poem, see Assessment Rubric lesson 2

Questions on current immigration issues, see Assessment Rubric lesson 2

Participation in Socratic Seminar

Examples of Students Work

Student Activities for Lesson 1

Student Photo Analysis Worksheet

Student Three Text Response Worksheet

Student Three Text Response Worksheet 2

Student Three Text Response Worksheet 3

Student Poem

Student Poem 2

Student Immigration Exercise

Student Socratic Seminar Questions


Cleo W. Crank
Greenville, South Carolina