Sunday, March 8, 2015

Loved That Lesson! Immigrant Diaries

It's the second Sunday of the month--and that means it's time to link up with "Loved That Lesson"!  I hope you enjoy the posts that will be linking up over the next week.  My goal for this linky is to share some fun and successful lessons in the hopes that something will inspire you!

Today I am sharing a SEQUENCE of lessons that I do at the end of our big unit on immigration.  We read historical fiction set in the peak time of immigration.  We read informational text about immigration.  We study the reasons why people choose to leave their homelands--and why, over time, they have chosen the United States as their destination.

To really tie this to our literacy units, one of my favorite parts of this unit forces students to apply everything they have learned about the era, about "point of view", and about historical fiction writing.  To begin, I put the students in imaginary "families", and this begins a series of lessons that result in a huge simulation.  To kick this off, I talk about their families for WEEKS leading up to this to really build enthusiasm and excitement.  By the time the day arrives, they are so excited to get their families that many students literally hug their family members when I read them off their cards!

 After they find out their family, their homeland, and their age, the work begins.  They need to work together to craft their story...their reasons for leaving...what each person's role is...what their hopes and dreams are...
 We break out the atlases and start to learn a little more about our homelands--and how they will get from there to America!

 To make sure they stayed on track, I projected a few questions for their families to think about.
 Because we had worked extensively with "point of view" during our book clubs, I was hopeful that the students would be able to stay in role and would be able to write from their character's point of view.  We talked about how the adults might have a very different point of view than the children--and we talked about all the people that might have been left behind as well.
 After the families worked to get clear on their basics of their family story, they began doing some free writing on their own to really start to take on the role of their character.
So...after all this, it was time to begin their immigrant diaries.  I require a minimum of three before their journey that explains their reasons for immigrating and their thoughts and feelings.  They also need one entry about their journey on the ship.  We learned a ton about this by reading informational texts and using online resources.  Finally, they need to write at least one entry about their experience at Ellis Island.  How do they do THIS?  Well, first of all, we study all about Ellis Island--but the best part of all of this is that the entire fourth grade does a HUGE Ellis Island simulation.  The students come in costume, we have inspectors, a ferry, detainment, and the works!  The simulation takes about an hour and a half and is SO much fun!  The students DEFINITELY have something to write about in their immigrant journals as many get separated from their families, get confused (we tell them very little about this simulation so they can feel ALMOST as confused as an immigrant would have felt during their time at Ellis Island!).

Many students get SO caught up in their character's story that they write FAR more than three entries.  We write them on Google docs so they can continue to work on them at home if they like, and then we make 'leather-like" covers out of brown grocery bags that we crumple and soak in watered down black paint.  
As you can maybe tell, I LOVE this set of lessons...and the students do too--and that's what matters to me!  Thanks for stopping by...and check back all week to see if more bloggers link up!  Thanks!


  1. I LOVE this idea!! I haven't used immigration as a specific literary theme but now that you've got me thinking, we finished learning about why the Spanish missionaries and Mexican settlers came to California and we are just beginning our pioneer unit (why people from the US came to California). I'd love to tie this together!! Going to be looking for more book titles then try this lesson. Thanks, Meg!!

  2. Sounds fantastic! This reminds me of reading The Orphan of Ellis Island (want to underline this title but not sure how to in this comment!!) with my kids when I taught elementary school:) Thanks!