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Landing at Ellis Island, 1902

[Detail] Landing at Ellis Island, 1902

Teacher Materials

Overview | Materials | Activities & Projects | Online Resources


Port of Entry: Immigration is a sample lesson highlighting the immigrant experience in American life. Students assume the role of historical detective and travel back in time to the turn of the century. As historical detectives, they search for clues to the past in images and primary source documents from the American Memory collections.

Students begin their detective work by examining a series of photographs depicting life and work on New York's Lower East side. They visit other immigrant neighborhoods, one in the Midwest, another in Texas. In their search for clues to the immigrant experience, students take an online site visit to Ellis Island, the portal to America for millions of immigrants arriving from Europe. Along the way students learn about the different waves of immigrants that transformed America into a multicultural "nation of nations."

Students complete their investigation by reading the immigrant stories documented through personal interviews collected by the Federal Writers' Project in the 1930s. These life histories from American Memory contain compelling firsthand accounts of immigrant life in America.


After completing Port of Entry, students will be able to:

  • identify patterns of immigration throughout America's history;
  • explain procedures immigrants followed at Ellis Island;
  • recognize the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty in the immigrant experience;
  • draw conclusions about life and work in America at the turn of the century;
  • identify and analyze historical images;
  • recognize point of view in print and visual materials;
  • assess credibility of primary sources; and
  • synthesize information presented in images, documents, and oral interviews.

Time Required:

15-30 minutes, depending on individual student's exploration of the materials and links given into the American Memory collections

Target Level:

Grades 6-12


Students can work independently, with a partner, or in small groups to view the lesson and complete the handouts. The lesson can be used as an in-class or homework assignment, or as an independent research project.

Curriculum Fit:

You may want to use the lesson to introduce or supplement a teaching unit on immigration in American history. Selected images and documents in the lesson may engage students and help them to connect people and events in the past to their own lives and experiences.

The lesson also provides students with opportunities to develop their critical thinking skills. As they assume the role of historical detective, students are called upon to analyze visual evidence, assess credibility, make comparisons, hypothesize, and draw conclusions.

The lesson can enrich the study of literature and language arts. Life histories and images from the American Memory collections can be combined with selected short stories, poems, and novels to enhance students' understanding of the immigrant experience in America's past and present. Through the life histories that capture local vernacular, students can trace the influence of immigrants' native languages on Americans' use of the English language.



Notebook iconThroughout the lesson, the notebook at left prompts students to make notes to record and remember important information. In addition, three handouts, guide students as they search for historical clues.

  1. Analyzing Images - provides focus questions for discovering and analyzing details in images.
  2. Analyzing Primary Sources - provides focus questions for evaluating primary sources.
  3. What's New at the Library? - extends the lesson by taking students to the Library's website to explore its contents.

Handouts 1 & 2 have been integrated into the lesson. To expand the lesson and help students discover the wide range of resources available through the Library's World Wide Web home page, use Handout 3. All handouts may be printed for use with the lesson.

Copyright Restrictions:

You are free to use any items in this lesson for educational purposes. You may also duplicate and distribute the handouts, giving credit to the Library of Congress as the source.

Because there are countless ways in which educators and students may use images and documents in the American Memory collections, it is advisable that users read the copyright restriction statement that accompanies each American Memory collection. The "Copyright and Primary Sources" area of the Teachers Page provides examples of responsible use of American Memory collections in an educational setting.


Activities and Projects

There are many ways to integrate primary sources and images from this lesson and the American Memory collections into your curriculum. The following projects and activities on the themes of immigration and turn-of-the-century America offer some ideas for integrating these materials into your students' work.

  1. Write a letter to a friend or relative back home from the point-of-view of an immigrant at the turn of the century. In your letter describe your journey over to America, your arrival at Ellis Island, and how you are adapting to life in your new country.
  2. Reread the chapter or sections on the immigration experience in your history textbook and search the American Memory collections for photographs to illustrate the narrative. Write a picture caption for each image you select or present your images as a picture essay.
  3. Create a collage of images and words from the collections to illustrate a theme in the American Memory collections such as patriotism, freedom, immigration, multiculturalism, or a related topic.
  4. Compile a picture book entitled "The Changing Face of America." Search for images of selected cities, towns, or streets at different periods of time in America's past. Be sure to write a caption identifying the setting (time and place in history) and significant visual clues the images provide about America's past.
  5. Imagine yourself as an investigative reporter. Search the collections to investigate and report on social and economic conditions in America at the turn of the century. Focus on living and working conditions for immigrant laborers. Select a historical photograph. Predict what will happen one minute, hour, or day after the photograph was taken. Cite reasons or evidence to support your predictions.
  6. Find two life histories that illustrate developing social roles relating to gender, race, life style, and technology. Create a chart or write a special feature for a history textbook to compare life "then" and "now."
  7. Choose a life history of an immigrant of special interest to you and continue the interview. Compile a list of questions that will elicit information you want to know about the subject and his or her experiences coming to and living in America.


Online Resources of the Library of Congress

  • Library of Congress Home Page (
  • Search the home page of the Library to learn about current exhibits, special programs, publications, and services.
  • American Memory Collections (
  • The Library of Congress offers a gateway to many American history primary sources. For an annotated list of American Memory collections and the broad topics covered in each collection, click on BROWSE on the home page of American Memory.

The following American memory collections contain images, documents, pamphlets, films, and/or oral histories relating to the theme of immigration.

The Teachers Page (

  • Primary Source Set: Immigration Challenges for New Americans. Photographs, maps detailing immigration patterns, official documents, song sheets and streaming audio recount the immigrant experience in America, their reasons for leaving their homelands, and the reactions of established Americans.
  • Themed Resources: Immigration Explore cultural geography, personal identity and immigration patterns using lesson plans and other teaching materials related to immigration.

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