written by: Marlene Gundlach
• edited by: Benjamin Sell
• updated: 9/11/2012
Helping students learn about their background and heritage can lead your class on an exploration of many different topics and subjects. This unit can be adapted and used for many grade levels as well.
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Introduction of Unit
To start the unit, send a letter home asking parents to help their child choose a country to study. This should be a country that is part of the family's heritage. Attach an outline map of the world and ask the students to color in each country their ancestors came from. They should also draw lines from the country of origin to the part of the United States they came to settle. This may be Ellis Island, or another part of the country. This is an important spring board, since the unit is focused on immigration. Discussion regarding how and why people immigrated to the United States will be the basis for many of the conversations and activities.
The next project involves sending home a paper with a letter asking the student to print or draw a map of their country with the capital labeled, and its flag. On the same sheet, you can ask them to list important facts about the culture and history of their country. A sample of this sheet can be downloaded from our media gallery. You may even request that students bring in a non-fiction book about their country that they can share with the class. Request that is is at their reading level so that they can do the reading.
All of the sheets completed during this unit of study will be put into a family scrapbook. The students will be studying about their family's background and saving that information to share with the scrapbook. More information about making the scrapbook will come in another article.
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The initial focus will be on why immigrants choose to leave their country and what they hoped to find here in America. The following books are excellent introductions to discussing this with the class:
"I Was Dreaming of Coming to America", by Veronica Lawlor, is a collection of stories from immigrants, each explaining why they came to America and reliving their trip across the vast ocean.
"Escaping to America" by Rosalyn Schanzer, shares the story of a family from Poland and why they left their home country to pursue a new life in America.
Help the children to understand that there were many different reasons why immigrants came to this country. Some were escaping religious or political persecution in their homelands. Others were just looking for a better way of life, hoping to find a better job. Some already had family here in America, and they wanted to be with their family.
Next, we will look at the actual journey to America and what types of sacrifices the immigrants had to make.