Ellis Island, once the gateway to America for over 12 million immigrants, offers a wealth of learning opportunities for students. By exploring this historic site and its stories, learners can gain a better understanding of the immigrant experience and the cultural melting pot that is in the United States. To help you bring Ellis Island to life in your classroom, we’ve compiled a list of 15 engaging and educational activities for students.
1. Virtual Tour of Ellis Island
Begin by taking a virtual tour of Ellis Island with your students. The National Park Service offers an interactive online experience that allows students to explore the island and its history from their own devices.
Learn More: YouTube
2. Ellis Island Timeline
Have students create a timeline of significant events in the history of Ellis Island. They should include details about including its opening, closing, and restoration.
Learn More: Mason
3. Immigrant Stories
Research and share personal stories of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island. Students can present their findings through oral presentations or written reports.
Learn More: Color in Colorado
4. Immigration Data Analysis
Provide students with immigration data from the Ellis Island era and have them analyze trends, such as countries of origin, peak years of immigration, and reasons for migration.
Learn More: Shmoop
5. Role-Play an Immigrant’s Journey
Assign each student a role as an immigrant from a specific country and time period. Have them research their character’s background and then role-play the immigration process, from leaving their homeland to arriving at Ellis Island.
Learn More: LA Times
6. Create a Family Tree
Encourage students to explore their own ancestry and create a family tree; noting any ancestors who immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island.
7. Interview an Immigrant
If possible, arrange for students to interview a local immigrant or someone with immigrant ancestors. This firsthand account can help students better understand the personal side of immigration.
8. Ellis Island Word Search
Create a word search puzzle with vocabulary related to Ellis Island and immigration. This can be a fun way for students to learn new terms and reinforce their understanding of the topic.
Learn More: Word Mint
9. Design an Ellis Island Exhibit
In small groups, have students design and create an exhibit about Ellis Island. They can choose a specific theme, such as the medical examination process or the role of interpreters, and present their exhibit to the class.
Learn More: Esi Design
10. Immigration Debate
Hold a classroom debate on current immigration policies; drawing on historical context from the Ellis Island era.
11. Write a Letter Home
Have students assume the role of an immigrant and write a letter to their family at home. They can describe their experiences at Ellis Island and their hopes for life in America.
12. Immigration Poetry
Encourage students to write poems about the immigrant experiences; taking inspiration from the stories of those who passed through Ellis Island.
Learn More: Smithsonian Mag
13. Immigration Legislation Research
Assign students to research past and present immigration laws in the United States and present their findings to the class.
14. Ellis Island Trivia Game
Create a trivia game about Ellis Island and its history for students to play in teams. This can be a fun way to review the material and encourage friendly competition.
Learn More: Trivia Crack
15. Ellis Island Field Trip
If you’re located near New York City, consider organizing a field trip to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. This hands-on experience can make history come alive for students and provide a deeper understanding of the immigrant experience.
Learn More: NPS