Immigration to the US 1860-1915 Lesson and activities Gr. 7-8

MN Middle School US History Standard G: Reshaping the Nation and the Emergence of Modern America, 1877-1916

US History Standard: The student will analyze the transformation of the American economy and the changing social and political conditions in response to the Industrial Revolution.

Note: This lesson should follow a study of the rise of big business and inventions that occurred in the late 1880’s leading to the increased demand for labor in the United States.

Objective 1-partial-Students will identify and understand the reasons for the increase in immigration and the growth of cities.

Lesson objectives:

Students will identify push and pull factors influencing US immigration from 1866 to 1915.

Students will compare and contrast the countries of origin from immigrants prior to 1860 and those arriving after 1860.

Students will analyze primary sources to determine the attitudes and problems immigrants faced as they settled in the US.

Part 1-History of immigration in the US (one to two 50 minute class periods)


1.     Class generated list of reasons why people move

2.      Venn diagram comparing Old Immigration and New Immigration including push and pull factors, and countries of origin

3.     A list of factors helping and hindering immigration after investigating events in countries of origin and in the US .


1.     Poll students to determine those who have moved during their lifetime and ask why they moved. Ask them if they know why their ancestors chose to move and come to America. What was their families’ country of origin?

2.     As a group, discuss reasons why people immigrate to the US from other countries in the past and create a list of reasons generated by the group. Compare those reasons with reasons immigrants come to the US today.

3.     Have students read and respond to the four quotes about immigration found in Handout #1-Immigration Quotes- taken from an Education World lesson. Discussion should center on what these quotes indicate about the attitude of Americans toward immigrants during different time periods of history.

 Use the prior discussion as an introduction to factors of immigration during the early 1900’s. Students should be provided with instruction about Push factors (factors that drive people from their country of birth) and Pull factors (conditions that make a new area more appealing for settlement). Using the list the students created, determine/categorize which are push and pull factors.

4. Next, students should investigate how immigration changed during the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800’s termed “new immigration” to that of the early1800’s termed “old immigration”. Using textbook information or Handout #2 (also found at will provide a basic understanding of differences during the two immigration time periods. Using the information provided and the list generated by the class, students should compare and contrast the Old Immigration and New Immigration time periods creating a Venn diagram.

5. Students can further investigate what was happening in the US including the immigration legislation of the time period,  and  events occurring in countries of origin that  influence immigration by accessing information, using the guide to navigation, at the Library of Congress website:  They can access information about immigrants from various world regions and use the time line to examine factors that influenced immigration to the US.  They should create a Factors Influencing Immigration List of five or more facts that helped or hindered immigration are categorized and a written summary explaining their reasoning for choices is provided. Note: The Library of Congress site listed above has many activities that will give students more practice with using the site to answer questions. See the Port of Entry activity, the interviews, vocabulary and even the potluck recipes for possible further investigation as time allows.)


Wrap-up: Allow time for students to share their Venn diagram and Factors list. Possible discussion questions: Where there factors that were similar among the nations of origin that encouraged immigration to the US? How did the events in the US influence immigration policies during the time period? Which policies or events were helpful/Which hindered immigration? Where did many immigrants settle/why?


Part 2: Adjusting to Life in America (two to three 50 minute class periods)


Students will analyze primary documents to evaluate attitudes toward immigrants, investigate early reformer’s goals while investigate immigrant life in cities in the United States during the time period.

Students will investigate current primary sources to demonstrate current attitudes toward immigrants and challenges faced today.

Procedure and Products:

Review class discussion about why immigrants came to the US and the impact on the growth of cities and industry. Possible questions--How did the US benefit from the increased immigration from other countries? What problems did immigration create? How did the US immigration legislation change over time? What factors/events prompted the change in attitude and policy? What current attitudes and legislation exist today in regard to immigration?

Also introduce the idea of reform and the Progressive Movement. This activity will provide the early history in the reform movements that directly impact immigrant’s lives later in history.


  1. Students will access the websites listed below and compile evidence of how immigrants lived and were treated in the United States. They should collect five primary documents that support positive and negative views or attitudes toward immigrants during the late 1800’s/early 1900’s time period while also providing a written explanation of their reasoning for choosing the documents and their categorization (positive/negative).
  2. Students should select one image each from Jacob Riis’ site and the Jane Addam’s site providing a description of each person’s goals working with immigrants and how their work impacted attitudes of the time period.
  3. Students will reflect on current events and challenges of immigration today. What modern attitudes and legislation exist today? Students should collect three current primary sources (images, narratives, editorials, legislation, etc.)  and provide a written explanation for each choice and the views it depicts.



Materials: web sites and links

Note: Begin the activity by having students listen to the pod cast from All Things Considered-NPR-June 30, 2008 at the link listed below. The pod cast will provide students with a background on Jacob Riis and the early roots of the Progressivism Movement that will take place in the time period. The site also contains examples of Jacob Riis’ photographs and details recent books about the use of photography and crusade against slum tenements in New York:

Jacob Riis –How the Other Half Lives- (This link is another site that has some of Jacob Riis’ photographs in a slide show).

Providing some explanation of Progressivism will give students a background into the work of Jane Addams, another reformer during the time period that works with immigrants. Students can access the history link to view activities at Hull House, a center that helped immigrants in Chicago, by using the link below:      Jane Addams and Hull House-Chicago

This site provides information and an account of a young immigrant Sadie Frowne’s life as a recent immigrant in New York in 1905) Immigrating to America-1905

The Library of Congress has a collection of document titled -Immigration Challenges for New Americans for students to view and use in their analysis found at


Wrap up/Reflection-allow time to discuss their findings and views about immigration. What factors seem to endure despite the passage of time? Which factors exist only during a certain time period? How did the US change as a result of immigration?

A possible closing reflection could center on this question or provide a topic for debate-Which was more difficult-being an immigrant in the past or being an immigrant today?

If time allows, relate discussion back to the quotes that were presented in part one—which quote do the students feel represent the views they examined in their study of immigration?

Links to Sources:

Immigration Quotes

Old vs. New Immigration 1

Old vs. New Immigration 2


Questions? Contact Project Director Audrey Shafer-Erickson

This site sponsored by Minnesota State University Moorhead