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Lesson Plan German Immigrants: Their Contributions to the Upper Midwest

Why did Germans immigrate to the Upper Midwest in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century? What contributions did they make to the region's cultural heritage? Students use Library of Congress photographs and documents to answer these questions and others while strengthening their German language skills.


Students will be able to:

  • gain an understanding of how contemporary lifestyles/cultures/traditions are influenced by the contributions of the settlers of that region; and
  • use their prior knowledge of German to discuss photographs of people.

Time Required

Two weeks

Lesson Preparation



Lesson Procedure

Teachers will want to refer to the Using Primary Resources on the Teachers Page.

1. Introduce the lesson: vocabulary, brainstorming, and discussion

Vocabulary. Students should have a working knowledge of the following terms:

  • immigrant
  • migrant
  • ethnicity
  • ethnic
  • artifact
  • primary resource

What evidence is there of German influence in your family? In the community? (Students may bring in pictures or slides of architecture in their community or region.)

How do we know a person lived? What artifacts exist?

Talk about old artifacts, letters, diaries, etc. (primary sources) that their family owns or knows about that were from an ancestor. Discuss traditions within the family for holidays, etc. Mention typical German customs and traditions and make comparisons with students' families. Move from here to a discussion of immigration and transition into the lesson.

2. Introduce the Library of Congress

3. Examine a primary resource by analyzing a photo

4. Independent Primary Source Analysis

Students read and study additional primary sources from the Resources and consider why Germans immigrated to the United States and the contributions they made to our culture. Some questions to guide their thinking might include:

  • Why did Germans settle in the Upper Midwest?
  • Where in Europe did Germans immigrate from?
  • What were the economic, political and sociological factors the immigrants faced (hardships and good experiences)?
  • What and where are some German communities in the Upper Midwest?
  • What significant contributions did the German immigrants make to our cultural heritage?

5. Culminating activity

Create a product designed to entice potential immigrants to the Upper Midwest. Photos and pictures from the web site must be incorporated into the product to make it more appealing. Pictures would be helpful to immigrants who were not literate. Upper level students can assemble a German-language product.


  • Travel brochure
  • Newspaper article
  • A letter home
  • Handbill


  • Web page evaluation. How is searching the Library of Congress online collections different from using a search engine. How can you evaluate the information?
  • Students may make a graph that illustrates immigration patterns and population shifts.
  • Students may bring in a family heirloom for "show and tell."

Lesson Evaluation

  • Assess time on task and individual contributions to group work.
  • Final product to be done independently (brochure, newspaper ad to promote immigration).


Mary Alice Anderson and Kim Pernod