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Relocating to a new country can be a disorienting experience. Immigrants often find themselves in a strange new world where the rules have changed, the surroundings are unfamiliar, and the inhabitants speak in strange tongues. In some ways, the immigrant experience is like the dizzying journey taken by the lead character in Lewis Carroll's 19th-century novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
In this lesson, students will use class discussions of students' experiences, the first-hand accounts of immigrants, and other primary source documents and images from the collections of the Library of Congress to uncover the common themes of the immigrant experience.
Students will be able to:
As a lead-in activity, read portions of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to the students for a few minutes every day. You may be able to find the book online or in a local library.
Although there are many themes for discussion, for the purposes of this unit, highlight scenes that relate to the discomfort experienced by Alice because of the unpredictability of her experiences in Wonderland.
The four following scenes can be highlighted for introductory discussions about the immigrant experience:
"It was much pleasanter at home," thought poor Alice, "when one wasn't always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn't gone down that rabbit-hole - and yet - it's rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me! When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one!"
The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.
"Who are You?" said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I - I hardly know, Sir, just at present - at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then."
"Cheshire Puss," she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. "Come, it's pleased so far," thought Alice, and she went on. "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where - " said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
" - so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question. "What sort of people live about here?"
"In that direction," the Cat said, waving its right paw round, "lives a Hatter: and in that direction," waving the other paw, "lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: the're both mad."
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
"I don't think they play at all fairly," Alice began, in rather a complaining tone, "and they all quarrel so dreadfully one can't hear oneself speak - and they don't seem to have any rules in particular: at least, if there are, nobody attends to them - and you've no idea how confusing it is all the things being alive: for instance, there's the arch I've got to go through next walking about at the other end of the ground - and I should have croqueted the Queen's hedgehog just now, only it ran away when it saw mine coming!"
Students brainstorm the common threads of the immigrant experience. Through a teacher/student discussion of their own relocation experiences (city to city, state to state, or country to country), identify reasons for relocating, difficulties encountered, and the successes or failures of adjustments to new surroundings.
Use the following questions to guide your discussion:
Through student/teacher inquiry the following common themes of immigration should be identified and defined: motivation to emigrate, assimilation, economic issues (including living and working conditions), education, choice of destination, language difficulties, and issues of prejudice.
Students use teacher-selected primary sources to identify the common themes of the immigrant experience.
The following oral histories are from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940:
The following oral history is from Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910:
Students combine observations with background knowledge to make deductions about photographs related to the theme of immigration. (Note: This activity can use any theme that fits into the curriculum.)
Students become curators of a photo exhibit entitled "The Immigrant Experience."
Students combine their posters to create a poster display on a classroom wall. At the exhibit opening, students view all the displayed photos to reinforce their understanding of the various themes of immigration. If possible, display selected posters at a school "technology night" or other event, where students can explain the project to visiting parents and community members.
After the exhibit opening, guide a wrap-up discussion of the immigrant experience.
Names of Group Members:
5- Exhibit is very appropriate for the theme of immigration and intelligence and communicates superior knowledge of topic. Exhibit is very clearly presented with high quality and shows much creativity.
4- Exhibit is appropriate for the theme of immigration and intelligence and communicates strong knowledge of topic. Exhibit is clearly presented, shows quality and creativity, but may not be up to superior standards.
3- Exhibit displays the theme of immigration and intelligence, but is not completely appropriate. Communicates some knowledge of the topic, but may not be completely clear or show high quality and/or creativity.
2- Exhibit is not appropriate for the theme of immigration and/or intelligence and may be incomplete. Communicates little knowledge of topic. Unclear and/or poor quality or shows little creativity. Below average standards.
1- Exhibit is not completed or inappropriate for the theme of immigration. Shows no knowledge of topic and/or no creativity. Quality is very poor and reflects little or no effort.
0- Exhibit not submitted.
Mary Johnson and Linda Thompson