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New York, N.Y., immigrants' landing, Ellis Island

[Detail] New York, N.Y., immigrants' landing, Ellis Island

Lesson Overview

Immigration History Firsthand has been designed to provide elementary children with experiences which enable them to begin understanding primary sources. Students move from personal artifacts to the vast Library of Congress online collections and learn how archival collections are organized, how to interpret artifacts and documents, how to use primary sources to tell a real story and how to do online research

Using primary sources to do research can enliven a history project, but requires even more specific skills:

  • deciphering antiquated language
  • doing close textual analysis
  • developing visual literacy acuity
  • knowing what is worthwhile and what isn't (evaluating sources)
  • being critically aware of authorship understanding how information is organized.

The curriculum could easily be adapted to other topics. The Library's Collections are rich in materials related to Civil Rights, the Civil War, Women's Rights, the Constitution, Westward Movement, Native Americans, Industrialization and other topics commonly studied in elementary classrooms. What is important is that the activities be meaningful to the students. We discourage use of immigration materials if immigration is not a topic under study. We suggest exploring the collections and adapting the curriculum to whatever topic your students are studying.


Students will be able to:

  • Construct their own understanding of primary source materials.
  • Enrich their understanding of U.S. history.
  • Develop a research vocabulary.
  • Develop research skills using off-line and online collections.
  • Become critically aware of the complexities of archival collections.
  • Create a poster which organizes primary source materials to tell a story


Time Required

  • Three weeks

Recommended Grade Level

  • 6-8


  • Immigration & Ethnic Heritage


  • Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929
  • Great Depression and WWII, 1929-1945


Cory Brandt and Monica Edinger